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LCW Successfully Upholds The Removal Of An FTO Assignment For Delayed And Inadequate Response To A 911 Call
LCW Partner Scott Tiedemann and Associate Attorney Alex Wong convinced the Superior Court to uphold a City Manager’s decision to remove a police officer from his premium-paid, Field Training Officer (FTO) assignment.
The case began on May 16, 2018, when the City’s police department received a 911 call from a teenager. She was home caring for her younger sibling while her neighbor was outside her house yelling that he had “f…ed up.” The call was logged into the CAD system, along with the information that the neighbor subject had previously been convicted for substance abuse and involuntarily committed to a mental facility.
At approximately 4:43 am, the FTO received the call from dispatch and responded he was “en route to call.” The teenager’s home was 1.2 miles from the police station, and no more than a 5-minute drive. The FTO and his trainee did not arrive at the home until 15 minutes later because they took time at the station to “wrap up” lunch, re-organize chairs, set the alarm, and use the restroom.
The FTO had been to the subject neighbors house because the subject had previously “barricaded” himself in his home and the officer had spent 45 minutes coaxing the subject out. Once the FTO and his trainee arrived at the 911 caller’s home, only the trainee got out and inspected the location with a flashlight. When the trainee did not see anything, he returned to the car. The officers did not contact either the teenager who called in the complaint or anyone at the neighbor’s residence. They marked the call “completed” four minutes after they arrived on the scene.
After an investigation and an advisory hearing, the City Manager decided to permanently remove the officer from his FTO assignment. The officer appealed his reassignment to the California superior court.
The court reviewed whether the City Manager’s decision was a prejudicial abuse of his discretion. An abuse occurs if an administrative decision: was not reached in the manner required by law and the agency’s rules; was not supported by the findings at the hearing; or if the evidence at the hearing did not support the decision’s findings.
The court found that any errors in the decision-making process did not prejudicially affect the officer’s rights. The court found that the weight of the evidence supported the City Manager’s decision. First, the 15-minute delay was not justified because a minor had called 911 at 4:43 am to report that a tall, young man was outside her house ringing her doorbell and cursing. The CAD notes also indicated that the man had convictions for substance abuse, failure to appear, and probation violations. Because the officer had not identified any good reason to delay the response, the evidence supported the finding that his 15-minute response was a neglect of duty.
Second, the court found that the weight of the evidence showed that the officer’s decision to remain in the car while the trainee searched the area also violated numerous Police Department policies. Most importantly, letting the trainee search alone in those circumstances was inconsistent with both officer safety and the need for an FTO to demonstrate the right way to do police work.
The court concluded that the City Manager’s decision to remove the officer from his FTO assignment and pay was within his discretion and consistent with good cause. The court noted that the FTO is an important assignment that is responsible for training new officers in Department policies and procedures. The officer’s misconduct reasonably supported the decision to remove the officer from his FTO assignment due to his failure to meet those high standards.