Monday, November 9, 2009

Looking Back at the Burbank Lawsuits

In an effort to understand the Burbank problem and connect some dots, here's a bit of info beginning with the original lawsuit by five Burbank Police Officers earlier this year.

5 officers sue Burbank police for discrimination
By The Associated Press
Friday, May 29, 2009 at 10:28 p.m.

BURBANK, Calif. — Five Burbank police officers filed a lawsuit against the department, the city and police officials alleging discrimination and sexual harassment against minority officers.

The lawsuit, filed this week in Los Angeles County Superior Court, seeks damages of up to $25 million, said the plaintiffs' attorney. It also names seven police officials who allegedly tolerated slurs about race, ethnicity and sexual preference directed at officers and suspects.

The plaintiffs say those who reported the harassment were threatened and demoted. They also allege that police Chief Tim Stehr and other officials conspired to exclude minorities from the best jobs in the department.

Plaintiff's attorney Solomon Gresen said the Police Department "is run as an insider's club where if you aren't white, male and heterosexual you had better keep your mouth shut and play along with the bigots or suffer the consequences."

The plaintiffs said they were regularly exposed to slurs such as "beaner," "towel head" and other objectionable language.

A message left with the department was not immediately returned Friday night.

Lt. Omar Rodriguez, a 21-year veteran of the department and one of the plaintiffs, claims he was put on administrative leave and reassigned to patrol after he filed a complaint about harassment and discrimination.

Cindy Guillen-Gomez, also a plaintiff, claims she was threatened with rape and passed over for promotion in favor of men who scored less than she did on the detective examination.

She said she was told that she and other female officers were "worthless," and the verbal abuse worsened when she became pregnant.

Two other plaintiffs, Elfego Rodriguez and Steve Karagiosian, said a special unit was disbanded to demote them after they complained about racial harassment.

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Following this were lawsuits by two more BPD Officers: Christopher Lee Dunn and William (Bill) Taylor.

Sixth Burbank officer sues department over discrimination
LA Times - Andrew Blankstein
July 16, 2009 5:46 pm

A decorated Asian American police detective filed a civil lawsuit today against the Burbank Police Department, alleging that he was the victim of discrimination and retaliation before being unlawfully fired.

Christopher Lee Dunn, who won the Medal of Valor as a Los Angeles Police Department officer before joining the Burbank force, argued in a 22-page complaint that he was subjected to years of racial taunts and discouraged from joining the department's narcotics unit because he was not white. After success with another unit, the lawsuit alleges he was targeted by management before eventually being run out of the department.

In May, five Burbank police officers sued the department and seven current police officials, alleging that they tolerated an environment in which officers commonly used slurs about race, ethnicity and sexual preference directed at them, their colleagues, suspects and the public at large.

Dunn's suit, filed separately, seeks civil penalties and compensatory damages. The Burbank city attorney's office did not immediately return a call for comment.

In addition to the Medal of Valor and the 1999 Top Cop Award, which was presented to him by then-President Bill Clinton, Dunn was the recipient of the 2007 Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Award and the Professional Esteem Award from the Burbank City Council.

According to the suit, Dunn's troubles began over his efforts to join an elite narcotics unit. Dunn alleges that he initially was discouraged by members of the “all-white” unit who said they did not want work with non-whites. When he ultimately was promoted, he alleges that he was subjected to racist jokes and comments.

Dunn's suit alleges that he was given less desirable assignments in the unit despite having more narcotics seizures than any other Burbank officer. When one of the offending colleagues was transferred, Dunn claims the harassment got worse.

A 2007 complaint against Dunn alleged that he had “tipped off” an informant about a Culver City Police Department investigation. The informant was arrested in possession of enough narcotics to support felony trafficking charges and ultimately recanted her allegations against Dunn.

Dunn was first transferred to another unit and later placed on paid administrative leave. Despite an unsubstantiated complaint that did not result in criminal charges, Dunn alleges that he was terminated on charges that he interfered with the investigation and for insubordination.

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9/25/09 City Statement on Taylor Lawsuit

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Police captain sues city

High-ranking officer claims he was demoted for seeking investigation into several complaints within the department.

Burbank Leader / By Christopher Cadelago
Published: Last Updated Tuesday, September 22, 2009 8:46 PM PDT

CITY CENTER — A Burbank police captain on Tuesday filed a civil lawsuit against the city, alleging he was unfairly demoted from his post as deputy chief after he tried to compel the command staff to address a series of internal complaints.

Capt. Bill Taylor, known by many in the city as the moral compass of the Police Department, filed the lawsuit Tuesday afternoon in Los Angeles Superior Court, the latest in a series of police-related legal woes that have struck Burbank.

Four officers and one lieutenant filed a lawsuit in May alleging racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Then in July, a decorated Japanese American police detective sued the department, alleging he was subjected to racial discrimination and retaliation before being unlawfully fired.

A second lawsuit filed by attorneys for the detective, Christopher Lee Dunn, charges that City Atty. Dennis Barlow and his deputy disclosed the private personnel file and termination notice of the former detective to the Burbank Leader “and other members of the press and general public.”

The flow of legal action has pummeled the city’s Police Commission, which this summer agreed to meet more frequently in an attempt to step up its oversight and public liaison role. Police Chief Tim Stehr has maintained that the department takes allegations seriously, but has declined to comment directly on the investigations or pending litigation.

