Hearing Officer Finds Inglewood Sergeant Unjustly Fired

Posted on Saturday, May 01, 2004 at 12:00PM

Edmund Woods began his career in law enforcement 24 years ago on the streets in Inglewood. He committed himself to fighting crime and cleaning up the much-beleaguered city. He bought a home and raised his son in Inglewood.

Woods had given much of himself to the department: his time, his energy, and his soul. He was promoted from patrol to detective and, finally, sergeant in October 2001. In the spring of 2002, a fellow officer alleged sexual harassment. He disagreed with much of the allegations, but accepted a suspension and an extended probationary period for his promotion to sergeant. He felt that if any of his actions might have offended another officer, however unwittingly, he was wrong. A loyal employee and a caring human being, he decided not to put the other officer or the department through the hearing process. He would just take his lumps, and move on.

Or so he thought.

During the investigation into the sexual harassment case, an Inglewood police officer was involved in an off-duty shooting at Dodgers Stadium. It came to Woods’ attention from another officer that an additional officer, the complaining witness in the sexual harassment case, may have been involved. This put Woods “between a rock and a hard place.” As a sergeant, he had an obligation to investigate the claim, or tell a superior. Should he tell a superior, or IA, it would be seen as if he were spreading a rumor as retaliation against the officer/complaining witness. If he said nothing, he would be failing to report or take action. He decided to look into the rumor himself, to test its validity. If there was evidence to support the rumor, then he would go to his superiors or IA with the evidence, thereby making his actions much more justifiable. Should there be no evidence supporting the rumor, he would ignore it, and forget it ever happened. Having worked off-duty as security at Dodgers Stadium in the past, he thought there might be a videotape of the incident that might shed light on the validity of the rumor. He checked the watch commander’s log to see if the officer in question had worked that shift. He asked his former detective partner to call LAPD to inquire about the existence of a videotape. He felt that by doing these two preliminary acts, he could at least feel more comfortable approaching his superiors, should something turn up. If nothing turned up, he would just shelve the issue. He never had the chance.

His old partner informed IA, and an investigation was initiated. Even though this case happened while the other was still pending, and even though everyone agreed that aide from telling his former partner, he made no further inquiry or anything to further “spread the rumor”, his department felt that Woods had acted out of malice, and that his actions were retaliatory in nature. Anyone that knew Woods would say otherwise, but the department, nonetheless, terminated him.

He appealed, and at the appeal hearing was represented by Michael Schwartz of Silver, Hadden & Silver. Schwartz pointed out that the Woods did not initiate the rumor against the other officer, a different officer did. He also pointed out that the officer who had started the rumor had told other officers even before informing Woods of the rumor, without consequence. And while character witnesses testified that Woods did not possess a retaliatory nature, Woods himself testified that there was nothing malicious or spiteful about his actions. Schwartz concluded by arguing that although his client might have exercised some poor judgment, the record was devoid of any evidence of serious misconduct that would warrant termination.

The hearing officer agreed, stating although Woods might have used poor judgment, “There was not a shred of evidence the grievant acted maliciously by spreading false rumors, conducting a rogue investigation, or otherwise discrediting his accuser in the sexual harassment case.” In recommending Woods’ probationary period as a sergeant be discontinued and he be put back to detectives, the hearing officer found that, “none of his actions at issue evidenced an unfitness to perform the duties of a detective or police officer as he had done successfully for 23 years prior to his promotion.” Although the hearing officer’s findings are advisory to the city manager, Woods still feels vindicated.

Citing to facts that were not in the record, on May 28, 2003 the city manager rejected the arbitrator’s findings of facts and recommendation. The city manager refused to reinstate Sergeant Woods. LDF thereafter authorized a petition for a writ of mandate in Superior Court, county of Los Angeles. At the current time, the outcome of that petition is still pending.

PORAC Legal Defense Administrator Ed Fishman Testimony: Law Enforcement Use of Body Cameras.