Forced to Quit, Gay Ex-Officer Charges in Suit
A former Los Angeles police sergeant, in a landmark lawsuit filed Wednesday, accused fellow officers and their superiors of conspiring to force his resignation through threats and intimidation because he is a homosexual.
Besides seeking $5 million in damages for Mitchell Grobeson, 29, the Los Angeles Superior Court suit also seeks an order barring the Police Department from continuing to discriminate against homosexual officers.
“Police departments cannot take wonderful police officers and set them up for destruction, simply because of their sexual preference,” said Dan Stormer, Grobeson’s attorney. “What your sexual preference is has nothing to do with your ability to perform as a police officer.”
In an interview before the suit was filed, Grobeson said: “There’s a police mentality that there is a whole group of second-class citizens who don’t have the rights that other people have. . . . At the very bottom of that list of second-class citizens are gays.”
A Police Department spokesman, Lt. Fred Nixon, said he would not comment specifically on Grobeson’s allegations because they are in litigation. In general, Nixon said, the department has “a policy of non-discrimination for reasons of sexual preference or religion or ethnicity.”
He added: “That’s our stance, and it has been for as long as I can recall. . . . This is something we’ve stated very clearly before, and our record would support that.”
Anti-Bias Policy Reiterated
Nixon said he is not sure precisely how long the policy prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals has been in effect or if it ever has been specifically codified. However, he said, the policy was reiterated as recently as last March in a memorandum signed by Police Chief Daryl F. Gates.
A section of the Los Angeles Municipal Code specifically bars discrimination against homosexuals by employers.
Grobeson, who served on the force for nearly seven years before resigning June 13, finished first in his class at the Police Academy and was honored for his work in resolving the stand-off last winter between property owners and the homeless who were camped on Venice Beach. He was promoted through two grades, from patrol officer to training officer to sergeant, within five years.
In the lawsuit, Grobeson alleges that:
- Fellow officers on several occasions refused to come to his assistance in potentially life-threatening encounters with criminals to “teach him a lesson.”
- Superiors identified Grobeson at police roll calls as a “faggot” who did not deserve to be a member of the police force. One officer is said to have told fellow officers at such a roll call that Grobeson would “burn” them if they did not “burn” him first.
- Grobeson received at his station items such as a package labeled “AIDS survival kit” and a picture of Rock Hudson, who died of the disease, inscribed, “To Mitch, Love Rock Baby.”
- The word “Beware” was scrawled on Grobeson’s private car while it was parked in a locked police lot.
- Eight Pacific Division officers persuaded a man who had been arrested to file a complaint against Grobeson, which resulted in a hearing before a police Board of Rights. The complaint reportedly involved an assertion that Grobeson had strip-searched the man for his own pleasure. During testimony before the board, the lawsuit alleges, the man admitted that the officers had “discussed” Grobeson’s sexual orientation with him before the complaint was filed.
- A Pacific Division lieutenant took Grobeson into an interrogation room twice a day for up to an hour at a time to question him about his relationships with men. In addition, the lieutenant ordered Grobeson not to book either evidence or suspects and then filed a personnel complaint against Grobeson for failing to do so.
- Neither high-ranking members of the Police Department, the Los Angeles Police Commission nor Mayor Tom Bradley took any action to halt the harassment after they were informed of it.
The defendants named in the lawsuit include the City of Los Angeles, the Police Commission, Gates, six patrol officers, six sergeants, one lieutenant and three captains. The suit lists 22 separate causes of action, including violations of rights guaranteed by the Los Angeles Municipal Code, California state law and the U.S. Constitution.
Joining Grobeson as a plaintiff is the National Gay Rights Advocates, a public-interest law firm involved in litigation to advance the rights of homosexuals.
Stormer said his legal research had turned up no other cases in this country in which a homosexual police officer had filed suit against his department for discrimination based on sexual preference.
In the interview, Grobeson said the harassment began in 1984, after a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy accosted him as he was talking to another man outside a West Hollywood restaurant.
The deputy, Grobeson said, “walked up and said, ‘Are you guys lovers?’ ” When the deputy seized Grobeson’s gym bag, he found police identification inside.
“Once he found out I was a cop,” Grobeson said, “he wanted to find out if I was gay. He went through my wallet, and then he took my personal phone book and went through each page.”
Grobeson said he finally decided to resign in June because he was convinced that he would be subjected to continuing false complaints and subsequent hearings before boards of rights. He also said he feared for his life.
“I had to quit,” he said. “I didn’t have a choice unless I wanted to die.”