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Peace Officer’s Termination Upheld For Failing To Complete Police Reports And Dishonesty
LCW Partner Jack Hughes and Associate Attorneys Brian Hoffman and Savana Manglona successfully represented a city in a peace officer’s termination appeal. After completing three internal affairs investigations, the city terminated the officer for failing to properly investigate and write mandatory reports, and for making dishonest statements during an internal affairs investigation.
In February 2019, a victim received a call at work from her ex-boyfriend’s sister, who told the victim that the ex-boyfriend was on his way to the victim’s workplace to hurt her. The victim had a restraining order in place against her ex-boyfriend. The officer who responded to the victim’s call told her that there was nothing he could do because the third-party threat was not “specific” enough. However, the officer did not speak with a key witness in the case – the ex-boyfriend’s brother-in-law, who heard the ex-boyfriend threaten that he was going to put a bullet in the victim’s head. The victim later called the department a second time, and another officer interviewed the brother-in-law, immediately secured a warrant, issued a Be-On-The-Lookout (BOLO) alert for the ex-boyfriend, and arrested the ex-boyfriend the next day.
The victim filed a complaint with the department. In response, the department initiated an internal affairs (IA) investigation into the conduct of the first officer who responded to the victim. Throughout the IA investigation, the officer claimed he spoke with the ex-boyfriend’s brother-in-law but never received a specific threat. However, the brother-in-law said he did not speak with the officer that day, and none of the telephone records indicated that the officer contacted the brother-in-law. The city attempted to clear up the discrepancies and interviewed the officer a second time. The officer was adamant he spoke with the brother-in-law despite all the evidence to the contrary. The Penal Code and department policy required a report for a domestic violence call or for the violation of a restraining order.
The officer testified at the hearing that he knew that a law enforcement officer could get in serious trouble for not making a report of a domestic violence call. Additionally, all of the other peace officers interviewed during the IA investigation stated that the officer should have prepared a report. The arbitrator ultimately found that the city proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the officer was dishonest during the IA investigations and that his failure to prepare a mandatory domestic violence report was serious misconduct, warranting his termination.
The officer also demonstrated a pattern of failing to prepare required reports. In September 2018, the officer responded to a shoplifting incident at the grocery store. Department policy requires a report if the suspect is either uncooperative or on Post Release Community Supervision (PRCS). The suspect, in this case, was both uncooperative and on PRCS, but the officer violated policy by releasing the suspect and failing to prepare a report. The arbitrator found that the officer’s failure to prepare a report interfered with the efficient and fair administration of justice because, without a report, the department could not effectively work with the District Attorney’s office to prosecute the suspect.
Additionally, in March 2019, the officer responded to a call of a vehicle break-in. The victim’s wallet, which contained his government-issued identification card (ID), had been stolen from his truck. The victim was certain that he told the officer that his ID card was stolen and later sent the officer an e-mail stating that he was concerned about the loss of his ID card because he needed it to travel. Department policy requires an officer to take a report when there is theft of identifiable property. However, the officer did not take a report and never followed up with the victim after the victim’s e-mail. The city also established that the officer had failed to properly author reports. His reports often contained errors, omissions, or lack of sufficient detail, which made it difficult for the department to use them.
The arbitrator found that the city proved by a preponderance of the evidence that it had just cause to terminate the officer. The city showed that the officer had a history of failing to prepare reports required under department policy and that the officer was dishonest when he claimed he spoke with a witness. Because the city could no longer trust the officer to honestly and effectively carry out his duties, his termination was warranted.
This case illustrates how conducting a thorough investigation is critical to a successful disciplinary action. Agencies can count on LCW to be a trusted advisor who anticipates and addresses potential legal challenges throughout peace officer investigations and discipline.