Thursday, July 28, 2011
C.A. Upholds Officer’s Firing for Lying About Suicide Attempt
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district has upheld the firing of a Pasadena police officer, based on a finding that she attempted to shoot herself and lied when she later claimed the gun went off when she tried to take it away from her teenage son.
Div. Four ruled Tuesday, in an unpublished opinion by Justice Nora Manella, that substantial evidence supported Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant’s rejection of Karin White’s version of the shooting. The panel also rejected White’s contention that the city waited too long to act on the matter, in violation of the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act.
White was shot at her home on June 25, 2006. Her son, Kameron Williams, told deputy sheriffs at the scene, as well as the 911 operator, that his mother shot herself in her bedroom while he was in his room.
The badly injured White, who was struck in the jaw and had difficulty speaking, was not interviewed until two weeks later. She claimed that her son was going to shoot himself, and that the gun went off when she tried to take it away from him.
Sheriff’s Department Conclusion
The Sheriff’s Department reported the incident as a suicide attempt, a conclusion that the Pasadena Police Department initially questioned in statements to a local newspaper. But the Pasadena PD ultimately concluded that White was lying and served her with notice of intended termination.
White contested the firing, and a hearing officer rendered an advisory opinion in her favor on substantive and procedural grounds. The city manager, however, concluded that the department had acted in a timely manner, and that its conclusion as to the facts of the shooting was correct.
The city manager’s decision noted that White had significant health problems—she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999, three years after joining the department—and had a stressful relationship with her employer. She had been briefly declared unfit for duty in 2001, terminated for associating with a felon in 2004, and reinstated in 2005, and sued the city in 2007 for disability discrimination and illegal wiretapping.
That suit resulted in a substantial judgment, but it was reversed on appeal.
Chalfant, reviewing the evidence independently, agreed with the city manager and denied Williams’ petition for writ of administrative mandate.
Trial Judge Upheld
Manella, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the trial judge properly relied on evidence in the administrative record that Williams was talking to his girlfriend on the phone at the time of the shooting; the implausibility of White’s statement that she was preparing to go to bed at the time, even though her son was suffering from depression and she did know where her gun was; and the contemporaneous nature of Williams’ statements that his mother had shot herself.
With respect to the statutory requirement that notice of intended discipline of a peace officer be served within a year of the agency’s discovery of misconduct, the justice concluded that the one-year period with respect to White’s false statements to the sheriff’s deputies began to run in August 2006 when the Sheriff’s Department concluded its investigation, which was less than a year before her own department served her with notice.
As to Williams’ misstatements to her own department, Manella said, time was tolled, pursuant to Government Code Sec. 3304(d), because the Sheriff’s Department was investigating whether the shooting was criminal.
“Until all the pertinent witnesses, including appellant, had been questioned and the physical evidence reviewed, LACSD could not determine whether a crime had been committed,” the justice wrote. “The fact that Detective Coon, the assigned investigator, suspected from the outset that appellant had shot herself does not change the nature of the investigation.”
Presiding Justice Norman Epstein concurred in the opinion. Justice Steven Suzukawa concurred separately, reasoning that since the disciplinary action was clearly timely with respect to her statement to her own department, it was unnecessary to determine timeliness with respect to her earlier statement to the Sheriff’s Department.
Attorneys on appeal were Richard A. Shinee and Deborah Schild of Green & Shinee for White and Richard R. Terzian of Burke, Williams & Sorensen for the city.
The case is White v. City of Pasadena, B221687.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company