Downey Mayor Seeks Leave From LAPD Job, Claiming Work Stress

Times Staff Writer

Bob Davila, who talked about serving as a full-time mayor when he assumed the honorary position in July, is seeking worker's compensation benefits from his employer of 28 years, the Los Angeles Police Department.

The mayor, 58, has claimed he is unable to work as a Los Angeles Police Department court liaison officer because he is the victim of job-related stress.

The Los Angeles Police Department apparently wants to know how stressful it is to be Downey's top politician. On one occasion, the Downey police chief says, an LAPD officer attended a City Council meeting to watch the mayor in action.

Davila, who has been on vacation and sick leave since July, declined to be interviewed for this story, except to say, "I don't want to make a political football out of the Los Angeles Police Department. It's one of the greatest police departments in the nation."

In a claim dated Aug. 24, 1984, lawyers representing Davila said his stress was caused by job-related harassment that occurred in early 1983. At the time, according to a Los Angeles Police Department spokesman, Davila was working at his current job as a liaison to Juvenile Court.

Accusations Overturned

Davila in May, 1983, was accused of improperly handling department records, but in a 1984 decision by the police Board of Rights, was found not guilty, said Cmdr. William Booth, a department spokesman. Booth said he did not know whether this incident had anything to do with Davila's stress claim.

Davila has been interviewed by several doctors and his claim is pending, said law clerk John Wax of Wax & Appell of Los Angeles, the firm representing Davila.

The city has not acted on Davila's claim, leaving the matter to be decided by the Worker's Compensation Appeals Board in Los Angeles, said Diana Britt, assistant chief of the worker's compensation division of the Los Angeles city Personnel Department.

"We're not authorizing work-related leave, so he (Davila) is having to use his sick time until it (the claim) is litigated one way or another," Britt said.

As a veteran police officer earning $37,688 a year, Davila would be entitled to receive his full salary for up to a year, if the Worker's Compensation Appeals Board finds that Davila is "temporarily totally disabled," Britt said.

First Latino Mayor

After he took office as the city's first Latino mayor in July, Davila said in a Times interview that he was contemplating retirement and that if he did retire, he would "most likely" serve as a full-time mayor during his one-year term. His council seat is up for reelection in June, 1986.

On Aug. 13, from 5:30 to 11 p.m., a plainclothes Los Angeles Police Department sergeant carrying a clipboard was observed watching the mayor at a City Council meeting at Downey City Hall, said Downey Police Chief Bill Martin.

According to Martin, the plainclothes man introduced himself to the Downey chief during the meeting, and told Martin that he was at the meeting because "he wanted to see how the mayor chaired the meeting."

Martin said he did not remember the officer's name or what unit he was assigned to, but that the officer attended the meeting in an official capacity.

Booth declined to comment on the presence of the Los Angeles officer at the Downey meeting.

Downey Public Works Director Bill Ralph said that at a recess during the meeting, Davila talked to the visiting officer. Ralph said he overheard Davila telling the officer, "See, being mayor is not high stress. This is really easy."

Booth said Davila's function as a court liaison currently assigned to Compton Juvenile Court is to "keep the court abreast of what cases are going on" as well as "trying to expedite cases going to court."

15 Total Claims

Davila's stress claim is one of 15 claims for worker's compensation benefits filed by him during his 28-year career, two of which are still pending, Britt said.

Besides the stress claim, there are two worker's compensation claims pending.

The two pending cases, both dated Aug. 24, 1984, involve falls at work, Britt said. On Jan. 17, 1984, Davila fell and injured his back, head, neck and elbows, and the resulting medical bills cost the city $1,235, Britt said. On Dec. 15, 1983, Davila slipped on a stairway and strained his back, resulting in $1,090 in medical bills paid by the city, Britt said.

The number of claims are "not uncommon" for a veteran police officer, Britt said, adding that "police work is dangerous stuff."

Davila has been a court liaison officer since at least 1983, said department spokesman Booth, but he declined to give details of Davila's previous work assignments.

If an officer is awarded worker's compensation benefits, his chances are greatly improved for obtaining a permanent disability pension from the city, Britt said.

Awards made by the Worker's Compensation Board "carry a lot of weight" with the Los Angeles Board of Pension Commissioners, Britt said.

Work-Related Illness

"They (officers) start with us to get the lever to work the pension board," Britt said. "If the Worker's Compensation Appeals Board said this is a work-related illness, the pension board is going to be hard pressed to say it's not, no matter what medical information they have."

The Los Angeles Police Department has one of the most generous pension systems in law enforcement and in recent years has awarded a growing number of pensions for stress. If they are awarded a disability pension, officers hired before 1980 are guaranteed between 50% and 90% of their salaries tax-free, plus cost-of-living increases. The pension board approved 80% of the stress claims it heard in 1984.

The Los Angeles Police Department, in response to concerns about the growing number of stress pensions, last year formed a six-member Claims Validation Unit to scrutinize questionable pension claims.

Whether Davila is a victim of stress is a question that divides Downey officials.

Councilman Randy Barb, who was called a "snake" by Davila in a past council argument, said that the mayor's "name-calling and use of language not becoming a councilman" might be a sign of stress.

'Softest Type of Job'

Another councilman who has clashed with Davila in the past, Bob Cormack, said of the mayor, "I would think the type job he has is about the softest type of job you could have. It's basically doing clerical work. If he was being shot at, that would be stressful. I know there's no shooting usually in a courtroom."

City Manager Don Davis said he had observed "nothing out of the ordinary" in Davila's behavior that would indicate he was stressed.

Council member James Santangelo, who has defended Davila in the past, said that the mayor "appears to be a generally healthy person" who, in the past year, "has had a lot less stress with the council than he's had in previous years."

One city official said it did not matter whether Davila was a victim of stress.

"There's no doubt in my mind that police work is stressful," said Police Chief Martin, who has clashed with Davila in the past over the administration of the Downey Police Department.

"However, if the job gets to the point where Officer Davila or any other police officer can't handle it, he needs to look for another occupation. I don't believe the taxpayers owe him a retirement."

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