A city spokesman said officials had yet to be served the lawsuit and could not comment.

Stehr, at the Police Commission meeting earlier this month, confirmed that Taylor is on leave.

Taylor joined the Burbank Police Department more than 20 years ago. He began his career as a police recruit in 1984, moving up through the ranks as a patrol officer, school resource officer, detective, sergeant and lieutenant before overseeing professional standards and the Property Bureau, according to his department biography.

His attorney, Gregory W. Smith, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Discord started in 2007, when Taylor requested the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department be brought in after the evidence for an internal investigation into a police sergeant who allegedly used excessive force against a suspect was stolen from a locked office in the Burbank Police Department, according to the lawsuit.

He claims the request was angrily denied.

Shortly before being demoted from deputy chief to captain, an officer was accused of sexually harassing numerous women at the Burbank Animal Shelter, which is operated by the Police Department. In the lawsuit, Taylor claims that he recommended to Stehr that the officer be placed on administrative leave pending investigation.

But Stehr, who Taylor alleges had sex with a woman while on duty in a Burbank patrol car several years ago, reacted angrily and eventually brought the officer back before a complete investigation took place, according to the lawsuit.

“[Taylor] alleges that Chief Stehr’s motivation to retaliate against [him] arises from his own personal experiences being subjected to discipline for having sexual intercourse in a police vehicle while on duty,” the lawsuit states.

When Taylor informed City Manager Mike Flad that he believed the incident was handled improperly, Flad said: “What difference does it make what Tim [Stehr] did in the back of a police car 20 years ago,” according to the suit.

In 2008, Taylor also complained to Stehr that discrimination toward minority candidates and officers was “systemic and rampant and sanctioned by the chief,” according to the lawsuit.

And when he brought his concerns to Flad, the lawsuit states the city manager took no action and played a key role in demoting Taylor, an action initiated by Stehr in retaliation for his complaints.
According to the lawsuit, Flad allegedly told Taylor that if he didn’t fight the demotion, he would be allowed to keep his deputy-chief paygrade, later adding that his career in Burbank was finished, but “why don’t you go over to Glendale and become chief.”

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Then all the above apparently led to this:

FBI probes Police Dept.

Burbank Leader / By Christopher Cadelago
Published: Last Updated Tuesday, September 29, 2009 9:36 PM PDT

CITY HALL — Four days after the city released a statement calling the latest lawsuit filed against its Police Department “baseless and disingenuous,” Mayor Gary Bric on Tuesday said the FBI was investigating the allegations.

He also announced that the Burbank Police Department was being investigated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which was to turn over its findings to the county district attorney’s office, paving the way for the city to bring in its own outside attorney to review the allegations.

Seven current and former members of the Burbank Police Department have filed lawsuits since May, claiming everything from unfair demotion and retaliation, to sexual harassment and racial discrimination.

The City Council had remained silent on the legal action building against the city, but Bric on Tuesday blew the lid off the investigations as a way to reassure the public that “the City Council is taking every step possible to make sure all of the issues are identified” and “dealt with in a manner that ensures they are never repeated.”

"These are all very serious allegations, and I think it is clear to everyone that the Police Department is facing some major challenges,” he said at the meeting.

Last week, Capt. Bill Taylor filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court claiming he was unfairly demoted after pushing for internal investigations into allegations of officer misconduct.

It was the latest in a string of legal woes for the department.

A former decorated Japanese American police detective sued the department in July, alleging he was subjected to racial discrimination and retaliation before being unlawfully fired. Attorneys for Christopher Lee Dunn also filed a second lawsuit claiming City Atty. Dennis Barlow and his deputy disclosed private personnel records to the Burbank Leader “and other members of the press and general public.”

And in May, four officers and one lieutenant filed a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination and sexual harassment.

The influx of lawsuits prompted the Police Commission to meet more frequently.

Despite the City Council’s relative silence on the legal action, Bric said the Police Department and outside agencies had thoroughly investigated the claims long before the lawsuits were filed.

“In addition to these investigations, the FBI has been conducting their own investigation into these matters, and we are cooperating with their inquiries to the city,” he said.

Reading from a statement approved by the entire City Council, Bric stressed that the majority of men and women in the Police Department were not involved in the allegations.

Last week, the city released a statement responding to Taylor’s lawsuit, contending that the former deputy chief “has chosen to deal with his own personal career disappointments with a lack of leadership and professionalism.”

The change in tone by City Hall drew a quick response Tuesday from Councilman David Gordon, who called for all future press releases to be “professional and measured” in tone and that they be approved by the council prior to release.

Bric added that the council was frustrated that it could not share more detailed information, but that the integrity of the investigations and strict legal rules prevented the council from doing so.

He also sought to reassure the public that city officials were taking the allegations seriously and investigating them fully.

“This may mean some severe consequences for any persons involved in misconduct, but we believe the integrity of our Police Department is extremely important to this community and is our paramount concern,” Bric said.

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Original Post:Burbank Police Sergeant in FBI Probe Killed

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Over the years my opinions have changed but this will never change: Jesus Christ, Lord, God and Savior, died on the cross and rose from the dead to pay for my sin.