Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Officer Who Socialized With Murder Suspect Loses Benefits
Court of Appeal Finds No POBRA Violation
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A former Oxnard police officer who was engaged in an intimate relationship with a woman he knew to be a murder suspect was justifiably denied non-monetary retirement benefits such as carrying an ex-officer’s badge and a concealed weapon, the Court of Appeal for this district held yesterday.
The appellant, Thomas Chronister, retired from his position as a commander on July 1, 2012, three days after he was questioned at the Oxnard station by Santa Monica police officers who wanted to ascertain what he knew about his girlfriend’s possible involvement in a slaying. He had been with the force for 29 years.
The girlfriend, Kelly Soo Park, had been indicted for the 2008 murder of an aspiring actress, Juliana Redding, and was free on bail. A condition of her release was that she wear an ankle monitor.
She frequently visited Chronister at the police station and went on unauthorized ride-a-longs. Their relationship was in violation of a department policy which provided:
“Except as required in the performance of official duties or, in the case of immediate relatives, employees shall not develop or maintain personal or financial relationships with any individual they know or reasonably should know is under criminal investigation.”
Chronister and Park were wed in November 2012, according to an article in the Ventura County Star. In June 2013, Park was found not guilty, after a jury trial, Yegan’s opinion said.
In May 2013, Chronister brought suit in Ventura Superior Court alleging violations of the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act (“POBRA”), as well as breaches of internal policies, rules, and regulations, and denial of his federal civil rights. He sought injunctive relief and damages.
His appeal from a judgment in favor of the city, its former police chief, and its former city manager was rebuffed in an unpublished opinion by Justice Kenneth Yegan of Div. Six.
The appeals court rejected Chronister’s contention that the interrogation of him was in contravention of his rights under POBRA. A provision of the act sets forth conditions that must be met “[w]hen any public safety officer is under investigation and subjected to interrogation by his or her commanding officer, or any other member of the employing public safety department, that could lead to punitive action....”
But, he wasn’t interrogated by his department, the opinion said, noting:
“He was interrogated by investigators from the Santa Monica Police Department.”
A commander in the Oxnard Police Department was present during questioning, but remained silent, the opinion pointed out.
It also said Chronister is wrong in contending that POBRA was violated by denying him an administrative appeal of the punitive action taken against him. Such an appeal, the court said, is available only where action is taken that can lead to an officer’s “dismissal, demotion,” or “reduction in salary.”
Yegan wrote that before the defendants could take such action, “appellant voluntarily retired,” elaborating:
“Immediately after the June 28, 2012 interview, appellant was placed on administrative leave, which meant that he was suspended with pay. But the suspension was rendered moot by his retirement three days later.”
He said the denial of a retirement badge, a concealed weapons permit, and opportunity to buy his service weapon “did not qualify as ‘punitive action.’”
Chronister was not entitled to those benefits by an internal policy, the opinion continued.
Other contentions were also rejected.
The case is Chronister v. City of Oxnard, B267929.
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