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Former Newport Beach police sergeant loses illegal-termination case

A former Newport Beach police sergeant who alleged in a federal lawsuit that a group of city and police officials conspired to illegally fire him in 2014 lost his case this week.

In an 18-page ruling filed on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford wrote that Eric Peterson’s claims were “unpersuasive” and granted the city’s motion for summary judgement in the case.

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“All in all, Peterson hasn’t met his burden of identifying facts and evidence that show there is a genuine issue for trial,” Guilford wrote in his ruling.

In the lawsuit filed in February 2016, Peterson accused former Newport Beach Police Chief Jay Johnson, Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff, former Seal Beach Police Chief Robert Luman and several others of violating his due-process rights when they painted him as a dirty cop and then fired him.

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However, the defendants have argued that Peterson was rightly terminated for misconduct related to an inappropriate relationship with Doug Frey, a police informant and convicted felon.

Peterson’s attorney, Gregory Petersen, did not respond to a phone call seeking comment Friday.

Peterson, who launched his law enforcement career in 1995 with the Los Angeles Police Department, was hired in Newport Beach in 2001. He began working in the narcotics unit the following year and was eventually promoted to sergeant, according to court documents.

Federal authorities introduced Peterson to Frey in 2006 as part of a drug case. The two worked together on multiple investigations, but Newport police alleged that Peterson continued a relationship with Frey even after the sergeant was transferred from the narcotics to the patrol units in 2008, according to court filings.

According to court documents, authorities began to uncover the substance of that relationship in 2011 when Seal Beach police served a search warrant on Frey’s jail cell in their city. Authorities allege they found a picture of Peterson wearing a commemorative 9/11 jersey with a note that read “Eric?” next to the symbol “2K.”

Newport Beach officials said they eventually determined the jersey was from a nonprofit benefiting 9/11 victims in which Frey’s ex-wife was involved.

Newport police have also alleged Peterson was involved in other projects with Frey. Peterson once set up a meeting about a book proposal between Frey and a literary agent at the Alhambra Police Department jail, according to court documents.

When authorities confronted Peterson with the allegations they claimed he was dishonest and evasive. They allege in court records that he purged his emails to hide correspondence with Frey.

Peterson has denied wrongdoing and wrote in his complaint that his “relationships with criminal contacts was known and considered to be an investigative resource” for the department.

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