Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Sheriff May Fire Deputy for Misconduct While on Leave, C.A. Rules
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Los Angeles County’s civil service ordinance and rules allow the sheriff to terminate a deputy for misconduct committed during a period in which the deputy was on leave, the Court of Appeal for this district has ruled.
Div. Two yesterday certified for publication its Sept. 2 opinion upholding the termination of Deputy Sheriff Thomas Negron. The Civil Service Commission upheld a hearing officer’s s that Negron violated department regulations by driving while intoxicated and with an expired registration, being uncooperative with California Highway Patrol officers following the stop, subsequently driving with a suspended license, and falsely telling a supervisor that it was his girlfriend, not him, who drove his car off a department lot while his driver’s license was under suspension.
At the time of those incidents, Negron—an eight-year veteran of the department—was on unpaid leave. He had previously been on a paid medical leave based on anxiety problems, but the department had determined, about two months before the drunk-driving arrest, that Negron—who was embroiled in a contentious divorce at the time—had medical issues that were not work-related.
Then-Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin, since elevated to the Court of Appeal, granted the deputy’s petition for writ of mandate, holding that under Garvin v. Chambers (1924) 195 Cal. 212, a law enforcement officer cannot be disciplined for misconduct that occurred while on unpaid relieved-of-duty status.
But Justice Victoria Chavez, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the county had the authority to fire Negron, and that Garvin was distinguishable.
That case involved an Oakland officer who had been suspended without pay while under investigation for violation of the National Prohibition Act. While appealing the suspension, he was asked to appear for a meeting with the chief of police.
When Garvin appeared at the chief’s office with his lawyer, the chief asked to meet with him without counsel present. When Garvin refused, he was fired for insubordination.
The charge that he violated the Prohibition law was subsequently dismissed. The state Supreme Court ruled that he could not be fired for insubordination because “while the order of indefinite suspension was in force Garvin’s status as a policeman was suspended to the extent that he could not be called upon to do police duty nor be held amenable for a failure to do such duty.”
‘Witness Against Himself’
The court also held that Garvin could not be deemed insubordinate for refusing to be “a witness against himself” in a departmental investigation.
Negron’s case was very different, Chavez wrote.
“In the instant case, Negron was discharged not for insubordination, but for violating state law by driving in a dangerous manner while under the influence of alcohol; for driving with a suspended license; for being uncooperative, evasive, and belligerent toward CHP officers; and for making false statements — conduct for which he could be held accountable even when relieved of his duties as a deputy sheriff,” the justice explained.
Negron, Chavez added, was at all relevant times a classified county employee, and offered “no persuasive authority” for his assertion that he was not such an employee while relieved of duty. She also noted that when Negron went to the CHP office to obtain a copy of a report on the drunk-driving arrest, he identified himself as a deputy and presented his business card.
The justice wrote:
“Negron’s conduct reflected adversely upon and was a discredit to the Department. At the time of his arrest, Negron’s sheriff’s deputy uniform was plainly visible in the back seat of his car, of which CHP Officer Escalara took note. The vehicle registration for Negron’s car indicated the owner was a deputy sheriff.
“Unlike Garvin, in which the dismissed officer’s refusal to serve as a witness against himself could not constitute insubordination in violation of departmental rules, Negron’s conduct comes squarely within the prohibitions imposed by the Department’s Manual of Policies and Procedures. Negron’s argument that he was not subject to those prohibitions while relieved of duty is not well taken, especially given that he held himself out as a sheriff’s deputy and maintained the accoutrements of a deputy while on relieved-of-duty status. Given these circumstances, we hold that the Department had authority to discharge Negron and that Garvin did not preclude the Department from doing so. The trial court’s conclusion to the contrary was in error.”
The case is Negron v. Los Angeles County Civil Service Commission (County of Los Angeles), 15 S.O.S. 4597.
Copyright 2015, Metropolitan News Company