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Lawsuit Accuses LAPD of Illegal Demotions

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles police officers’ union is accusing Chief Bernard C. Parks of illegally demoting officers who are the subject of past or pending disciplinary actions.

In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday, the Police Protective League charges Parks with violating officers’ constitutional rights to due process. At issue is the LAPD’s issuance of so-called Brady letters.

Under a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling known as Brady vs. Maryland, prosecutors must give defense lawyers any evidence that might impeach a government witness’ credibility. That includes information about a police officer’s disciplinary history.

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In its lawsuit, the league contends that Parks has been abusing officers’ rights by placing Brady letters in their personnel files and reassigning them to less desirable jobs.

Officers who receive Brady letters are told they are being removed from field duties because the police chief believes they would no longer make credible witnesses, according to the lawsuits.

“These punitive reassignments generally result in a reduction in pay, professional embarrassment and loss of career advancement for the affected officers,” the suit alleges.

Lt. Horace Frank, a department spokesman, on Thursday defended the policy of reassigning officers with credibility problems.

“In the big scheme of things, we owe it to the community,” he said. “If we have police officers who have been found guilty of lying, how can we allow them to remain in positions where they have to make arrests and testify in court? What happens when their disciplinary record comes out and their credibility is challenged? We lose the case, and the victim and the community are deprived of justice.”

Frank said Brady letters are issued only for administrative offenses involving moral turpitude, which includes lying.

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Dennis Zine, a league vice president, said that even if an officer is acquitted by a departmental disciplinary board, “the Brady letter stays in his file.”

Moreover, he said, the officer must reapply for his old job, with no guarantee that he will get it.

Zine said the league has identified about 75 officers who have received Brady letters since Parks embarked on the policy about two years ago.

The union official said he knows of a motorcycle cop with 29 years’ experience who was reassigned to a desk job because of a three-day suspension he received 2O years earlier for an administrative infraction.

“LAPD management has scoured the personnel files of rank and file officers for any disciplinary actions which they believe warrant a Brady letter, no matter how remote,” the lawsuit charges.

The league, which represents more than 9,000 officers through the rank of lieutenant, also accused Parks of “insulating officers within LAPD management from the same career-shattering consequence of receiving Brady letters and their punitive reassignments.”

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Under Parks’ express direction, the suit says, department managers have also taken the liberty of disseminating Brady letters to prosecutors and to criminal defense lawyers before being ordered to do so by a judge.

This practice violates police officers’ rights under the U.S. Constitution and the California Public Safety Officers’ Procedural Bill of Rights, the lawsuit says.

The league is seeking to have the suit declared a class action on behalf of all affected members. It is also asking for injunctive relief, unspecified general and punitive damages and compensation to officers whose salaries were cut because of demotions and reassignments.

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