A federal appeals court rejected arguments Monday by a former San Diego police officer who said he was unjustly fired for alleged sexual advances toward two young women during separate traffic stops.
The case of Charles Demers, who was fired in March, 1989, after two years with the Police Department, generated publicity because it occurred near the time that a California Highway Patrol officer was convicted of murdering a young woman he forced off the road.
At Demers' Civil Service Commission hearing, a 24-year-old aerobics instructor testified that she was driving home from a nightclub in July, 1988, when Demers stopped her and gave her a sobriety test. It was 2:45 a.m.
After first threatening to take her to County Jail and placing her in the back of the patrol car, he asked her if she was wearing underwear and said he wanted to see her genitals, the woman testified. She refused and he let her go, she said.
The second incident, a month later, involved a 19-year-old San Diego State University student who was pulled over at 4 a.m. The woman said Demers conducted a sobriety test and warned her of the "horrible" things that could happen if she went to jail.
Demers allegedly told the woman she could go free if she would do a favor. She agreed and he motioned to an unlighted area near a jogging path, asking if she would "party" with him, the woman said. She told the Civil Service Commission that she refused and began crying. Demers asked if she was upset because "she had never been with a man before," the woman said.
Motioning to a patch of shrubbery, he said that "it would be the best five minutes of her life" if she succumbed, the woman testified.
Demers let her go, then stopped her again minutes later and told her to forget what had just happened, she testified.
Demers argued to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals that police administrators did not follow their own internal procedures when they fired him. In particular, he argued, then-Deputy Police Chief Ken Fortier was assigned to hear his case and concluded that Demers had made inappropriate remarks that were misconstrued.
Fortier, now an assistant chief, recommended that Demers be given a note of counseling--the mildest form of discipline--rather than be fired.
But Norm Stamper, an assistant chief who was Fortier's boss at the time, concluded that firing was justified, deciding that Fortier had made "a serious mistake," the appeals court said.
Chief Bob Burgreen, who normally would accept or reject Fortier's decision as the hearing officer in the case, accepted Stamper's recommendation and upheld the firing.
Stamper testified at the Civil Service hearing that he never intervened before, nor has he since in such disciplinary matters.
"I felt compelled to do so on the strength of the evidence against him," Stamper said Monday. "This was an issue of moral turpitude, not a judgment call in some procedural matter. I thought the evidence was clear that the officer had done what he was alleged to have done and ought to be fired."
Everett Bobbitt, Demers' attorney, said Stamper "disregarded all the rules and put his foot in where it didn't belong. He got emotional about the issue. What he did was unprecedented."
The appellate court concluded that Demers "was accorded all of the hearings required by the rules" and that, in choosing Stamper's decision over Fortier's, Burgreen did not violate Demers' rights.