Veteran South Lake Tahoe Police Officer Johnny Poland is back to work after the El Dorado County Superior Court upheld a Civil Service decision reinstating him after he was fired for allegedly mishandling a weapons call at a local high school. Officer Poland was reinstated two and a half years after the Department dismissed him.
On November 20, 2006, a Code 3 call went out to all police agencies in South Lake Tahoe of a large fight at the South Lake Tahoe High School. There were reports of “student with a gun at school” and “possible shots fired.” Officers from the South Lake Tahoe Police Department, El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department, California Highway Patrol, and El Dorado Probation Department responded and set up a perimeter, placing the school on lockdown while the incident was investigated. Officer Poland, a ten-year veteran of the South Lake Tahoe PD, had prior experience as a School Resource Officer at the High School. The present SRO was sick, so Poland was placed in charge of the investigation because he had familiarity with the campus, students, and faculty there.
That morning, Officer Poland interviewed more than twenty-five students, made eight arrests, seized a pair of brass knuckles. None of the students interviewed by Officer Poland observed a gun or a knife during the fight. Officer Poland determined that six students were involved in the altercation and a seventh admitted to possession of brass knuckles on campus but was not involved in the altercation. Each of the students was given a citation. The involved parties denied any guns or knives being present during the fight.
Officer Poland also conducted a vehicle search of another student’s vehicle (the only vehicle at the school that was connected to one of the participants in the altercation) and confirmed he had an inoperable “BB” gun under the seat. That student denied having the weapon but claimed he did not use it during the altercation. Officer Poland did not seize the item because he was under the belief that it was not used in the fight. Officer Poland made numerous statements to co-workers and school staff that no guns or knives were involved in the fight. During the next few days, Officer Poland received additional information that the student had in fact brandished the “BB” gun during the fight. Officer Poland cited the student for the possession of a dangerous weapon on campus and he was successfully prosecuted.
An internal complaint was filed by the SRO Wilson, against Officer Poland, arising out of this incident. An Internal Affairs investigation was conducted. Thereafter, on June 11, 2007, the South Lake Tahoe Police Department terminated the employment of Officer Johnny Poland, based on the conclusion that he had committed numerous rule violations in regard to his handling of a call of “shots fired” at the local high school. The allegations included dishonesty, failure to seize evidence, and failure to properly investigate. A pre-disciplinary due process hearing was held by the City wherein the termination was upheld.
I appealed the termination to an evidentiary hearing before a Hearing Board consisting of the retired Mayor, the retired Chief of Police, and a mutually-selected arbitrator. Witnesses and other evidence were produced by both sides during two days of hearing.
At the hearing, we were able to establish Officer Poland conducted a thorough and effective investigation and assisted in the successful prosecution of the offenders involved in the fight.
At the hearing, written briefs were submitted to the Hearing Board for consideration. On December 11, 2008 the Board issued a thirty-one page written decision unanimously overturning the termination and reducing the discipline to a six-week suspension without pay. The suspension was based on findings Officer Poland violated procedure in his original handling and documenting of the “BB” gun, and his failure to inform superiors of the discovery. The decision required the City to reinstate Officer Poland and to make him whole regarding back pay and benefits.
The City appealed to the El Dorado Superior Court pursuant to a Writ of Mandate on the ground the Hearing Board had abused their discretion. However, case law requires an arbitrary, capricious, or patently abusive exercise of discretion before a court will intervene regarding an administrative board’s decision. The City’s argument focused on cases where the courts have found an abuse of discretion because the underlying facts involved intentional and deliberate dishonesty. I successfully argued to the court these cases were distinguishable from Officer Poland’s circumstances. In Officer Poland’s case, the Hearing Board did not make any findings that he was dishonest. The El Dorado Superior Court considered written arguments and allowed oral argument before making a decision. On October 28, 2009 the Honorable Steven C. Bailey issued a nine-page decision agreeing with my arguments and denying the City’s appeal. The Court held that the Hearing Board had concluded only that Officer Poland had committed violations of the Department’s rules, with no findings of lying or dishonesty. Thus, the Court concluded, the Hearing Board’s decision to reduce the discipline and reinstate Officer Poland was not arbitrary, capricious, nor patently abusive and upheld the Board’s decision.
I am currently assisting Officer Poland with his integration back into the Department. He is looking forward to continuing his service to the citizens of South Lake Tahoe.
Steven W. Welty is a senior associate attorney in the Labor Department of Mastagni, Holstedt, Amick, Miller & Johnson. He has represented peace officers throughout California in disciplinary issues, employment law and disability retirement appeals for over 10 years.
PORAC Legal Defense Administrator Ed Fishman Testimony: Law Enforcement Use of Body Cameras.
