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Commission Exonerates Ventura Deputy

Posted on Tuesday, July 01, 2003 at 12:00PM

After nine years as one of the few African-American deputies in Ventura County, Adolph Finley had had his share of ups and downs. Yet, once he was assigned to the Transportation Division, the job became fun once again. Things were going well until October 2002, when Finley found himself fired for, well, just doing his job.

It all began months before, when Finley was working with other deputies to arrange court transportation from the Todd Road Jail. One inmate in particular refused to go along with the program, resisted a deputy’s attempt to handcuff him to a chain, and demonstrated to all concerned that he was not going to be compliant. Consistent with past practice in the facility, Finley approached the inmate to isolate him from other inmates and to keep him away from the deputies who were working to get the inmates to court. The inmate followed Finley’s directive to stand near a wall, but thereafter refused to allow Finley to handcuff him, resulting in his being taken to the ground and a minor cut to his face.

The department took statements from all available witnesses. The three deputies involved in the incident all corroborated Finley’s version of the events that he had acted with restraint and the minimal force necessary to control the inmate. The statements of 20 inmates, not surprisingly, showed a negative bias towards the deputies, but were otherwise riddled with inconsistencies. The department chose to fire Finley, apparently in reliance on the statements of the inmates. Bill Hadden of Silver, Hadden & Silver, who represented Finley throughout the disciplinary process, appealed the action to the Ventura County Civil Service Commission.

At Finley’s hearing in February 2003, the county, apparently reluctant to produce the inmates for cross-examination, sought to lump their internal affairs statements into the record in lieu of live testimony. Hadden vehemently objected, arguing that the commission was prohibited from making any finding based on their inherently unreliable hearsay statements, and that to do otherwise would deprive Finley of his constitutional rights of confrontation of witnesses and due process. Hadden dared the county to produce the inmate witnesses for cross-examination.

The commission agreed with Hadden’s position. The county then declined to call any of the inmate witnesses, with the exception of the complainant, who testified that he had been compliant with all of the deputies’ commands, had done nothing to resist them, and that no part of the incident was in any way his fault. On cross-examination, he also claimed that neither of his two burglary convictions was his fault either, because he had gotten himself drunk before committing those crimes. His version of the events in question was emphatically disputed by all four deputies, and the commission ultimately found his testimony to be “unbelievable.”

The county also sought to allege that Finley should not have attempted to move the inmate to a wall area, and should have secured him in a cell. Hadden argued that the county’s position was nothing more than wimpy second-guessing and that Finley, consistent with the practices of the jail, had the safety of his fellow officers in mind when removing the inmate from the area in which he had just had an altercation with another deputy. Regardless of when or where the inmate was moved, he maintained, the inmate had a similar propensity for violence. Finally, Hadden noted, Finley and the other deputies had a responsibility to get the remaining inmates to court, and were badly outnumbered; insisting that any benefit of the doubt in such instance should go to the deputies trying to do their jobs as expeditiously as possible.

The commission unanimously found that:

“(a) Deputy Finley acted reasonably in removing Mr. Rodriguez from an
unsecured room with other prisoners.

(b) Deputy Finley used reasonable and necessary force at all times.

(c) The inmate’s resistance and refusal to follow commands was the cause
cause of the incident.”

Accordingly, Finley was reinstated, with full back pay and benefits, and with no discipline whatsoever.

For Finley, the decision was a gratifying one. “Getting fired from a job you love, when you are just trying to do that job to the best of your ability, was traumatic in many ways. If it wasn’t for the Legal Defense Fund, I don’t know if I could have defended myself on a case like this, where even the commission found that I did nothing wrong.”

Expressing joy to once again rejoin the department, Finley wished to emphasize there is no place in his future for bitterness. “It cannot be easy being an administrator and trying to make disciplinary decisions based upon reports of interviews of people you’ve never seen, and things happen. I was just happy to have LDF back me up when it happened to me.”

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