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Doubling Down on Incomplete Investigations

Posted on Tuesday, May 01, 2018 at 12:00AM

Doubling Down on Incomplete Investigations

JOHN R. KRISTOFFERSON
Associate Attorney
Adams, Ferrone & Ferrone, APC

The San Gabriel Chief of Police, sitting on the stand in the San Gabriel City Hall, simply said, “No.” In a termination appeal hearing before the San Gabriel Civil Service Commission, the Chief had been asked if he had seen any evidence or heard any testimony that Detective Eric Britt had intended to deceive his supervisors. Britt, a 15-year veteran of the San Gabriel Police Department, was charged with making false statements, intentionally misleading his supervisors and not making up roughly two and a half hours of time. After 15 years of faithful service to the Department and the City, he had been terminated from employment, despite the fact that the Chief had seen no evidence of intentional wrongdoing.

Britt was working late one night assisting the Department with an officer-involved shooting, staying well beyond the end of his shift. Having stayed so late, he elected to “flex” two and a half hours of time in order to get enough sleep, making up the hours owed at another time. Having informed his supervisor of the need to arrive later than the regular start of his shift, Britt immediately went to his sergeant upon arrival at the Department. Between the two, it was decided that Britt would make up the hours owed in the following days. Britt and his supervisor were both aware that the following days included a training day for Britt, and the two agreed that he would arrive at the station an hour early and leave an hour late, making up the remainder of the time owed on the following day. Britt, applying the Memorandum of Understanding between the San Gabriel Police Association and the City of San Gabriel, understood that the eight hours of training served as a 10-hour work day. This provision allows an officer to commute directly from their home to the training and back to their home without owing the Department time should the training location be closer or farther away. Britt, in order to make up the time owed, traveled from his home to the San Gabriel Police Department and from there to the training, then returned to the Department before finally returning home.

In accordance with the MOU provision, Britt believed he had made up the time owed to the City for flexing his hours. The sergeant, in order to ensure that this time was being made up, began to send text messages and phone calls to other employees of the Department, checking to see if Britt was present. Upon hearing that Britt was not at the station, conducting what he phrased as a “pre-investigation investigation,” the sergeant sent a text message to Britt inquiring whether he had made up the time. Britt, believing he had indeed made up the time owed, indicated that he had. Upon receiving the message from Britt, the sergeant filed a complaint with internal affairs, alleging that Britt was intentionally misleading the Department, lying about making up his time owed and attempting to be paid for time he did not make up.

Throughout the internal affairs investigation, Britt maintained that he honestly believed he had made up the time owed, and would be more than willing to make up the time if the Department interpreted the MOU differently. Disregarding the testimony of an employee who had never given any reason to question his integrity, the Department sustained the allegations against Britt. The Department had relied on an investigation based on assumptions, inaccurate timestamps on surveillance footage and the unsure testimony of witnesses in order to draw the inference that Britt was intentionally misleading the Department. Upon receiving the investigation, the Department elected to terminate Britt’s employment. Throughout the process, Adams, Ferrone & Ferrone (AFF) continually pointed out the glaring lack of evidence, the complete lack of intent on Britt’s part and the absolute lack of any history of discipline in his file. The City would not hear it, and upheld Britt’s termination. An SGPD employee of approximately 15 years was terminated for an alleged lack of integrity, a resounding death knell for anyone looking to have a career in law enforcement.

At the termination appeal hearing, the Civil Service Commission heard testimony of numerous City employees, watched the surveillance footage and reviewed the investigation presented by the Department. AFF was able to successfully show that the investigating lieutenant had incorrectly inferred the amount of inaccuracy of the surveillance footage, according to his estimate of when the other employees left the station. AFF also successfully showed the Civil Service Commission that the investigation completely failed to show any intentional wrongdoing on Britt’s part. Finally, AFF was able to successfully illustrate for the Civil Service Commission just how severely lacking the investigation was, leading to the Chief’s answer noted above. The City, in sustaining the allegations, had attempted to reduce the question of integrity to one of timestamps and assumed levels of inaccuracy. In arguing to uphold the termination, the City doubled down on the surveillance footage, disregarding the contradictory testimony of the employees seen in the footage. In short, the City had sustained the allegations against Britt without a shred of evidence that he had intended to deceive, mislead or lie to anyone.

Upon reviewing the evidence presented and reviewing the briefs submitted by the representative of the City and by Britt’s AFF representative, the San Gabriel Civil Service Commission revoked the termination. In a decision that could only be described as complete vindication for Britt, the Civil Service Commission questioned how such a case got so far in the process. Britt, having been terminated roughly one year prior to the CSC decision, was returned to full duty, along with back pay for salary, benefits, allowances and all other payment he was entitled to throughout that year. This result, along with the back pay owed, would not have been obtained had it not been for the support of the San Gabriel Police Officers Association, PORAC LDF and Adams, Ferrone & Ferrone for their personal approach to each case, keen understanding of the internal dynamics of each department they represent and ceaseless faith in the integrity of Eric Britt.

About the Author
John R. Kristofferson is an associate attorney with Adams, Ferrone & Ferrone, APC. He specializes in administrative defense and represented Britt in the administrative proceedings, including the internal affairs interview, pre-disciplinary process and termination appeal hearing. 

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