An appellate court this week ordered the release of personnel and internal investigation records to former Burbank Police Deputy Chief William Taylor, whose suit against the department claims that he was fired for pushing for internal reforms.
Taylor filed his civil lawsuit in 2009, alleging he was unfairly demoted from his post as deputy chief and eventually fired after he tried to compel the command staff to address a series of internal complaints.
He alleged in court documents that the action took place after he reported sexual harassment, complained that minority officers were fired based on racist motives and asked for an outside agency to investigate a theft at police headquarters that he suspected was committed by someone within the department.
“They are records that we were obviously entitled to,” said Gregory W. Smith, an attorney for Taylor. “The [courts] said that we’re going to get them, and that’s exactly how the court should have ruled.”
“There wasn’t any merit or basis to Burbank’s objections,” he added.
Although the city may appeal the appellate court decision to the California Supreme Court, in anticipation of the vast amount of documents involved, Smith said he plans to ask for an extension for the September trial date at a hearing Tuesday.
Burbank officials argued in court that the city had good cause to demote and subsequently fire Taylor because he interfered with an internal investigation of a 2007 robbery at Porto’s Bakery that has become mired in misconduct probes.
While preparing for trial, attorneys for Taylor asked for copies of records for two investigations into possible misconduct during the robbery response.
The trial court granted the request, finding that Burbank could not argue that Taylor was removed for good cause and at the same time deny him the opportunity to view documents concerning the alleged basis for his removal.
Burbank appealed that decision, arguing that the court’s review process was flawed, and that it would mean the release of “irrelevant documents” to Taylor’s counsel.
But California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that it is “possible that other officers or witnesses made statements about Taylor that would be relevant to what he did during the [investigation] that would substantiate either his or Burbank’s theory of the case.”
City spokesman Keith Sterling declined to comment on the ruling before officials reviewed it in detail.
Although the trial court is expected to issue a protective order to keep the investigation records from the public, the appellate court conceded their contents could lead to admissible evidence when the matter comes to trial.
The appellate court did overturn the lower court’s refusal to seal the personnel records of two police officers who Taylor alleges were possibly involved with a theft inside the department.
Despite the order to seal the records, the District Court of Appeal acknowledged this information, as well, could come out at trial.