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Dear PORAC Legal Defense Fund, This email has been weighing on my heart and should have been sent a long time ago. However, time seems to move fast even though your life has been put on hold. I have been on administrative leave since December of 2012. In April of 2013, I was arrested for the performance of my duties. Since the administrative side this case has not been resolved, I won't be getting into specific details regarding my case. However, I will say that I never thought that my life would turned upside down by doing the job that I love, and doing it in a way that I had been trained. I have been in Law Enforcement for 10 years, and I have been paying my monthly dues all along. I never really understood how important paying dues might be for me, I just thought it was the "cost of business". After being arrested, I understood the real worth of that investment. Because of politics, my case was given the "full court press". On January 3rd of 2014, the case against me was dismissed. It took no less than 5 experts to convince the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office to request dismissal. The time, effort, and money that this case cost couldn't have been endured by me as the sole provider of a family of four. LDF was there, big time. The panel attorney's under LDF were the best in the business. In the uncertain time during the criminal process, I couldn't have imagined how much help they could be. What a relief to know that LDF had my back. I am used to defending those who can't defend themselves. That's my job. When I was defenseless, LDF and the attorneys assigned to my case were my advocates and defenders. I thank you. My criminal attorney said it best at the conclusion of my criminal case: "Adam and his family are thankful that they can now move forward. The evidence showing Sgt. Laird was innocent was overwhelming. The expert EPD hired said that the suspect was rising up when Sgt. Laird pushed him back to the ground. The two experts that the DA’s office hired said that the force was reasonable and appropriate. The defensive tactics instructor who trained Adam said he acted consistent with his training in apprehending a high risk suspect in a dangerous situation. In total, five separate police practices experts reviewed the case and unanimously said Sgt. Laird acted appropriately". "It is hard to imagine what it must be like to risk your life apprehending a known gang member only to be charged with using excessive force when the suspect stated that he did not even feel the contact at issue. It is simply bizarre that Sgt. Laird was ever charged with a crime". Thank you. My family and I will forever be grateful for your service, Sergeant Adam Laird
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- Miguel Suarez Monterey Co DSA
[My representative] was very knowledgeable and courteous. He knew his stuff, and I couldn't have asked for a better guy to be on my side on this matter. Thanks.
- Katherine Comesana Mountain View POA
Hope to never in a situation again, however, glad to know that LDF is there to help.
- Scott King Ripon POA
[My representative] is the best LDF rep I have ever had. If I were to need an LDF rep again I would want it to be [my representative].
- James Stephenson Petaluma POA
Outstanding service. Thanks.
- Jason Kearsing Elk Grove POA
Very happy with LDF.
- Emery Eccle Culver City POA
LDF is THE most important asset / resource that police officers have. "Thank you" to all involved and keep up the good work!
- William Pryor Statewide University PA
Very helpful program. Helped keep department personnel focused on the issue regardless of their personal issues.
- Evelyn Hooks Shasta CO PPOA
Thank God for the L.D.F.
- Gina Reyes Broadmoor POA
[My representative] was wonderful! Even though my situation didn't end in my favor, he was very supportive, informative & patient. He always answered every email in a timely fashion and was very accessible. I appreciated everything he was able to do for me.
- Juan Pascua, Jr. San Diego Co DSA
Very helpful and very informative!
- James Hika Border Patrol Supervisors Association
They did a great job!
- Anthony Alonzo South Gate POA
Very pleased with the way the process was explained to me. Received updated info faster than I expected. Overall a good experience in a not so good situation. Thanks to LDF.
- John M. Laser Oceanside POA
[My representative] always took my calls or returned them within hours. Put my mind at ease and kept me well informed. LDF is well served by this law firm!
- Brendan Dolan Milwaukee PA
Everything went very smooth and they handled everything! Thank you.
- Cherie Rye Lyon Co SEA
I am very happy with the service I received from LDF. I am grateful that our association includes LDF as part of our dues.
- Rich Stepper Montana PPA
[ My representative ] was very knowledgeable regarding dept & legal rules regarding officer involved shooting. Provided good legal advice & was very supportive.
- Andrew Hill Statewide University PA
I have used this law firm for union related business for the last several years. It was a no brainer to call them for LDF.
- Jeff Griffin Downey POA
My experience with the LDF, and in particular my attorney, was extremely positive. [ My attorney ] worked very hard and kept me informed along the way.
- Kim Prout Upland Firefighters Assoc
It was great comfort to know somebody would be there for me in this matter. I was able to finally sleep @ night & wake up with confidence that I would be ok. Thanks.
- Oliver Sansen Concord POA
In 14 years I have never had to deal with an "IA." [My representative] was wonderful & put my mind at ease throughout the entire process. Thank you!
