ANDREW M. DAWSON
Dawson & Riley LLP
Inglewood Police Chief Mark Fronterotta had the opportunity to settle, on multiple occasions, the demotion and suspension of one of his detectives. However, he simply refused. His unreasonable refusal not only damaged the morale of the employees but was also to the detriment of the residents of Inglewood, who had to fund the continual, nonsensical litigation of this matter. Attorney Andrew Dawson successfully represented the detective throughout months of litigation, wherein the entire discipline was ultimately overturned by the arbitrator.
The Department initially imposed a demotion and 10-day suspension for four allegations of misconduct stemming from an incident on June 22, 2011, when the detective attended a divorce proceeding during work hours. The detective coupled the attendance of her divorce proceeding with filing a case at the courthouse. The Department alleged that the detective was previously warned by her sergeant in May 2011 that she was to notify him when she had to attend family court during work hours and that her subsequent failure to notify him on June 22 constituted insubordination.
On the day of the incident, the detective’s sergeant attempted to locate the detective, but was told by her partner that she had gone to Downtown Los Angeles to file a case. Shortly thereafter, the sergeant received a text message from the detective’s ex-brother-in-law, who also worked for the Department, that the detective was at family court attending a divorce proceeding. This prompted the sergeant to exchange text messages with the detective regarding her location, and he was eventually directed by his lieutenant, now an acting captain, to go to the DA’s Office to find out where the detective was. The sergeant arrived at the DA’s Office but was told that there were no Inglewood officers in the office that morning. The sergeant then tried to call the detective but was unable to establish a connection. The sergeant proceeded to the family court to obtain information about the detective’s divorce proceeding that morning. Shortly thereafter, he received a message from the detective with the name and phone number of the DA with whom she was working on the case. The sergeant called the DA, and the DA stated that the detective had not met with him that morning. When the detective returned to the Department from the courthouse, she submitted a leave request for the two hours of time that she had attended her divorce proceeding, which was later confirmed with documentation the sergeant obtained from the court. The following day the sergeant followed up with the DA again, and the DA stated that he met with the detective after he had spoken to the sergeant the previous day. In addition to the alleged insubordination, the Department alleged that during the text messages with the sergeant, the detective misled her sergeant as to her whereabouts. Additionally, the Department alleged that her attendance in family court violated Department policies relating to attending personal business on duty and failure to devote time and attention to service.
After two days of hearings, the testimony of the City’s witnesses was inconsistent with what the City had alleged. In fact, the sergeant’s testimony established that he had not previously given the alleged warning to the detective, and he did not view her behavior as insubordinate. Rather, the testimony showed that on the prior occasion when the detective went to family court while on duty, the sergeant merely asked her to let him know as a matter of courtesy when she was outside the city. He never notified her that her failure to do so would constitute misconduct; she merely needed to turn in a chit for the personal leave time and he would decide on a case-by-case basis whether it needed to be submitted. As the arbitrator held, the sergeant’s response to the detective “after the May incident did not constitute a warning or even a reprimand.… Telling her it would ‘be nice’ to let her supervisor know in advance that she’s going to divorce court is a far cry from giving her notice that failure to do so would constitute misconduct warranting discipline.” This also is consistent with the practice of other detectives, in that it is common for detectives to attend to personal business while on duty without giving advance notice.
Based on testimony, the parties were strongly encouraged to try to settle the matter, despite prior unsuccessful attempts to settle. The City eventually admitted it did not have the evidence to prove that the detective was insubordinate or gave misleading statements. Despite their admitted inability to prove the two most serious charges, the Department still refused to agree to a reasonable settlement. As such, the parties were forced to reconvene the hearing.
Upon reconvening the hearing, the Department withdrew the two most serious allegations and the demotion. However, the Department continued to maintain that the 10-day suspension was reasonable for the alleged attending of personal business while on duty and the failure to devote time and attention to service.
