Civilian investigator reports misconduct, which City of Long Beach tries to hide. $736K. Los Angeles County.
Civilian investigator is terminated after he says valid complaints against Long Beach police were repeatedly ignored; claims retaliation.
- Case Name: Thomas Gonzales v. City of Long Beach
- Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior Court / NC053533
- Date of Verdict or Judgment: Friday, September 07, 2018
- Type of Action: Employment, Whistleblower, Wrongful Termination
- Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Mark C. Kim
- Plaintiffs: Thomas Gonzales
- Defendants: City of Long BeachCitizen Police Complaint Commission
- Type of Result: Jury Verdict
- Gross Verdict or Award: $736,000
- Economic Damages:
- Non-Economic Damages:
- Trial or Arbitration Time: 3 weeks.
- Jury Deliberation Time: 6-7 hours.
- Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: Defendant's motion for new trial was denied. Plaintiff filed a Memorandum of Costs for $93,475.42 and his motion for reasonable attorneys’ fees is forthcoming.
- Attorney for the Plaintiff:
Collier Law Firm by Dustin L. Collier and V. Joshua Socks, San Francisco/Corte Madera.
KO Legal by Kimberly Lind, Long Beach.
Stone Law & Consulting by Ashleigh Stone, Long Beach.
- Attorney for the Defendant:
Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo, APC by Alfonso Estrada, Irma Rodriguez-Moisa, and Arielle Spinner, Pasadena.
- Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):
Anthony Edward Reading, Ph.D., psychology, Beverly Hills.
- Defendant's Medical Expert(s):
James R. High, M.D., psychiatry, Santa Monica.
- Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):
Charles R. Mahla, Ph.D., economics, Sacramento.
Facts and Background
- Facts and Background:
Thomas Gonzales began working as a civilian constitutional-rights investigator for the Citizens’ Police Complaint Commission (CPCC) in 1999. He was terminated from that position in 2006 by the Long Beach city manager.
- Plaintiff's Contentions:
That for the first five years of his employment, plaintiff received excellent performance appraisals regarding his investigative work, which exposed police misconduct in numerous cases.
That plaintiff was pressured by the city manager’s executive staff assigned to the CCPP (as well as police brass) to classify meritorious complaints as “No Further Action” (NFA). That an NFA determination directs CPCC staff to refrain from investigating, and thus avoid inclusion of citizen complaints, in the official statistics reported to the City Council, the public, and the Department of Justice.
That in 2004 the city manager introduced fundamental changes to the internal workings of the CPCC and hired a new executive director – a position not authorized by the CPCC charter, but one that was put in place to control what the unpaid CPCC citizen commissioners would see and what they would not see. That the new executive director attempted to conceal or negate meritorious citizen complaints and to have plaintiff removed from his position.
Evidence showed that a significant number of citizen complaints against the LBPD were surreptitiously altered, eviscerated or ignored. Plaintiff complained about the injustices he witnessed and continued to press for justice in cases where he reasonably believed unlawful conduct had occurred. Plaintiff alleged that the actions taken by the city were meant to defraud the federal government of funds meant for "community policing."
That once plaintiff reported these actions, the city manager, his CPCC-assigned executive director and police department officials engaged in a campaign to tarnish plaintiff’s name and reputation by falsely alleging he violated the city’s Code of Ethics.
On March 4, 2005, plaintiff witnessed a police officer spitting on a Latino youth. He reported it. The complaint resulted in criticism from the chief of police that plaintiff was “soliciting complaints” in the community.
In April 2005, plaintiff observed that a large number of complaints from Latino citizens were being ignored or altered by the executive director.
In October 2005, a Latina mother whose son was shot 96 times by the LBPD made a CPCC complaint. Plaintiff attended a memorial for the boy two days after the shooting, at which point he saw the scene being altered by construction crews before any CPCC investigation could begin.
Horrified, plaintiff went to his boss and urged a CPCC investigation, noting the excessive number of shots fired and the apparent destruction of evidence that followed. The executive director threw the mother’s complaint in the trash.
The executive director later sent a disciplinary memorandum to plaintiff, criticizing him and threatening that he was losing the city manager’s “confidence.”
Shortly thereafter, the executive director hired a new part-time investigator to eventually replace plaintiff and slashed his hours. As a result of the executive director’s new restrictions, plaintiff's ability to uncover and report unlawful conduct by the LBPD was significantly hindered. Yet he persisted, continuing to investigate and report police misconduct despite management’s roadblocks.
That plaintiff's continued whistleblowing activity prompted the city officials to hire an “independent” investigative agency to find misconduct on plaintiff's part so that he could be terminated. That this agency issued a skewed report concluding that plaintiff had violated the city’s Code of Ethics due to an alleged conflict of interest. That the investigation was a retaliatory response to plaintiff's whistle blowing, that the investigators had a transparent conflict of interest, and that the city conveniently “lost” tape-recorded interviews of key witnesses, including the interview of plaintiff himself.
- Defendant's Contentions:
Defendants denied plaintiff’s allegations and asserted that he was terminated for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons.