Ex-Policewoman Claims Sex Bias in $1-Million Lawsuit

Times Staff Writer

On one side, there is Shari Verduzco Barberic, a former police officer who says her career was stolen from her because she is a woman, because she married a fellow officer and because of a report that unfairly labeled her as a brutal cop.

On the other side, there is Kenneth Stonebraker, the police chief who says Barberic is a victim of her own psychological problems which she refuses to face.

Between them there stands a $1-million lawsuit, filed against the city of Hawthorne Feb. 21 in U.S. District Court, in which Barberic charges that she was the victim of sex discrimination and was unlawfully deprived of her job under the guise of an involuntary medical retirement in April, 1984. She received $1,100 a month.

"Ms. Barberic was not then and is not now psychologically disabled," said Gloria Allred, Barberic's attorney. "She wants to earn her living and pursue the career she so carefully chose and worked hard to obtain. There is no justification for keeping her out of police work altogether."

Treatment Suggested

Stonebraker said he would like Barberic to come back to work, but she "has to solve her problems first. . . . She is in need of psychiatric treatment."

The Barberic case is the latest skirmish in the Police Department's long battle against the taint of brutality, which was ignited when a confidential report on the escalation of brutality claims during 1982 was leaked to the press in early 1983. The report said that Barberic and three male officers, including her husband, Dennis, were involved in 17 of the 35 incidents that led to misconduct claims. The claims led to an intensification of internal efforts to control police conduct.

Stonebraker said last week that Barberic had more brutality claims filed against her than any other officer during 1982, but he did not specify the number. Barberic denies this, but she says there may have been "four or five" claims against her.

Barberic said she was the only one of the four officers to be taken off patrol, asserting that the department has a "double standard" for male and female officers and that women are discouraged from working as patrol officers.

Pressure Claimed

A year earlier, she claims, she began getting pressure from the police administration because of her marriage.

Denying that Barberic's transfer was discriminatory, Stonebraker said he put her in the detective bureau where she would have less contact with suspects because she refused to cooperate "in anything I was doing to try to change what was happening to her."

He said he talked to the four officers "about cleaning up their act and becoming more professional in police work, and three of them acted accordingly and did a good job." Shari Barberic, he said, did not and "continued to collect claims against her." Barberic denies this.

The chief said he decided to place Barberic, who was then 30, on involuntary disability retirement "because of her mental attitude and condition. My feeling was that by putting her on the streets, she could be a danger to the citizens."

While Barberic denied that she ever engaged in brutality, Stonebraker said he believes--but "can't prove"--that Barberic did. But the city acknowledged that Barberic was never disciplined for misconduct and no claims against her have ever been litigated.

No Cases Pending

Allred released letters from the Justice Department in which it declined to act on three claims of civil rights violations lodged against Barberic by people she arrested. "As far as we know, all brutality cases are closed and none are pending," she said.

Neither side in the dispute will disclose the contents of a crucial psychiatric report on Barberic by Dr. Robert Shomer, the city psychologist, that Stonebraker said was the basis for his decision to retire the former officer.

"The report never said I should be retired," Barberic said. On the other side, City Atty. Michael Adamson said the report indicated that "there were stress-related problems."

An attractive, soft-spoken woman with frosted hair and pale green eyes, Barberic said in an interview that she placed second in her police academy class at Golden West College in Huntington Beach and did so well in field training after joining the Hawthorne department in February, 1981, that she was put on her own without a training officer earlier than usual.

It was her first stab at police work, although she said she had wanted to be an officer for a long time and had earned an associate of arts degree in police administration at El Camino College in 1980.

Dating Fellow Officer

But she said things changed for her in the department after she began dating a fellow patrol officer, whom she married in March of 1982. The two now share a Redondo Beach home with her 11-year-old son by a previous marriage. Dennis Barberic is still with the Hawthorne Police Department.

She said the police administration did everything it could to keep her and her husband apart while on duty, going so far one night as to make "everybody shift cars three times." She said that when the two worked as a husband-wife team for two months, they had "good records in making arrests and writing citations."

Stonebraker said Barberic was a good officer at first, "but when she started collecting a lot of brutality complaints, we did come down on her. It was not because she was a woman or married, or going with her future husband, but because she was doing things she shouldn't do."

He said the Barberics sometimes created problems when working on the same shift. "If they were working different cars, and she (Shari) got a call, Dennis would come by and show her how it should be done," he said. "It was disruptive."

Duties Curtailed

When she returned to the detective bureau in the fall of 1983 after three months off because of a serious thumb injury, Barberic said, her duties were severely restricted. Among other things, she said, she was forbidden to be in uniform or on patrol and had to be accompanied by a superior officer when making an arrest.

Stonebraker said he restricted Barberic's duties because she had gone on patrol after being told to "work the desk only." Barberic claims that the patrol assignment, an exchange of duty with her husband, was authorized by a superior.

Barberic said her thumb was injured in a fight with a drunk transient after she responded to a call. She said the man "swung at me, grabbed my baton, choked me, slammed my head and threatened to kill me. He tried for my gun and I believe that was a sincere effort to kill me. That really scared me." She said she received a sprained neck and concussion in addition to the thumb injury, which required lengthy treatment.

Things Piling Up

Stonebraker said he directed Barberic to have a "complete physical and psychological examination" because "things were beginning to pile up on her." He cited the thumb injury, ongoing publicity over brutality, and her work problems.

Barberic said Stonebraker told her he wanted her to have a psychiatric examination because her various injuries--including a crash in 1982 in which her police car burned--indicated that she was accident prone and might have psychiatric problems. But she contends that no other officer was sent to the psychiatrist because of accidents--and no one but her was sent to driving school after an accident.

"I had one session with Shomer (the psychologist) and he told me I was OK and that he'd tell the chief," Barberic said. She said that when she met with Stonebraker, the chief repeated what Shomer had said but added that he would need a written report. "Shomer said the chief had said nothing about a report and that he needed to see me two or three times before he could write it," Barberic said, adding that she had to be ordered to the third session.

No Hearing

Barberic contends that the report was written to provide a justification for retiring her. "He (Stonebraker) retired me without asking me about it," she said. "I never had a hearing on whether I was disabled."

The Civil Service Commission held that a hearing was unwarranted.

"Losing my police career was like somebody dying in my family," said Barberic, crying softly. "At first I felt I could see no one from the department, because they would think I was mentally ill. I missed all my close friends and I didn't want to see a police car."

She said she has filed applications for other kinds of law enforcement work, including county security officer, but that she feels her disability retirement is a "stigma."

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