Peace Officer’s Termination Upheld On Multiple Charges, Including Dishonesty

CATEGORY: Client Update for Public Agencies, Fire Watch, Law Enforcement Briefing Room, Public Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Public Education, Public Employers, Public Safety
DATE: Jan 25, 2021

LCW Partner Scott Tiedemann and Associate Attorney Allen Acosta prevailed on behalf of a city in a peace officer’s termination appeal.

In May 2020, a black man was waiting for friends across the street from a trolley station.  A white peace officer detained the man for allegedly smoking and committing fare evasion, which the man denied. When the man attempted to walk away, the peace officer grabbed the man’s shirt to prevent him from leaving and repeatedly pushed him into a seated position. The officer claimed that the man smacked his hand.  The officer arrested the man for assaulting an officer.  The officer failed to activate his body-worn camera until after he grabbed the man’s shirt.  However, a citizen’s video of the arrest was posted online and drew significant negative attention, including public protests.

On the ride to the police station, the officer insulted the man.  The man responded that the officer could not admit a mistake.  The officer then said the man was “getting another charge” and told dispatch to add a charge for violation of Penal Code Section 148, which prohibits a person from intentionally resisting, delaying, or obstructing an officer from performing lawful duties.

Following an investigation, the chief of police terminated the officer based on five grounds of misconduct: two counts of dishonesty (including an allegation that the peace officer filed a false police report regarding the arrest); failure to comply with the department’s body-worn camera policy; discourteous behavior towards an arrestee; and exceeding peace officer powers by detaining the man without reasonable suspicion.

The officer appealed his termination to the city’s Personnel Appeals Board, alleging that he detained the man based on reasonable suspicion that the man was smoking and/or committing fare evasion because the man was standing on property owned by the transit agency that operates the trolley. However, the officer admitted that he quickly determined the man was not smoking.  A sergeant from the transit agency testified that no one has to pay a fare to stand across the street from the trolley platform.  Based in part on the above, the city’s Personnel Appeals Board upheld the termination in a unanimous vote. In light of this decision, the officer may file a petition for administrative writ of mandamus with the court to seek further review of his termination.

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