The Department also failed in proving a violation of these charges. The sergeant clearly did not view the detective’s conduct on June 22 as a violation of any Department policy or order, as he believed “the matter was concluded when she turned in a chit for her time at court.” Additionally, evidence was presented that it was common for detectives to attend to personal business on duty without prior notice. The arbitrator ruled that the two remaining charges were simply not true; therefore, the entire discipline had to be overturned. Hopefully, in future cases, the Police Department will be more cognizant of trying to reasonably resolve these matters in order to reduce litigation costs, especially given the current fiscal conditions.
About the Author
After a successful career as a law enforcement officer, Andrew Dawson was licensed to practice law in California in 1992. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice from San Jose State University with a special major in law enforcement and received his Juris Doctor degree from Pepperdine University Law School.
Dawson specializes in defending police officers’ rights, and has successfully litigated wrongful termination, suspension and demotion cases involving allegations of excessive force, dishonesty, sexual harassment, misuse of property, Department policy violations and criminal law matters. He has represented officers involved in internal affairs investigations, attending 1,000 internal affairs interrogations.
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No criticism to give. Very well.
- 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.
- Micheal Chad Heiser Santa Rosa POA
LDF is a valuable resource that no law enforcement officer should be without.
- Kelly K. Roe San Joaquin Co Corr Officers
[My representative] did a fantastic job at returning my phone calls and keeping me informed of any and all information pertaining to my case. I would recommend him to anyone.
- Byron Kies Santa Barbara Co DSA
Everything was great!
- Christopher Delaney Upland POA
Your rep was very personal. Even though my case involved something minor, your rep made me [feel] my case was his most important. I am very satisfied with my LDF team.
- Marco Flores Ventura County PPOA
Great program. I was lost until the attorneys explained the situation. I was very impressed and satisfied. Thanks LDF.
- Christopher Boyd Carlsbad POA
[My representative] was an outstanding attorney to work with. Even though I did not receive a desirable outcome entirely, I was exceptionally satisfied with his representation. Thank you.
- Juan Pascua, Jr. San Diego Co DSA
Very helpful and very informative!
- Miguel Masso Oakland POA
[I'm very satisfied and grateful] for LDF representing me. My attorney was professional, honest, and very knowledgeable of his profession. During these tough times my attorney would contact me on a regular basis to see how I was doing. This was obviously not part of his job description, but it kept me at ease and not losing my mind. I'm thankful that I was represented by LDF.
- Paul Spencer Santa Paula POA
[My Representative] was great!
- Robert Morales Rialto PBA
I was very pleased with the service I received
- Heather Fontes San Joaquin Co POA
I appreciated the thorough follow up by LDF staff. Many thanks and blessings for the work by LDF.
- William Pryor Statewide University PA
Very helpful program. Helped keep department personnel focused on the issue regardless of their personal issues.
- Kenneth Nelson Plumas Co SA
Good job. Thank you! [My representative] does an outstanding job representing the employees and seems to be very intimidating to the [County Management]. We like it this way!
- Douglas Mansker Bakersfield POA
(My attorney) is a very good attorney, despite his young age. He kept me well informed throughout my legal matter and returned phone calls in a prompt manner. I was very satisfied with his performance and would not hesitate to be represented by him again.
- William Burdette Newport Beach PMA
26 years and I have never needed a LDF rep, but the one time you need one, it was worth the fee’s paid.”
- Malcolm Norrington LA School PA
I am very pleased with LDF and would use and recommend them again and again and again.
- Steven E. Lopez Santa Maria POA
Keep up the Good Work! Your service was extremely helpful to me. Thank you.
- Shaun Luciano LA School PA
LDF assisted by taking a stressful situation and calmed it down by thoroughly explaining the entire process. It was nice to know that I had an ally when I was sure that I was alone.
- Jeff Stanley Upland POA
Excellent program, no one should be without this coverage.
- John Dougherty National City POA
My LDF Representative was [Representative]. He did an outanding job with my case and I am overjoyed with the results.
- Nicholas Belliveau Sebastopol POA
High quality service, proficient, well informed. Overall, very happy with experience.
- Erik Kusmerz Lyon Co SEA
Amazing job, Thank you.
