Flood of Lawsuits by LAPD Officers Costs the City
May 9, 2011 - Comment by Stephen A.
Jamieson regarding the recent LA Times article about the
multiplicity of lawsuits involving the LAPD.
"Interesting that the essence of the article is that the City
botched the defense of the case(s), and not
that the City is perhaps terrible at making sure the
employees/cops are treated appropriately and
according to legal
standards during their employment so as to avoid so many
lawsuits from being filed in
the first place."
Below is the article in the LA Times
At least 17 officers have won million-dollar-plus jury
verdicts or settlements from the city in the last decade in
lawsuits involving accusations of sexual harassment, racial
discrimination, retaliation and other workplace injustices.
$1-million-plus LAPD payouts
LAPD clears backlog of untested DNA evidence
By Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times May 8, 2011
Robert Hill did not join the Los Angeles Police Department to
become a millionaire. And yet, that's what happened in September
when city officials cut the veteran cop and his lawyer a check
for nearly $4 million.
The money was compensation for the snide comments and other
abuse Hill suffered at the hands of other LAPD officers after he
reported that a supervisor used racial slurs and embezzled
In the last decade, at least 16 other officers have won
million-dollar-plus jury verdicts or settlements from the city
in lawsuits in which they leveled accusations of sexual
harassment, racial discrimination, retaliation and other
workplace injustices. Dozens more officers have won five- or
"These cases irk the heck out of me," said City Councilman Greig
Smith, who has been a critic of the city's job-protection rules
that, he said, make it too difficult to fire officers who cause
workplace problems. "Somebody running a private company would
never let this … stand. Why do we let it happen here? And we see
the same things happening over and over again."
City records show that from 2005 to 2010, officers have sued the
department over workplace issues more than 250 times. The city
has paid settlements or verdicts totaling more than $18 million
in about 45 of those cases and has lost several other verdicts
worth several million dollars more in cases it is appealing, a
review of the records shows. The city has prevailed in about 50
cases. The rest, representing tens of millions of dollars in
potential liability, remain open.
Litigious officers have bedeviled Los Angeles police chiefs and
city lawyers for decades, and a survey of large police
departments across the country indicates that LAPD officers file
suit more than others.
Los Angeles police, for example, brought an average of about
three times more lawsuits a year per officer than officers in
Chicago and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. And
there were about a third fewer lawsuits among Boston police.
Officer-driven lawsuits have come under greater scrutiny in
recent years as Los Angeles' financial problems have gotten
worse. Elected officials and the LAPD's independent watchdog
believe the department should be doing more to deter workplace
conflict and avoid the expensive litigation.
Beyond the financial toll, the cases often amount to
embarrassing, public airings of the department's dirty laundry —
nasty fights that expose crude behavior by officers and a
retaliatory mindset of supervisors that undermine efforts by
senior officials to present the LAPD as a smoothly run
The case of Patricia Fuller, who at the time was the only woman
serving as a dog handler in the LAPD's canine unit, underscores
how contentious and costly workplace incidents can become for
Fuller had accused men in the unit of making vulgar sexual
advances and comments, while also excluding her from training
exercises, court records show. In 2009, city officials paid
Fuller $2.25 million to settle her claims.
Then another canine officer, Donald Bender, filed a lawsuit
alleging that he had been stripped of a rank and kicked out of
the unit as retaliation for coming to Fuller's defense.
He was followed by Blaine Blackstone, a sergeant who supervised
Fuller. Blackstone said he had been the target of retaliation by
superiors after he refused their demands that he placate Fuller
by changing her performance evaluation.
The city refused to settle with Bender and Blackstone, and both
officers won their cases. Bender received $2.5 million and
Blackstone was awarded nearly $750,000 in damages, court records
For Hill, who said the retaliation against him included being
followed by other officers, falsely accused of misconduct and
removed from a coveted assignment, knowing the large verdict he
won came from taxpayers left him with mixed feelings.
"Here I was a public servant suing the city, basically suing the
taxpayers who I was committed to protecting," Hill said. "What I
really wanted was for the names of the people who had harmed me
to be on that lawsuit. I wanted the money to come out of their
pockets. I felt bad that the wrong people were paying, but it
was the only recourse I had as an officer."
Large verdicts can be a financial boon for rank-and-file police
officers who earn $45,000 to about $85,000, depending on the
number of years they have served. Some, like Hill, choose to
remain on the job, while others leave. Beyond the money, some
who have been fired have successfully sued to get their jobs
The question of whether to settle a case or take the officer to
court can be a dicey one for city and police officials. Settle
too easily, the thinking goes, and the department will be seen
by officers and attorneys as an easy target. Taking too hard a
stand, however, carries risks as well. Employment cases are
difficult to defend against, lawyers say, since they often turn
on emotional issues and differing perceptions of what occurred.
"If you settle, all you're doing is encouraging other officers
to file more lawsuits," said LAPD Cmdr. Stuart Maislin, who for
several years ran the department's Risk Management Division. "It
sends the message that the city is just giving away money — that
an officer just has to make a claim and they'll walk away with
some money in their pocket. The only way to stop that is to take
them to court and fight them."
"When we lose," Maislin added, "we lose big."
In general, City Atty. Carman Trutanich and Gerald Chaleff, a
senior advisor to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck who oversees employee
lawsuits, have pursued a hard-line approach with officers in
recent years, refusing to settle except in those cases where it
is clear the city is likely to lose in court.
That tough stance has led to mixed results. The city has lost a
handful of jury verdicts that could have been avoided if it had
been willing to settle.
Attorney Matthew McNicholas, for example, represented Richard
Romney, an officer who was fired after he testified about the
department's overtime policy in a labor dispute; Melissa Borck,
who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit; and Bender, the canine
officer. McNicholas offered to settle the three cases for a
total of $2 million, but police officials and city lawyers were
adamant about taking all three to court and ended up losing
verdicts totaling about $9.5 million.
Understaffing and a lack of lawyers with experience in workplace
issues in the city attorney's office has hampered the city's
ability to defend itself against such lawsuits in court,
officials said. Bill Carter, Trutanich's chief deputy, said
overworked attorneys have missed court-filing deadlines, failed
to take important depositions and made other blunders on
"We're creating a recipe for disaster," Carter said.
The recent high-dollar verdicts and settlements suggest that the
department needs to do more to mediate workplace conflicts, said
Nicole Bershon, inspector general for the Los Angeles Police
Commission. That should include bringing in impartial employment
experts to help resolve conflicts before they reach a courtroom,
The department also has come under fire for failing to
thoroughly investigate complaints of workplace problems. In a
2010 audit of LAPD investigations into employee allegations of
retaliation, Bershon's office found that investigators routinely
neglected to interview people accused of misconduct, or even
name them in the investigations.
The way the department handles officer lawsuits has become a
source of increasingly hostile fodder for the Police Protective
League, the union that represents rank-and-file officers and
sometimes assists officers in bringing their suits.
Emboldened by recent high-profile verdicts for officers, union
officials have grown vocal at what they see as the unwillingness
or inability of senior LAPD officials to deal with problems in
the workplace — a charge department leaders deny.
"I've got a news flash for … the 'leaders' who are tasked with
ensuring the Department treats its people fairly. Look in the
mirror to find out where the problems are," Sgt. John Mumma, the
union's secretary, wrote in a recent open letter published in
the union's magazine. "How many more officers are going to
become millionaires over the botched handling of their cases?"