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Policeman’s Firing Was Retaliation, Jury Finds

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After deliberating less than two days, a jury agreed Monday that the Anaheim Police Department fired an officer in retaliation for his reporting that fellow members of his unit twice beat up suspected gang members.

The jury, following a 13-day trial in Orange County Superior Court, rejected the Police Department’s contention that Steve Nolan was fired in 1993 for disciplinary reasons, calling that an excuse.

The jury began hearing testimony about the amount of money Nolan should receive to compensate him for his mistreatment.

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An emotional Nolan hugged his attorneys after the verdict was read and quickly left the courtroom to compose himself.

“It’s time justice wins out,” he later said to about 10 supporters.

The city’s attorney, Richard Kreisler, declined to comment on the verdict. During the trial, Kreisler labeled Nolan’s claims of retaliation as “fabricated and baseless.”

The verdict is a blow to a department that has tenaciously battled Nolan’s allegations over the years and in court painted a negative portrait of an officer who received two distinguished service medals during his eight years of active duty.

Nolan, 34, said he was fired on false charges after he reported incidents in 1991 and ’92 in which he thought fellow members of the department’s gang unit had beaten two suspected gang members.

A Police Department investigation concluded that misconduct could not be proved, and no disciplinary action was taken. Nolan contends the investigation was not carried out properly.

Nolan said his superiors did not keep his complaints anonymous, and as a result relationships between him and his colleagues became strained. Nolan eventually transferred out of the gang unit and returned to patrol.

During the trial, Nolan’s attorneys contended that their client was set up to be fired with false charges of hiding a file in a gang investigation.

Testifying Monday in the penalty phase, Nolan spoke of the devastation of losing a job he loved, saying he felt “like a criminal.”

“You have an identity as a police officer, and there’s a certain amount of pride in being a police officer,” he said. “It was like I just lost my identity.”

This was not the first time the Police Department had seen its actions in the Nolan case criticized. In August 1994, an arbitrator overturned the firing. But that did not end his problems with the department. Nolan testified that he began receiving anonymous telephone threats shortly before he was scheduled to return to work in September 1994. He testified he remains afraid to return to the Anaheim force.

“The truth is, no matter what anybody tells you, you have to be supported as a police officer or you’re going to get hurt,” he said. “I’m not going to go there and lose my life.”

Nolan was the first witness called during the damages portion of the trial. He testified that he is experiencing financial difficulties and that his disability payments are scheduled to end this month.

Nolan said he has concentrated on his case and has not looked for other police work. He said the charges against him would make it impossible to find work as a police officer.

“There’s no police department in the world who’s going to hire you with that kind of luggage,” Nolan said.

During cross-examination, Kreisler suggested that Nolan has avoided looking for work, instead hoping to receive a large settlement. Nolan testified that he would assess his professional situation after the trial concludes, saying he would “flip hamburgers” if he has to.


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