- Melissa Geraci Oakland POA
This is my 1st time using LDF and was very pleased with the service I got. [My representative] was so friendly & always returned my calls & even called to update me without provocation.
- Jurell Snyder Oakland POA
My LDF representative had a power point presentation, which was extremely professional.
- Keith Braden Los Angeles School Police Mgmt Assn
Great work, no complaints.
- Nancy Page Aurora PA
I didn't end up needing his service but he was awesome in what conversations we had before the matter was resolved. Very valuable - LDF!
- Brent Teasley ERS/Reno PSAEA
[ My representative ] was bogged down with multiple cases when he represented me, but I feel he did an excellent job. I would not have wanted anyone else to represent me during a very troublesome time.
- Brad Young Oakland POA
[ My representative ] is an awesome attorney.
- Rodd N. Joseph Clearlake MMA
I appreciate the fact that my representative met with me in a social setting prior to the interview, during which time she learned the facts of the case. She was prepared for the interview. She seemed to have a genuine interest in my case.
- Kim Jasper Alhambra POA
Excellent service, prompt and courteous.
- 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.
- Gilbert Garcia Oceanside POA
My attorney provided outstanding representation.
- Steven Moorehouse Redding POA
Thank you for your help.
- Patrick Davis Oakland POA
Very knowledgeable and thorough and would use the rep again.
- Gary J. Foppiano Oakland POA
[My representative] has been in my corner for 28 years. I have been represented by this firm probably 6 times in my career from minor to major discipline cases with a great outcome for me. They're batting 100%
- Albert Contreas Imperial Co. DSA
Thank you for your services.
- 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].
- George Fierro El Monte POA
I am a firm believer that LDF serves an essential part in the assistance to protect an officer's POBR & in the integrity of an investigation or complaint. I highly recommend the law office of [My Represenative].
- Roman Fernandez Inglewood POA
My representatives were always well-prepared and organized for hearings and meetings. Their efforts, hard work and full support is truly appreciated.
- Stephanie Haas Lyon Co SEA
When I first contacted LDF re: my case I was unsure of how well/poor I'd actually be represented. I was impressed beyond belief. From the timely responses from my attorney, his knowledge in my case, advising me what my rights were and where I stood. I felt like I was genuinely being protected from unwarranted and unfounded accusations and believe, as long as I am in the right, I have someone fighting for me. Thank you, Thank you.
- Kip RIngen Lake Co DSA
My LDF rep kept me well informed concerning the progress of my case. I was extremely satisfied with the service I received. Thanks.
- Steven Moorehouse Redding POA
You guys are Great! Very professional and well informed. THANK YOU!
- Michelle Foerder Pinole PEA
I thank God for the support of LDF and my attorney. I had a letter of intent to be fired and he helped me turn it all around. I still have my job and I'm so grateful.
- Scot Hicks Humbolt County DSO
My experience was made much less stressful thanks to the LDF representation.
- Gilbert Salazar Montebello POA
Can’t say enough. Both representatives that I had in 2016 were excellent. ( My attorney ) made himself available to me in late night hours, which made me feel comfortable and at ease. This program is essential to us in law enforcement.
- Alfredo Hernandez El Centro POA
[My representative] was very attentive, [informative] and knowledgeable. He spoke very clearly and explained things in ways easy to understand. [He] made me feel like he truly cared about what was going on with this case and me. Not to mention [he] was funny and witty, traits which made him trustworthy and someone who would stand by me and other police officers.
- Alvaro Ancheta Glendora POA
I felt I was represented in a thorough and professional manner.
- Robert Hartman Contra Costa Co DSA
Quick response, experienced and knowledgeable attorney which assisted in every step. [My representative] kept me apprised through the process. Thank you.
- Doug Plumhoff Ridgecrest PEA
Great job by all! Always great to know LDF is there when needed.
- Richard Salcido Brea PA
LDF is a great organization that not only helps their clients but many of those around them such as coworkers and family members.
- Stacey Bonilla San Mateo County DSA
[My Represenative] is an excellent attorney. He is very professional yet personable and I would definitely use him again. Thank you!
- 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.
- James F. Beland Lake County SDA