Gay Ex-Deputy Claims Bias : Law enforcement: Bruce Boland was fired amid allegations that he falsified an arrest report, and faces criminal prosecution. He says it was just a procedural error.
Bruce C. Boland doesn’t want to be at the center of a cause celebre. He says he just wants to be a cop again.
A former West Hollywood sheriff’s deputy who is gay, Boland, 45, was fired last April amid allegations by his superiors and the district attorney’s office that he falsified a police report.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials and prosecutors contend that Boland’s error was a grave one, warranting prosecution as a felony. In arresting a drug suspect in 1989, they say, he provided erroneous information in his report about some syringes seized as evidence. Because of the error, the suspect had to be freed.
Boland, his lawyers and his supporters contend that the mistake on the police report, which Boland admits making, was an unfortunate procedural error that the Sheriff’s Department has blown out of proportion. They argue that the accusers have used the incident as an excuse to force Boland, a sheriff’s deputy for six years, out of his job because he is gay.
Boland’s cause has been taken up by the West Hollywood City Council, which has urged his reinstatement, and by activists in the city’s large gay community.
“I can’t believe that this wasn’t done without malice on the part of the sheriff’s high command,” said Thomas Hunter Russell, Boland’s criminal attorney. “In every aspect of this case, they have assumed the worst without giving Bruce Boland the benefit of the doubt. They haven’t taken into account his record or the fact that he may have made a mistake.”
Boland has responded to the criminal prosecution with a $90-million discrimination suit against the Sheriff’s Department. He also is contesting his firing with the Los Angeles County Civil Service Commission, which has set an initial hearing on his case for Jan. 31.
Sheriff’s officials and prosecutors insist that Boland has not been treated differently from other deputies disciplined for the same offenses.
Although Sheriff Sherman Block declined to comment because of the upcoming administrative hearing on Boland’s termination, the department has released statements periodically explaining its actions.
“Mr. Boland was terminated from the Sheriff’s Department for filing a false police report by a peace officer, (for) false imprisonment, (for) preparing false evidence and for false arrest,” said Sgt. Bob Stoneman, a Sheriff’s Department spokesman, reading from a statement released in November that reiterates the criminal charges against the deputy.
The Sheriff’s Department declined to provide information regarding how any similar past cases were handled. Stoneman said it would be “a monumental task” to collect such data.
Stoneman insisted in an interview, however, that Boland’s sexual orientation had no bearing on the case.
“His private life has nothing to do with this,” Stoneman said. “We aggressively prosecute lawbreakers in the department. We don’t turn our backs on anyone who goes over the line.”
Deputy Dist. Atty. Joseph D. Shidler, who is handling the Boland case, described it as a routine prosecution. Shidler said that he has prosecuted other officers for the same offenses and that Boland’s acts involved more than a “minor error.”
“This guy violated the law by intentionally falsifying a police report, and it is our job to prosecute him,” Shidler said. “Are we supposed to turn our backs on this because he is gay?”
The controversy stems from an April, 1989, incident in West Hollywood during which Boland arrested a man for possession of drug paraphernalia. At the preliminary hearing, Boland said he discovered that he had made an error in the arrest report. He told the prosecutor that he had mistakenly written that a bag of syringes was found at the feet of the suspect seated in the front of the car, when they were actually on the floor of the back seat next to a second man whom Boland did not arrest.
The bag belonged to the man who was arrested. Nevertheless, the prosecutor concluded that Boland’s error had tainted the arrest to the point that the charges had to be dropped.
A short time later, the Sheriff’s Department began an investigation, and the matter was referred to the district attorney’s special investigations division, which is responsible for prosecuting police officers and public officials. The prosecutors filed two misdemeanor charges and two felony charges against Boland, who was suspended without pay.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Clarence A. Stromwall dismissed those charges in June, 1990. He said Boland’s arrest report was “at best very sloppy,” but added, “I consider (this) a training problem internal (to) the law enforcement agency and not something that we send people to prison over.”
The district attorney’s office appealed Stromwall’s dismissal of the charges, and Boland was reinstated and assigned to the sheriff’s station in Marina del Rey. His principal duty was to wash and wax sheriff’s patrol boats. In April, 1991, he was fired--for incompetence, his superiors told him. They also cited the criminal charges then under appeal.
In October, Stromwall’s decision was reversed by the Court of Appeal, which sent the case back to Superior Court, where prosecutors are preparing for a pretrial hearing, which has not yet been scheduled.
Nearly three years after his problems started, Boland says, “To this day I cannot understand why this has happened.”
Until the false report incident, Boland said, he had experienced no problems on the job for six years, the last three of them in West Hollywood.
“I was not openly gay,” he said. “There were rumors circulated, but I did not ‘come out.’ I did not throw it in their faces. . . . I had an excellent relationship with my superiors.”
It was the Sheriff’s Department’s action and the need to fight for his job, he said, that prompted him to go public about his sexual orientation.
“The department just wanted me to walk away. They told me that if I gave my resignation, the charges would be reduced, and I wouldn’t serve any jail time. . . . It’s a malicious prosecution from the word go. What they have done to me is absolutely criminal.”
The West Hollywood Gay & Lesbian Sheriff’s Conference Committee, an independent advisory body that includes a sheriff’s representative from the West Hollywood station, has examined the case and concluded that Boland was treated “substantially different than most deputies involved in similar infractions, and more harshly than other deputies involved in considerably more egregious infractions.”
The six-member committee said it did not have firm evidence that Boland had been discriminated against, but it stated in a report last July that Boland’s firing was “excessive, regardless of its motivation.” The committee called on the Sheriff’s Department to reinstate Boland.
West Hollywood city officials also have asked the department to reconsider its position. Mayor Paul Koretz met with Block in October to ask for Boland’s reinstatement and with Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner to ask that the criminal charges be dropped. Both meetings proved fruitless, Koretz said.
Some of Boland’s troubles could be resolved in upcoming months, when he appeals his termination before the Civil Service Commission. The commission could either uphold the firing or direct the Sheriff’s Department to reinstate Boland pending the outcome of the criminal case.
Boland’s civil attorney, John J. Duran, said he is awaiting the outcome of the administrative and criminal proceedings before moving forward with the discrimination lawsuit. Duran said that even if the commission directs the Sheriff’s Department to reinstate Boland, he will still seek punitive damages from the department.
“It’s scary what’s going to happen down the road,” Boland said. “I keep having visions that I’ll get my job back, that it’s all a hallucination.”
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