Court of Appeal:
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Div. One of the First District Court of Appeal has affirmed the denial of a petition for a writ of administrative mandamus sought by man who was fired as a police lieutenant by the city manager, in the course of a publicized scandal involving several officers, based on having engaged in “sexting,” mostly on his own time, with an 18-year-old, and having sex with the woman once, while off duty.
Justice Kathleen Banke wrote the opinion, which was filed Wednesday and not certified for publication. It affirms an Oct. 22, 2019 judgment by Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Jill Fannin.
The appellant, Andre Hill, who commanded the Richmond Police Department’s Youth Services Division, argued that he was wrongfully fired by the city based on a “singular, lawful private sexual encounter with a consenting adult,” Jasmin Abuslin.
Disagreeing with that characterization of the facts, Banke said:
“[T]here was much more involved in the milieu here, leading to and the result of, the one-time sexual encounter. Nor was this a consensual relationship between two mature adults. While Abuslin may have been of ‘legal’ age, her conduct from virtually the outset of her seeking Hill out on Facebook, was not within the norm for an emotionally healthy 18-year old.”
“In addition, this relationship spilled over into on-duty time; indeed, some of the texting (although by no means all of it, or even the majority of it) took place while Hill was on-duty. Finally, the relationship, which was beset with yellow flags from the outset, became public and placed the Richmond Police Department in a poor light and undermined public confidence in the Department and in Hill, specifically.”
Local News Coverage
Local news reports centered on Hill and other police officers who had contact with Abuslin, a prostitute who was identified in those reports by her alias, “Celeste Guap.” An allegation that Hill knew she was a prostitute was not sustained in administrative proceedings.
He was fired on Oct. 28, 2016, along with two other officers. The East Bay Times reported on Oct. 31 of that year:
“All are part of the ongoing investigation that has implicated nearly 30 law enforcement personnel from seven agencies for illegal involvement with the woman….At least some of the contact began when the woman, now 19, was a minor. A fourth officer was previously placed on administrative leave.”
The article quotes attorney Michael Rains of the Concord firm of Rains Lucia Stern—which was representing all 11 Richmond officers who were subjects of a probe—as saying:
“The city may feel that morally the officers should not have been involved with [Abuslin], but it was not the type of conduct that should result in officers getting fired, and the law doesn’t support it.”
Rains was Hill’s attorney on appeal, along with Jonathan R. Murphy of his firm.
Banke made note in Wednesday’s opinion:
“We recognize Hill’s conduct did not involve any dishonesty and was not as egregious as the conduct in many law enforcement discharge cases….We also recognize Hill had an unblemished 22-year service record, that his conduct was not unlawful, that it involved only sporadic conduct over only a four-month period, and he disengaged himself from the situation as soon as he became aware Abuslin was involved in illegal drug use.”
She said that then-City Manager Bill Lindsay’s “assessment of Hill’s conduct and disciplinary choice was harsh,” but recited that an appeals court may not substitute its judgment for that of the disciplinary authority except in an “exceptional case” where reasonable minds cannot see a reasonable basis for the decision that was made.
This was not such a case, Banke declared.
The case is Hill v. City of Richmond, A159322.
Last Sept. 30, Bay Area television station KQED reported:
“Records now show six of the nine men [on Richmond’s police force] were given written reprimands and allowed to stay on the job. The city moved to fire three officers. An additional two officers resigned before facing discipline.”
Abuslin, daughter of an Oakland police dispatcher, claimed that she was the victim of officers in Bay Area agencies. In 2017, the City of Oakland settled her claim against it for $989,000.
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