Arbitrator Overturns All Misconduct Allegations and 60-Hour Suspension of Placentia Officer
On June 29, 2010, two officers from the Placentia Police Department were dispatched to a call of two males fighting at the front of a residence. Upon their arrival, the officers made contact with the subjects and separated them. One subject, Mr. R, spoke English and told the officer that he and the other subject were roommates and the argument was about the second subject not paying his portion of the rent. The second subject, Mr. J, told the other officer that he spoke little English but that he and the first subject were romantically involved and that he had been slapped by the other subject. Due to the language issue with Mr. J, our client, Senior Officer J. Flores, was dispatched to the call approximately 20 minutes later as a translator. Upon his arrival, Officer Flores made contact with the handling officers and Mr. J. Officer Flores questioned Mr. J about his relationship with the other male and whether he had been slapped by Mr. R. Mr. J stated that he and Mr. R were roommates and that he had been slapped but did not want any police action taken. He told Officer Flores that he only wanted to gather his belongings and leave. While Officer Flores was speaking to Mr. J, the other officers walked away from the scene to the backyard of the residence with Mr. R and did not hear the conversation between Officer Flores and Mr. J. Officer Flores believed that a battery had occurred; however, Mr. J was an uncooperative victim and the call was cleared as “verbal only, parties advised.”Approximately two hours later, Mr. J came to the front counter at the Placentia Police Department where he spoke to the watch commander, Sergeant J. Audiss. Mr. J told Audiss that he had been assaulted by his boyfriend, Mr. R, and wanted a report prepared. Due to the language barrier, Audiss enlisted the aid of a Spanish-speaking dispatcher to interview Mr. J. During this interview, Mr. J said he had been slapped, pushed, dragged on the ground and scratched by Mr. R. Mr. J then showed Audiss scratch marks on his back and stated he had shown “all” the officers at the scene his injuries. Audiss had a detective take pictures of the scratches, and directed the dispatcher to re-open the original call and to have Officer Flores contact Mr. J at the front counter. During his investigative interview, Audiss, who had been an officer for 25 years and a sergeant for nine of those years, stated he was “confused and concerned” that a report was not taken at the residence. Audiss was so “concerned” that he then went to lunch rather than speaking to Officer Flores, who was in the booking area of the department, less than 50 feet away. Officer Flores re-contacted Mr. J, who once again didn’t mention any injuries and stated he only wanted to report that Mr. R called him and threatened to have him deported. Officer Flores cleared the call as “unfounded” due to Mr. J’s statement and denial of any relationship with Mr. R.Upon returning from lunch, Audiss saw that Officer Flores had cleared the call without taking a report. Again, he said he was “confused and concerned.” Rather than speak to Officer Flores, Audiss contacted Patrol Lieutenant Pascarella to ask his advice on how to handle this perceived problem. Audiss was asked at hearing why, with all his experience, he contacted the patrol commander for what seemed to be nothing more than a miscommunication between the officers and Mr. J., Audiss stated, “Because I hadn’t had a whole lot of experience going down the disciplinary road.” Pascarella directed Audiss to interview the two officers originally dispatched to the call and to interview Mr. J again to “lock down his story.” During this interview, Mr. J recanted his statement regarding showing the officers his injuries and stated he had only shown Officer Flores the scratch marks.At the end of watch, Audiss called Officer Flores to the watch commander’s office, and behind closed doors with another sergeant present, questioned Officer Flores about his beat assignment and his failure to properly document a domestic violence incident. Officer Flores stated that he was assigned to that particular beat, along with the original officer who had been dispatched. The sergeant asked several times about whose responsibility it was to take a report and who the handling officer was at the scene. After being accused several times of being the handling officer and of failing to properly report the DV incident, Officer Flores stated, “If that’s what you believe, I guess I was the handling officer, so be it.” The Department took that as an admission by Officer Flores of his failure to report the incident. Attorney Mike McCoy was assigned to handle the case.
The Department eventually charged Officer Flores with four allegations of policy violations and imposed a 60-hour suspension. No other officers were charged, despite the original handling officer admitting several times that he believed a domestic violence incident had occurred and that he had failed to take a report. Officer Flores appealed the suspension and two days of arbitration ensued.
The arbitrator determined that the lead officer dispatched to the call was the handling officer. He was one of the officers initially dispatched and was the first to arrive. The second officer was assigned to another beat and was dispatched as a cover officer. The arbitrator went on to say, “Based on the facts of this case, there is no rational way that one could assume that the appellant (Flores) went from a translator to the lead officer. It was the original officer’s responsibility to file a criminal report if he believed domestic violence had occurred between R and J.” The arbitrator also noted that Audiss overlooked the fact that in the photos taken by the detective at the Department, Mr. J is wearing a green shirt with no tear and that the original officer had advised Audiss that, at the scene, Mr. J was wearing a red shirt that was slightly stretched. The arbitrator questioned the fact that rather than waiting for Officer Flores to contact Mr. J and speak to him together at the front counter, Audiss left for a meal break and told Mr. J what to say to Officer Flores. Mr. J admitted to Audiss later and at hearing that he did not say what he had been told to say by Audiss. Audiss admitted he did not know what had been discussed between Officer Flores and Mr. J on either occasion. The arbitrator stated in his decision, “If there was confusion as to what Mr. J had told the patrol officers, why didn’t Audiss call the appellant and meet with him and Mr. J to straighten out any confusion?”
The arbitrator determined that “Audiss wanted a criminal report filed and in time filed the report himself.” He went on to say that Audiss did not interview a witness, Mr. V, who testified at hearing that he was a neighbor, had a clear view of the incident and did not see any physical altercation, nor did he see Mr. J lift his shirt to show any officer any injuries to his back. The arbitrator concluded by saying, “It is clear from the evidence that the appellant did not engage in conduct for which he was disciplined.” As such, the allegations and the suspension were overturned in their entirety.