The state Court of Appeal has thrown out a $150,000 jury award to a woman who sued the city of Los Angeles after being raped in her Northridge home by an on-duty Los Angeles police sergeant.
In a 2-1 decision, the 2nd Appellate District court found that Leigh B. Schroyer, a 15-year veteran of the Police Department, was not acting within the course and scope of his employment when the rape occurred in October, 1981, and that the city, therefore, should not be accountable for his actions.
"The felony of rape is in no way related to the duties of a police officer," the court wrote in its 31-page opinion. "The black-and-white patrol cars in which police officers patrol Los Angeles streets have stenciled on the door four words which succinctly describe their duties: 'To Protect and to Serve.' The police are employed to enforce the law, not to break it, and to prevent rape and capture rapists, not to commit rape."
Schroyer, who resigned shortly after the rape, was convicted in June, 1982. He served 18 months in prison.
Following the criminal proceedings, the victim, a 33-year-old mother of two, sued the city and Schroyer, claiming that the assault caused her to acquire a drinking problem, gain 75 pounds, lose her sex drive and become a recluse.
The woman told the jury that Schroyer stopped her on suspicion of drunken driving after she had been out with several female friends. She said that she failed a sobriety test and that he offered to take her home in his patrol car. Once inside the house, she said, he demanded "payment," grabbed her hair, threw her on the couch and raped her.
The jury awarded her $150,000 to be paid by the city. And Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carlos E. Velarde awarded another $300,000 in damages to the woman in a judgment against Schroyer.
Schroyer has never responded to the lawsuit and the victim's attorney, Vann H. Slatter, said he does not expect to collect.
In its ruling, issued Monday, the appeals court focused on whether Schroyer's action fell within the "scope of employment." Under state law, the act in question must be required or related to the job and may not substantially deviate from employment duties for personal purposes.
Among the cases the court relied upon in reaching its decision was a complaint that sought to hold the Oakland Unified School District responsible for a school custodian's sexual molestation and rape of an 11-year-old child.
In a decision upheld by an appellate court, the district was not held liable. "Sexual molestation is in no way related to mopping floors, cleaning rooms or the other tasks that are required of a school custodian," the court held.
In a dissenting opinion in the Los Angeles case, the court's presiding justice, Vaino Spencer, suggested that the case against the city turns not on whether the rape was committed within the course of the officer's employment, but on whether Schroyer's contact with the victim arose in connection with the performance of his duties.
Abuse of Authority
Noting that Schroyer was armed and in uniform, Spencer concluded that the rape resulted from an abuse of police authority, making the city liable for the officer's conduct.
Attorney Slatter criticized the court's decision, which he said limits the government's liability for intentional and criminal acts committed by employees. He also called the ruling sexist and said, "if he would have used a gun on this girl, they would have come to a different conclusion. But since he used a sexual weapon, they can't extend the law that far."
Slatter said he plans to take the case to the state Supreme Court.