- Todd Costa Santa Clara Co DSA
This was my first Internal Affairs investigation, my lawyer walked me through every step and answered all of my questions, without my lawyer's advice, I would have been lost throughout the investigation and a complete disadvantage against my department.
- Rachel Tyner Transit EOA of San Diego
All the LDF representatives were very courteous and attentive with a punctual response to all of my concerns, inquiries and appointment scheduling. My representative was very informative about the legalities and kept in contact with me regularly. He was also very patient and straight forward. I would definitely want to use the LDF again and felt more confident through my proceedings because I had representation!
- David Heller Yolo County DSA
The charges against me, if sustained, would have likely ended my LE career. I was rightfully exonerated on all charges. I was well represented by [My Representative] and thank him for a job well done!!
- Carlos Gonzalez Oakland POA
Very well informed group.
- Paul Spencer Santa Paula POA
[My Representative] was great!
- Kevin Hullquist Siskiyou Co. Correctional POA
[My representative] did a good job representing me. Kept me informed.
- Allison Clark Twin Cities POA
[My representative] is the best attorney LDF has. Her attention to details, professionalism, and intelligence were off the charts. If I did not have her as a rep I would probably be out of a job. She is fair and she was honestly concerned about me, my family and my case.
- Eric Olson Escondido POA
You guys did an amazing job! Thank you L.D.F. !
- Alvaro Ancheta Glendora POA
I felt I was represented in a thorough and professional manner.
- Tia Dixione Inglewood POA
My representative was very helpful and informative.
- Paul Figueroa Oakland POA
LDF was there when I needed them!! In this litigious world, it's nice to know LDF has GREAT lawyers on our side who look out for us!! [My Representative] is a great attorney and a person I would trust in any circumstance!!!
- Nicholas Ward Antioch POA
[ Representative ] did a great job. My case was extremely complicated and difficult. She did a great job.
- Robert Curato Anderson POA
He did a great job for me!!! He always returned my phone calls within 24-hours. He showed an interest in my case and we were able to get the issue resolved in less than 45 minutes. Thank you for being there when I needed the legal assistance.
- Diana Drummey Coronado POA
I so appreciated my LDF rep - his kindness and understanding re my case during an embarrassing and uncomfortable time - he was so caring.
- Robert Muelberg Denver PPA
I could not have had a better attorney. [My representative ] went way above and beyond his duties. I would not have had a better experience with my representative. I believe that the LDF is the single most important benefit a police officer could have!
- Ronald J. Danison El Monte POA
The LDF is a tool available to me which I hope never goes away. It makes me feel that much more confident to do my job knowing LDF has my back when police work gets ugly. And it usually does..
- Michael Shephard Suisun City POA
LDF is a very valuable resource. I would not do this job without it.
- Jeff Stanley Upland POA
Excellent program, no one should be without this coverage.
- Christine Farmer Tehama Co DSA
Mine was a fairly simple situation and I may not have needed representative. I am glad I called for help, it gave me peace of mind and reassurance.
- Linda Mendez Imperial Co Prob and Corr
I'm very pleased with the services offered by the LDF. I feel so fortunate to enjoy the benefits of having the membership. The services provided by LDF to its members is simply 110% professional, supportive, great!! LDF care for its members is reflected by the quality of Best Law Firm offered, simply the best!
- Juan Espinoza Fresno DSA
[My representative] did a great job. He is both thorough and well educated. I would use him again.
- Keith Stiver Hayward POA
[My representative] brings a superlative reputation, a comforting and confidence building demeanor and a clear expertise to the table. In particular I appreciate her philosophy that she gives her total undivided attention to her clients during their appointments.
- Jeff Stanley Upland POA
Excellent representation. [My representative] is a great attorney.
- Gilbert Garcia Oceanside POA
My attorney provided outstanding representation.
- Joseph A. Henderson Merced POA
The firm I used was very valuable to my career and kept me updated as to status of the case. Thank you!
- Patrick Davis Oakland POA
Very knowledgeable and thorough and would use the rep again.
- Carl Miller Clearlake POA
- Rodney Kirkland Oakland POA
Being a police officer in the city of Oakland, I appreciate the services that are offered.
- Jon Seabron Oceanside POA
[My Representative] was the best and if I ever need to call al lawyer again for anything, I'll be calling her.
- Dan McDow San Luis Obispo POA
[My representative] is the poster face representative of the greatest attorney (representative) that anyone could possibly ask for. She gets a 12 out of 10 star rating. Nobody works harder.
- Brad Young Oakland POA
[My representative] is an excellent attorney and I am very happy he picks up the phone and answers my questions whenever possible.