Thursday, August 22, 2002
LAPD Held Not Liable for Police Officer’s Suicide After Affair
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The Los Angeles Police Department is not liable for failing to intervene with respect to a relationship between an officer and a supervisor that allegedly drove the subordinate to suicide, the Court of Appeal for this district has ruled.
The justices Monday upheld a grant of summary judgment, rejecting a wrongful death suit by California Highway Patrol Officer William Badgerow, the estranged husband of LAPD Officer Nadine Arango.
Badgerow cannot recover for sexual harassment of his deceased wife because there was no evidence the supervisor engaged in sexual activity that she found unwelcome, Justice Laurence D. Rubin said in an unpublished opinion for Div. Eight.
Arango, 25 at the time of her death, had been seeing one of her superiors at the LAPD’s Foothill Division, Sgt. John “Jamie” FitzSimons, according to evidence presented in connection with the motion.
FitzSimons ended the relationship, which allegedly drove Arango to attempt suicide by drug overdose in January 1998. Arango, who had been orphaned at age six and raised by aunts and uncles, had been seeing a department counselor with whom she discussed her unhappiness in marriage and her childhood difficulties, but not the affair.
The suicide attempt resulted in her affair becoming public knowledge. FitzSimons was then transferred to another station and ordered to have no contact with Arango.
Arango remained in counseling, telling her counselor she was still in love with FitzSimons and unhappy with her husband. She asked Badgerow to leave their residence in March 1998 and returned to work the following month.
She killed herself a month later by ramming her vehicle into a freeway support column in Sun Valley as colleagues, alerted by Badgerow after a disturbing phone call, pursued.
Arango’s brother said he believed she was distraught because FitzSimons reneged on a promise to leave his wife.
In his suit against the department, Badgerow alleged that Arango was sexually harassed by FitzSimons in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act, and that the city was negligent in failing to stop the alleged harassment and in failing to provide adequate psychological counseling.
He also asserted a negligence claim with regard to the handling of the vehicle pursuit, but later dropped it.
The city responded that the relationship between Arango and FitzSimons was entirely consensual.
Because the relationship was consensual, the department had no tort duty to become involved, it argued. Alternatively, the city said that any duty it did have was discharged when it transferred the sergeant and ordered him to stay away from Arango.
Rubin explained that even if Arango was “at risk and vulnerable,” as Badgerow alleged, there was no evidence that the sexual activity between her and FitzSimons was unwelcome. And the fact that he was her supervisor does not create an inference sufficient to raise a triable issue as to whether she was harassed, the justice said.
“[I]t was uncontroverted that Nadine was in love with FitzSimons, was unhappy in her marriage to William, and had asked William to leave the family home,” he wrote. “William concedes these facts. On this record, we hold that at trial a reasonable trier of fact could not find in favor of William when the evidence is considered in light of William’s burden of persuasion at trial.”
As for the adequacy of Arango’s psychological treatment, Rubin said, there was no evidence that any negligence by her counselors was a proximate cause of the suicide.
Attorneys on appeal were Ronald G. Parker for Badgerow, Deputy City Attorney Blithe Ann Smith for the city, and Russell J. Cole and Paul R. DePasquale for FitzSimons.
The case is Badgerow v. City of Los Angeles, B149655.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company