The City of South Pasadena has been found liable for $4.8 million in damages to formerly dismissed police department officer Timothy Patrick Green after a 12-man jury last Thursday ruled unanimously in favor of Officer Green, charging the City with disability discrimination, failure to accommodate [for disabilities], failure to engage in interactive process, and failure to prevent discrimination and harassment. These charges violate rules set forth in the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and section AB-301 of the Public Safety Bill of Rights (Pobor). The latter is described by Cops Legal, LLC as “a California law which gives some measure of protection to police officers against their own department’s investigative zeal.”
In his second amended complaint, filed with the court Sept. 29, 2015, Officer Green alleged that the City of South Pasadena, which he said was aware that he was diagnosed with learning disabilities, including dyslexia and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), unduly terminated him after then-new Police Chief Arthur Miller reopened a closed internal investigation into Green’s handling of a traffic stop on January 31, 2012.
According to Los Angeles Superior Court documents, Green claimed that he was falsely accused by former SPPD Captain Richard Kowaltschuk of letting a hit-and-run suspect he allegedly pulled over for speeding at 5 a.m. go free. Green and his defense asserted that he was approaching the driver’s side of the car when he saw shadows nearby at South Pasadena Middle School. Deciding that he needed to act right away to investigate possible vandalism or trespassing, Green said, he told the driver to go and pursued what he believed was a more pressing matter. That driver turned himself into the South Pasadena Police Department the next day, where he disclosed that he had been involved in a hit-and-run in the previous 24 hours and was concerned that he
would be charged with fleeing the police.
Green’s testimony stated that he did not suspect the driver of being involved in a hit-and-run and that he did not step past the rear bumper of the suspect’s car. The City pointed to later testimony by Green, in which he stated that he did not pass the rear-back panel of the car, as evidence of inconsistency in his testimony. He had previously said he did not pass the back bumper of the car.
An internal investigation initiated on February 1, 2012, into Green’s handling of the hit-and-run suspect was conducted by the police chief at the time, Joseph Payne. Payne determined that there was no evidence to support the allegation against Green of dishonesty but did sustain a neglect of duty charge carrying six days of suspension. “Officer Green did not call dispatch and ask for extra cover. It was my opinion that had he followed protocol and investigated the driver, he would have determined that there was significant frontal damage to the car and that the driver was potentially under the influence of alcohol,” said Payne.
Payne wrote a letter on January 25, 2013 asking that Officer Green go through Learning Disability Training. Payne added that before he retired, he was told by Officer Green’s captain that Green had increased his performance and productivity during the previous year. He described Green as “a very good officer in many ways and a very deficient officer in more ways. He was very good with people, particularly community policing and interacting with emotionally challenged individuals and the homeless.
“But one problem is that impact in those areas is not very quantifiable. He struggled in quantifiable areas such as citations, arrests, reports, field interviews. Those were things he was not necessarily good at.”
Payne testified at trial that he discussed Green’s disabilities with Miller before the incoming police chief took over in early 2013 and attempted to seek help for Green’s learning disabilities while commanding the department. He retired approximately one year after initiating the internal investigation. According to Pobor, a defendant in an internal investigation cannot be found guilty of the allegation after one year has passed.
The lawyer for Green, Vincent Jay Miller of the Law Offices of Vincent Miller in Encino, accused the City of South Pasadena of recklessly ignoring standard protocol for firing employees, saying that not only did the City let Green go after one year passed, placing him on administrative leave on March 14, 2013, but that it also failed to provide Green with an explanation for why his Fitness-for-Duty Examination (FDE) was cancelled. Furthermore, Vincent Miller said, his client maintains that he was not granted due process during the termination procedure.
During testimony, Vincent Miller said, the City “admitted [it] proposed that Officer Green apply for workers comp and industrial disability retirement knowing full well those require injuries to be work-related and he couldn’t qualify as ADHD and dyslexia aren’t caused by being a cop.
“Officer Green turned down the City’s offer to collude in fraud against the state of California,” continued Miller.
The jury found the City liable for $280,000 loss of past income, $492,000 loss of future income, $1 million in past pain and suffering/emotional distress, and $3 million in future pain and suffering/emotional distress.
City Council Members did not have influence over Miller’s decision to reopen the investigation against Green, said Payne to The Review, who said that Miller would have conferred with the city manager over such a matter. Sergio Gonzales, now city manager for the City of Hermosa Beach, was serving as South Pasadena City Manager at the time. However, said Payne, the Council did approve the decision to proceed with litigation at the time of the initial filing, which was in 2015. Proceeding with the case, said Payne, potentially cost the City greatly, as throughout the length of the trial the legal fees and salary compensation accumulated.
The City issued a statement (printed on pg. 1) expressing its disappointment at the Oct. 5. decision: “We were surprised and disappointed by the verdict and the amount the jury awarded to the plaintiff. The City and its public-entity risk-sharing pool, which will play a critical role in the decision regarding next steps, are weighing all legal options moving forward,” said interim city manager Elaine Aguilar.
More to come on this story as it develops.