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The POBRA Limitations Period Begins On The Date Of Discovery Of Each Act Of Potential Misconduct
The Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act (POBRA) provides peace officers with several rights. One is a statute of limitations, which prevents a public entity from disciplining an officer unless the agency completes its investigation and notifies the officer of its proposed discipline “within one year of the public agency’s discovery by a person authorized to initiate an investigation of the allegation ……”
Luis Garcia was a Sergeant in the State Department of Developmental Services. In early 2018, Department leadership became concerned that “Garcia and perhaps one or two other sergeants” were working certain positions at times “when it wasn’t necessary” to maximize their overtime hours. For instance, leadership believed that several sergeants would come to work at odd hours (e.g., around midnight) to staff the x-ray machine for staff and visitors, even though it was unnecessary at those times. In February 2018, leadership instructed Garcia and other sergeants that they were not to cover “X-Ray” and “Relief,” “on any shift.”
About two months later, the Department learned that Garcia had manipulated his colleagues’ schedules to get around his supervisor’s instructions. On several occasions, Garcia created vacancies for “critical” positions by reassigning officers scheduled for those positions to the X-Ray and Relief positions that Garcia had been barred from covering —and Garcia then assigned the vacant “critical” positions to himself. Garcia later sought overtime for covering the vacancies he had created. Through these maneuvers, the Department suspected, Garcia, achieved the very result his leadership had sought to prevent—unnecessary overtime and unnecessary staffing of the X-Ray and Relief positions.
The Department’s investigation took place between June 2018 and February 2019. The investigation revealed that Garcia had committed numerous other acts of misconduct.
On September 26, 2019, the Department issued a notice of intent to demote Garcia based on the findings of improper scheduling as well as the other misconduct the investigation uncovered. Garcia was demoted and appealed his demotion to the State Personnel Board (SPB).
Garcia argued that, in disciplinary matters with multiple acts of misconduct, the initiation of an investigation into one act of misconduct necessarily triggers the POBRA one-year limitations period for all acts of misconduct.
The SPB disagreed, stating that if “… a peace officer is disciplined for separate incidents with different discovery dates, the SPB should separately evaluate whether the one-year limitation bars some of the charges for discipline but not others.” The SPB did note that the improper scheduling was well outside the one-year statute of limitation, which lapsed in May 2019. However, the other acts of misconduct described in the notice of intent were discovered less than one year before the notice of intent.
Garcia appealed to the Superior Court, which agreed with the SPB. Garcia then appealed to the California Court of Appeal. The appellate court stated that the limitations period starts with “… the date of ‘discovery’ for each act, not the date an investigation is initiated for any one act……” That ruling meant that the notice of intent dated September 2019 could lawfully charge Garcia with the acts of misconduct uncovered between October 2018 and February 2019.
Garcia v. State Department of Developmental Services (Cal. Ct. App., Jan. 26, 2023, No. C094235) 2023 WL 2131039.
Note: This case affirms a common-sense reading of the POBRA; the one-year statute of limitations starts running upon the discovery of the alleged individual act of misconduct. Public agencies must promptly carry out internal investigations.