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Nov 2010
Latest civil suit verdict should be a wake-up call
John R. Mumma

Another sunny day in Los Angeles, another multimillion dollar jury award to a former LAPD officer treated unfairly. This, of course, does not happen every day, but it does happen all too often for a city that is in such dire budget straits that it forces veteran cops to fill in for clerical workers at the stations and can’t afford to hire jailers.

Consider the latest case, which involved 18-year veteran officer Richard Romney. He was fired in February 2008 in retaliation for telling the truth in testimony against the Department in a labor dispute. A Los Angeles federal jury awarded him nearly $4 million on November 2. This brought the total awards to former LAPD officers and sergeants to more than $20 million since 2008. When will the City and LAPD command staff learn?

For those keeping score, here are the major awards in just the past three years:

  • Officer Richard Romney -- $4 million (plus $1.6 million in anticipated additional legal fees)
  • Sergeant Blaine Blackstone -- $2 million (including legal fees)
  • Officer Paul Waymire -- $125,000
  • Officer Malcolm Thomas -- $700,000
  • Officer Melissa Borck -- $2.3 million
  • Officer Patricia Fuller -- $2.5 million
  • Officer Donald Bender -- $3.5 million
  • Officer Robert Hill -- $3.1 million
  • Sergeant Ya-May Christle -- $1 million

It gets worse. The awards above don’t include an additional $18 million paid to Officer Paul Harper, and Sergeants Edward Ortiz and Brian Liddy, whose earlier verdicts were upheld by an appellate court in 2008 (and thus accrued an extra $3 million in interest). So in reality, Los Angeles taxpayers are liable for over $38,000,000 to LAPD officers in just the past three years thanks to persistent systemic abuses within the LAPD. But because not a single cent of that money came out of the LAPD budget, nothing, it seems, has changed.

If these outrageous totals haven’t been enough to get the attention of the Chief of Police, Police Commission, Mayor and City Council, and prompt them to reconsider their actions and decisions, perhaps realizing that there are still other pending cases with facts nearly identical to Romney’s will bring about the needed changes. Meanwhile, we can only continue to watch the tally grow and wonder when the madness will finally end.

Los Angeles Times reporter Joel Rubin, in a story on the Romney case, wrote: “The verdict, which stems from one of several similar lawsuits that thousands of disgruntled LAPD officers are pursuing against the department, underscores a long-running, internal rift between LAPD cops and the department’s command staff that could ultimately cost the city millions of dollars more.” Just how many millions is anyone’s guess.

Now would be a good time for LAPD command staff to take a hard look at how it’s been handling these cases and change its ways to avoid exposing the City to even higher liabilities. Certainly, by now everyone can agree that there is a systemic problem here that needs urgent attention from the top.

The month before he was fired, Romney had testified in a federal lawsuit brought by officers against the LAPD who accused the Department of violating a federal law that sets rules on when officers must be compensated for overtime work. He testified that the high volume of calls for help during a typical patrol shift in South L.A. meant he often did not take his 45-minute meal break and, instead, followed an unwritten department policy that barred officers from requesting pay for less than an hour of overtime.

Within days of his testimony, LAPD opened an investigation on Romney, outrageously claiming he had violated departmental overtime policy. Then-Chief Bratton rejected a recommendation that Romney be given a one-day suspension and instead prevailed on a disciplinary panel to fire him despite the League’s insistence that such action was unwarranted and a direct violation of federal law. When his firing was upheld through the City process, the only avenue left for Romney was to sue.

The City had ample opportunity to reverse course and do the right thing by Officer Romney before the case escalated into a multimillion dollar payout. Indeed, a League funded lawyer for Romney put the City on notice in April 2009 that if the firing of Romney were upheld, “a federal lawsuit for retaliation under (federal labor law) for testifying about FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) violations could potentially expose the City to multiple millions of dollars.” Alas, that is exactly what happened.

The League has been involved in all of these cases. The common thread running through them is that at the center of each were officers who simply wanted to be treated fairly, get their jobs back and not be the targets of retribution. We can only hope the jury’s verdict in the Romney case is the wakeup call our City leaders badly need to start acting responsibly, exercising sound judgment and following all applicable labor laws – including the protections from retribution and retaliation for whistle blowing. While the League has not funded any of these civil suits, we share the intent: Los Angeles Police Officers deserve to be treated with the same fairness and respect afforded to the citizens of L.A. If LAPD can’t treat its own properly, how can anyone expect the officers it employs to behave any differently? The League joins with the citizens of Los Angeles and expects our members to uphold the absolutely highest standards and treat all citizens fairly under the law; and we DEMAND that our members be treated the same way by the Department.

For more, make sure you read my December Blue Line article.



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