LOCAL L.A. Now

Cops who took car on joyride to Vegas blame 'momentary' lapse

Three Glendale police officers, a department-issued car and a joyride to Las Vegas — that journey and its potential consequences hit in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Tuesday.

An attorney for Officer Patrick Hamblin and his former colleagues — Fernando Salmeron and Mike Ullerich, who were fired after getting caught — appealed to Judge Luis Lavin on Tuesday to correct actions by the Glendale Civil Service Commission in the case.

The officers claim their actions were due to "a momentary lapse of judgment," not, as the city argues, "moral turpitude," according to their court petition. 

Civil service commissioners were also overly harsh when they upheld the firings of Salmeron and Ullerich and improperly punished Hamblin with a 90-day suspension and pay cut, the officers contend.

The officers were fired after they drove a sergeant's department-issued car to Las Vegas on Dec. 27, 2010, as a prank while they were supposed to be working 10-hour shifts.

During the trip, a Nevada state trooper stopped the officers twice for speeding.

Once they arrived in Vegas, the officers allegedly took photographs of themselves in front of the car and the "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign, according to court documents. They also lied to a police sergeant who called the officers numerous times to determine their whereabouts.

They were initially all slated to be fired, but the Civil Service Commission — which has quasi-judicial powers in employee disputes — later ruled that Hamblin could be reinstated after finding that he "committed no untoward act of dishonesty," according to court documents. He was, however, slapped with the suspension and reduced pay.

Lavin told both sides in court on Tuesday that he had "real difficulty" understanding how commissioners reached their conclusions in the case because there was a lack of findings and no explanation of the evidence they looked at.

City attorneys, meanwhile, are also taking issue with the commission, but for being too lenient. The city is asking the court to ask the commission to reconsider its rehiring of Hamblin, contending he too should have been fired.

The officers claim the sergeant violated the Peace Officer's Bill of Rights when he reportedly interrogated them about their whereabouts because he knew they were engaged in possible misconduct, according to court documents.

The officers requested their statements to the sergeant be suppressed because they were notified about a possible misconduct investigation and given representation.

But the city urged Lavin to order the officers to produce phone records, photographs and emails from Dec. 27, which could again lead to Hamblin's firing.

The city also requested that the court dismiss the officers' administrative appeals, which they are entitled to after being fired. The city alleges the officers' invoked the 5th Amendment in choosing not to testify about the Vegas trip, which would waive their right to appeal.

At the time, the officers were being investigated by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, which eventually decided not to file any charges.

Lavin will issue a decision in writing after reviewing the issues.

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Twitter: @VeronicaRochaLA

veronica.rocha@latimes.com

 

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