Gates, 2 Others Ordered to Pay Ex-Officer $1.3 Million
A Superior Court jury has ordered three of the Los Angeles Police Department’s top officers to pay a total of $1.3 million to a former police captain who claims they punished him for backing a City Council candidate opposed by Chief Daryl F. Gates.
The former captain, Dennis Lunder, 45, who now runs a small manufacturing business in Mexico, says that to punish him, the department refused to extend his leave of absence as promised and then, after he resigned in protest, recommended against his reinstatement.
“I had written two (widely distributed) letters saying I thought Mike Woo was a better candidate than Peggy Stevenson in his (unsuccessful) councilmanic race in 1981,” Lunder said Friday. “I didn’t imply departmental endorsement and I didn’t violate departmental policy. . . .
“But Gates was supporting Stevenson,” Lunder said. “What I had done made them mad. Really angry. Deputy Chief Ron Frankel told me I was in ‘big trouble’ for supporting Woo.”
On Thursday, a jury agreed that Lunder’s civil rights had been violated and ordered Gates, Deputy Chief Robert Vernon and Frankel to pay Lunder $1.11 million in ompensatory damages. In addition, the jury in downtown Los Angeles awarded Lunder punitive damages, ordering Gates to pay him $75,000, Dep. Chief Robert Vernon to pay him $65,000 and Frankel to pay him $55,000.
Gates said Friday that Lunder’s political activities had nothing to do with the actions taken against him, all of which he said were justified.
“I’ve never had politics enter my decisions,” he said. “I do what I think is right.”
Calling the jury’s awards “a travesty of justice,” the chief said Lunder “was treated properly by everyone within this organization. . . .
“This is a man who resigned from the department and took no steps to come back,” Gates said. “Because he couldn’t do well in the private sector, he wanted a safety net. Unfortunately, the jury bought his B.S.”
Senior Assistant City Atty. Frederick N. Merkin said the city plans to file additional motions in the case and will appeal if necessary.
In practice, damages against city employees acting in their official capacities usually are paid by the city. However, Gates noted that the city is under no obligation to pay punitive damages assessed any individual.
Lunder, who received “outstanding” ratings while serving as Gates’ adjutant in 1978 and 1979, testified against Gates six years ago during departmental hearings on the Police Department’s controversial Public Disorder Intelligence Division, which was accused of spying illegally on law-abiding citizens.
Gates, who denied Lunder’s allegation that he knew sensitive PDID records were being hidden from investigators, was not charged with any wrongdoing, but the division was ordered disbanded.
According to Lunder, he took a leave of absence from his job as commander of the department’s Newton Division in 1981 to assist his family in dealing with some business problems. He said he took the leave only after being assured by Assistant Chief Wes Harvey that the leave would be extended upon request.
Lunder said that after he supported the Woo campaign, department officials denied his request for a leave extension to work on resolving business problems.
“The captain in the personnel division said Vernon had told him there was to be no extension, that I was to be back on the original expiration date,” Lunder said. “Friends told me they (officials) were going to ‘do me’ for supporting Woo.”
Lunder said that because he had his life savings committed to the family business, he decided to resign.
“But when I filled out the resignation form, it said I was terminating under protest,” the former captain said.
Lunder said that when he picked up his resignation forms a few weeks later, he noted that despite having received “outstanding” performance evaluations throughout his 15-year career, “I was not recommended for reinstatement because they said I didn’t understand the duties of a police captain. . . .
“That precluded my return if I’d ever sought reinstatement,” he said. “And it precluded my getting a job with any other police department.”
In his suit filed in September, 1987, Lunder charged that the defendants violated his constitutional right to “assemble, engage in free speech and engage in political activity.”