Wednesday, July 5, 2017
Court of Appeal Upholds Firing of LAPD Officer for Lying
Presiding Justice Rothschild Finds Substantial Evidence Supports Denial of Writ Sought By Woman Who Accessed DMV Records of Domestic Partner, Then Concocted Excuse
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A Los Angeles Police Department officer who repeatedly accessed the Department of Motor Vehicles database to ascertain the status of her domestic partner’s driver’s license, then lied to investigators that she merely acted in the course of showing trainees how to look up DMV records, was appropriately fired, the Court of Appeal for this district has held.
Presiding Justice Frances Rothschild wrote the opinion for Div. One. It was filed Friday and not certified for publication.
The opinion affirms the decision of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant in denying a petition for a writ of mandate sought by the ousted officer, Betty Dove. She contended that findings of the LAPD Board of Rights were based on evidence that was too frail to justify Police Chief Charlie Beck’s termination of her employment.
The board unanimously found Dove guilty of inappropriately using LAPD computer system to look at DMV records and lying about what she did.
It was the lying that apparently proved fatal to Dove’s continued employment. Chalfant said in his ruling:
“The Board noted that Dove’s actions in this matter were not honest, and that her level of deception called into question her suitability to continue as a police officer….A police officer is held to a higher standard that other members of the community, and the Board was troubled by Dove’s failure to take responsibility for her actions…Had Dove taken responsibility, the Board would have been inclined to recommend a reduced penalty….Because Dove chose to stand by her story…, the Board recommended that she be removed from her position as a police officer.”
Count 1 against Dove was unauthorized use of the LAPD computer system; Count 2 was telling the falsehood that she only ran a DMV check on her own name; Count 3 was that she ran a check on her domestic partner’s license only for training purposes.
The opinion recites that Dove began dating Carlos Rosales in the summer of 2009; they commenced cohabiting in early 2010; and they registered as domestic partners in December 2012.
Uncertainties arose as to the status of Rosales’s driver’s license stemming from the DMV’s misplacement of records of his Dec. 7, 2011 renewal application—on which Rosales indicated a change of address to a residence in Montebello where he and Dove had, that month, moved.
However, Dove’s check of DMV records with respect to Rosales’s license predated any controversy with the DMV over the currency of the license (initially declared by the DMV to have expired, but acknowledged in 2014 never to have lapsed). She ran a check on April 6, 2010.
Seven checks were documented between January and October of 2012.
Trial Court Ruling
Chalfant, in his ruling, said that Dove’s motive for checking on the license status “remains at least partly unknown,” remarking:
“She may have run him out of concern that the DMV would show his driver’s license as lapsed as the Department’s evidence suggests, and she may have had other reasons. But training is not the reason.”
He recited testimony of various witnesses at the hearing, which stretched out over eight months. Captain Steven Carmona, the commanding officer of the North Hollywood Division area, disclosed that there were only two probationary employees at the station and both disclaimed having received computer training from Dove.
Carmona noted that one of the days when Dove ran a check on Rosales’s license was Dec. 7, 2011. He commented that it would have been a “heck of a coincidence” if she ran a check for training purposes on the very day Rosales went to the DMV office.
Date of Letter
Chalfant disbelieved Dove’s assertion that she used Rosales’s name, rather than her own, in showing trainees how to utilize DMV records, because his surname was a common one, and would result in multiple results being displayed, while hers was uncommon.
“Dove ran Rosales’ driver’s license number, not his name,” he noted.
He expressed doubt as to the authenticity of the date—Aug. 16, 2009—on a letter in which Rosales gave Dove permission to run DMV checks on his name. It was notarized on Oct. 24, 2013.
The judge said:
“It was not believable that an officer would ask permission of her new boyfriend to use his information to make computer inquiries, or that he would agree to it.”
He said the letter, notarized about a week before Dove’s interview with an internal affairs investigator, “was simply too convenient.”
Rothschild said in Friday’s opinion that substantial evidence supported the denial of a writ petition.
“Although Dove proffered an explanation for the computer searches,” she wrote, “the court’s rejection of it was reasonable.”
With respect to inappropriate use of the L:APD computer system, the jurist pointed out:
“The close correlation between the period of time that Rosales appeared to be having trouble getting his driver’s license renewed and the period of time that Dove was conducting searches of Rosales’s DMV records support a reasonable inference that the computer searches were related to Rosales’s driver’s license renewal difficulties, and not for the training of police officers.”
With respect to Count 2, she said that Dove, having conducted DMV searches on Rosales’s license, “knew or should have known…that she had conducted computer inquiries on someone other than herself.”
Rothschild declared that there was “sufficient evidence to support the finding that Dove’s statement that she conducted the searches for training purposes was a false statement for purposes of count 3.”
The case is Dove v. City of Los Angeles, B275379.
Gregory G. Yacoubian was the attorney for Dove and Deputy Los Angeles City Attorney Matthew A. Scherb represented the city.
Copyright 2017, Metropolitan News Company