WELL, THIS IS EMBARASSING
- By: David Prentice
In a case from just last month, the Second District Court of Appeal upheld the discharge of a deputy sheriff for “embarrassing” her department.
A Sheriff’s Deputy (deputy one) was assigned to work in the county jail as a correctional officer after just four (4) months on the job. She continued to work as a correctional officer, and in 2010 she was watching prisoners when another correctional officer (deputy two) pulled a prisoner out of his cell and proceeded to a hallway which was outside camera view, but within view of the observation booth where she was stationed. However, the officer placed cardboard over the portion of the window which looked over the area where he had taken the prisoner. Deputy one was unable to observe deputy two and the prisoner, but at some point turned around and noticed that the prisoner was wiping a bloody nose. Deputy two then retrieved clean clothing for the prisoner and sent him back to his cell. Deputy one asked deputy two what happened. Deputy two stated that he had shoved the prisoners head into a wall. Deputy one immediately stated that deputy two should report the conduct to which he stated “don’t worry I will.”
The prisoner eventually filed a claim and an investigation of the incident revealed that no one other than the prisoner had reported this use of force. When asked, deputy one stated that she did not want to be labeled as a rat and that she was afraid of repercussions from other personnel. She indicated that she learned her lesson and that she would report issues in the future, regardless of how she is seen by her fellow correctional officers. Since deputy one did not participate in the use of force and is remorseful for not reporting it, she feels she should be given another chance. Also, she told deputy two to self-report and he said he would. The Sheriff terminated her employment with the department, which decision was upheld by the Los Angeles Civil Service Commission. Deputy one filed a writ and in review the appellate court states: “[I]n considering whether abuse occurred in the context of public employee discipline, the overriding consideration in these cases is the extent to which the employee’s conduct resulted in, or if repeated is likely to result in, harm to the public service.” The Court ultimately relied on the Sheriff’s opinion that the conduct could “embarrass” the department. This they found was sufficient to uphold termination of a peace officer.
It should be noted that the status of peace officer weighed heavy on the court’s decision, as a peace office is held to a high standard. So, the level of discipline is always weighed against the position in the agency. While many would have the opinion that deputy one should keep her job and learn from the incident, her employer elected termination.
Pasos v. Los Angeles County Civil Service Commission ----Cal.Rptr.3d ---- (July 2020)