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Officer Successfully Appeals Termination and Is Ordered Reinstated

Posted on Sunday, June 01, 2014 at 12:00AM

MICHAEL WILLIAMSON, ESQ.
Attorney
Stone Busailah, LLP

     A San Diego County peace officer with more than 18 years in law enforcement was assigned to the San Diego County Gang Task Force, working with officers and supervisors from other agencies, including federal officials. Such an assignment is highly coveted, given only to those officers with the highest degree of ethics and integrity. Professional jealousy of the officer’s position grew, and conflicts with co-workers developed. In spite of the challenges, the officer was successful in his task force
assignment.
     On April 27, 2012, the officer was inside the Police Department when he heard a conversation between a sergeant, a detective and a San Diego County district attorney investigator concerning the possible whereabouts of a wanted fugitive. The officer recognized the fugitive’s name and interjected himself into the conversation, offering information about the possible whereabouts of the fugitive as obtained from an “informant.”
     According to the officer, and corroborated by independent witness testimony, the fugitive information had been previously provided by the officer but was never acted upon.
     Concern over the fugitive information and the manner in which the officer obtained it led to the initiation of an internal investigation. The officer was questioned no less than four times and ordered to write a report regarding the information on the informant and the fugitive. The sergeant found the information provided by the officer at his impromptu interviews less than credible. This conclusion was based on the belief that the fugitive’s information had been withheld, the “informant” was not the true source because no record of him existed, and the officer’s report was “vague” and he appeared to be “inventing” the information about the informant. The officer was terminated. After three days of hearing, the officer’s termination was reversed and his reinstatement ordered.
     The lessons learned in this case are as follows: (1) Internal affairs investigations should be conducted in an unbiased manner, (2) Unsupported speculation should not be used to conduct the investigation and/or to adjudicate a complaint, (3) Hostile work environments must not be permitted, (4) The Department should understand that if the internal investigation and conclusions are challenged by an employee, an evidentiary hearing will follow, which includes defense questioning of all witnesses and evidence, (5) All witnesses, inculpatory and exculpatory, should be interviewed by the Department, and (6) Proper representation during each phase of the investigation and the hearing is essential, and the exercise of all rights are important parts of ensuring that an employee, even an innocent one such as this officer, can have a fair opportunity to be heard.

About the Author
Michael Williamson is an attorney with Stone Busailah, LLP. He is an accomplished litigator with over 10 years of experience in police practices and is a retired LAPD sergeant. He specializes in police defense litigation, criminal law and family law. Stone Busailah, LLP, specializes in the defense of law enforcement officers in disciplinary matters and state and federal litigation matters, and provides advice and representation in family law matters. 

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