The first of several lawsuits filed against Burbank by current and former police officials went to trial this week, with the attorney for an ex-deputy police chief calling what took place in the department one of the most “egregious” cases of mistreatment he's ever seen.
In his lawsuit against the city, William Taylor alleges that he was demoted and eventually fired because he informed city officials and former Police Chief Tim Stehr about concerns of discrimination and sexual harassment, and because he pressed for an outside investigation into a burglary that allegedly took place in police headquarters.
Taylor’s case is among several lawsuits filed against the city by former and current police officers following the Porto’s robbery in 2007. The lawsuits include allegations of racial discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliatory firing.
Other lawsuits are scheduled for trial in the coming months.
Taylor was fired in 2010 along with nine other officers for alleged misconduct during the Porto’s Bakery robbery investigation. He filed his lawsuit in 2009, the same year the FBI confirmed it was investigating the Police Department for excessive use of force and civil rights violations for its handling of the Porto's Bakery robbery.
City Manager Mike Flad, former Mayor Marsha Ramos and the widow of Burbank Police Sgt. Neil Gunn Sr. were among those called to testify in Taylor's case this week.
Gregory Smith, Taylor's attorney, said before jury selection Monday morning that in his many years of litigating and as a member of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, “I've never seen something as egregious as this.”
Defense attorney Ronald Frank said the city would show that Taylor interfered in an internal investigation, and that he was not demoted. Rather, Stehr was restructuring a department in turmoil.
Flad also denied in his testimony that Taylor had raised concerns involving racial discrimination, sexual harassment or a burglary in police headquarters.
Taylor was a contender for the position of chief when Stehr retired, Flad said, and described the deputy as someone with “very high morals.”
But when asked if he believed Taylor obstructed an internal affairs investigation — the reason the city has given for his termination — Flad said: “I don’t know.”
Ramos testified that she spoke with Flad about discrimination in the department after the allegations were brought to her attention, and that Taylor wanted to speak with him on the issue as well.
Corina Tina Gunn — wife of Sgt. Neil Gunn Sr., who committed suicide a week after he was interviewed by an outside investigator hired by the city about the bakery robbery and internal police investigation — said that day was her last working for the city as an executive assistant in the the city manager’s office.
She testified that Flad said he wasn’t sure why Taylor was “crying” about being demoted because he still had his job.
Flad had said Taylor was upset because he felt he was being demoted, even though that's not how Flad saw it.
Linda Savitt, one of the attorneys for the city, noted that Neil Gunn was moved from the Special Enforcement Detail to patrol.
She added that Corina Tina Gunn had filed a claim in state or federal court — a precursor to a possible lawsuit against an agency based on allegations of wrongdoing.
Corina Tina Gunn stressed in court that her husband had been named Officer of the Year and was a “good man.”
“All of a sudden he’s a bad guy because he spoke up,” she said, her voice cracking.
When Savitt asked if her husband had any concerns about going to prison, Corina Tina Gunn replied: “Absolutely not.”