Monday, July 3, 2017
C.A. Reverses Order That Lecherous Deputy Be Fired
Opinion Says Civil Service Commission Should Take Another Look at Case of Sheriff’s Deputy Who Aimed a Camera Up a Woman’s Dress, Then Lied About It in Interviews
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district on Friday scrapped a judge’s order that the Los Angeles County Civil Service Commission reinstate the Sheriff’s Department’s dismissal of a deputy who tried to surreptitiously take a photograph under a woman’s dress, and then lied about it.
Writing for Div. Two, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Allan J. Goodman, sitting on assignment, said the commission erred in slashing the discipline of Deputy Steven Stroble to a month’s suspension without pay, but said that the commission may consider a penalty that lets the deputy keep his job.
The unpublished opinion announces a remand to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant, who granted the Sheriff’s Department petition to reinstate the firing of Stroble, with directions to Chalfant to bounce the matter back to the commission for a new determination.
According to uncontested findings of the hearing officer, on June 14, 2011, a woman was standing in line in the clerk’s office of the Alhambra Courthouse when Stroble asked her if she had dropped a paper; she said she hadn’t; he stooped down, pretending to be picking up a paper he was actually already holding, and pointed a cellphone camera upward, under her dress.
As a resulty of the incident, the County of Los Angeles in November, 2011, reached a $10,000 settlement with the woman, C. Zamora, and the deputy March 2012, pled no contest to photographing under a person’s clothes for the purpose of sexual gratification, a misdemeanor. (In February 2014, Stroble successfully moved for an order, pursuant to Penal Code §1203.4, to set aside the conviction based on successfully completing probation.)
Receiving Full Pay
Stroble was fired by the department on Feb. 19, 2013, but contested that action, and has been receiving full pay.
The commission on Oct. 8, 2014, countermanded the department’s action because Stroble did not click the camera, and eventually admitted having attempted to take a photo.
Chalfant on Oct. 15, 2015, determined that the commission abused its discretion, declaring, in a Nov. 4 judgment:
“While there is substantial evidence supporting the Commission’s decision not to discharge Real Party in Interest, Steven Stroble, solely for the underlying June 14, 2011 incident, Real Party in Interest’s minimization and repeated false statements, including under oath, mandate his dismissal.”
Department’s Position Rejected
Explaining Friday’s reversal, Goodman rejected the department’s position that a discharge of Stroble was necessary because if he were to testify against an arrestee, his own conviction would have to be disclosed, under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1963 decision in Brady v. Maryland. The jurist said:
“Even assuming for the sake of argument that all of Stroble’s misconduct would have to be disclosed under Brady, this fact alone does not require discharge. It is undisputed that there are law enforcement officers who remain employed and involved in criminal investigations even though they are on a “Brady list” which requires disclosure of their misconduct.”
Goodman went on to fault the commission for relying on supposedly mitigating factors, pointed to by its hearing officer.
A mitigating factor that was cited was Stroble’s eventual admission of wrongdoing, in a third internal affairs interview. Goodman pointed out that what Stroble admitted to was starting to photograph an exposed portion of one of Zamora’s legs, then stopping when he realized it was “stupid.”
‘Admission’ Is Falsehood
The jurist wrote:
“Under the facts found by the Hearing Officer, however, Stroble’s ‘admission’ is a falsehood. The Hearing Officer found that Stroble bent down and placed his camera ‘under’ Zamora’s skirt. This movement is not consistent with an intent to take a photograph of only the exposed portion of Zamora’s leg.”
Goodman noted that initially, Stroble lied by denying having positioned his camera under Zamora’s dress.
He said that while the commission “acted arbitrarily and capriciously” in reducing the discipline based on factors that did not validly constitute mitigation, Chalfant’s order to reinstate a discharge cannot stand.
“Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5, subdivision (f) permits us to set aside the trial court’s judgment and order reconsideration by the Commission “in light of the court’s opinion and judgment.” We conclude that it is appropriate to do so. On the record before us, we cannot say that it would be an abuse of discretion to select any discipline other than discharge.”
In leaving open the prospect of Stroble returning to duty, the decision is a setback to Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who has expressed a desire to rid his department of deputies who have evinced dishonesty. In a declaration filed in the trial court, he said:
“I believe that it would be contrary to the public interest for Mr. Stroble to serve in the position of a Deputy Sheriff with this Department.”
He noted that he is “particularly concerned because Mr. Stroble’s actions took place while he was on duty and in uniform in a courthouse,” which he said “erodes the confidence of the public in the important work performed by the Sheriff’s Department.”
“From my first day as Sheriff, I have stressed the need to restore the public’s trust and confidence in the Department. This will take time, but the task will be immeasurably more difficult if the Department continues to employ, or is compelled to employ, individuals such as Mr. Stroble who have acted in a dishonorable and inappropriate manner and have failed to be truthful and honest about their behavior.
“I have also underscored the need for the Department to hold itself and its employees fully accountable and believe the public expects that to occur. It is my belief that permitting a person who has engaged in the misconduct reflected in [four of the findings of fact] to be reinstated as a Deputy Sheriff is incompatible with the Department’s mission and would undermine our efficacy as well as my ability to restore the public’s trust and confidence in the Department.”
The case is Los Angeles Cty. Sheriff’s Department. v. Los Angeles County Civil Service Commission, B268599.
Michael A. Morguess represented Stroble and Jeffrey M. Hausman and Larry D. Stratton of Hausman & Sosa acted for the Sheriff’s Department.
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