As a trainee, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew Rodriguez said he had a recurring thought while on patrol with his training officer: Oh, man, we’re going to end up in federal prison.
The officer, he said, instructed him to lie on a report documenting the arrest of a man found with a meth pipe. She’d routinely harass people in motel parking lots for no reason, he said, and those who slept along shopping center walkways.
Rodriguez alleged he suffered retaliation and harassment while assigned to the Industry station — which at the time was led by Undersheriff Tim Murakami, now the Sheriff’s Department’s No. 2 official — after he complained about the misconduct. He alleged that Murakami told him he’d “find something” to get Rodriguez fired.
Sheriff’s officials denied the allegations, but on Friday, a jury in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom sided with Rodriguez, awarding him $8.1 million and concluding that he faced “severe and pervasive” harassment after protesting illegal orders.
“They killed his career,” Alan Romero, Rodriguez’s attorney, told jurors before they began deliberating late Wednesday afternoon. “How much does it cost to kill someone’s dreams?”
Murakami testified that the allegations against the training officers were without merit and that he did not retaliate against the deputy. An attorney representing L.A. County told jurors that Rodriguez was unprepared to take on the rigors of patrol training and was investigated for several policy violations, including failing to report that he had a second job.
“Mr. Rodriguez blames everyone else for his failures,” the county’s attorney Tomas Guterres told jurors. He added later, “There was no harassing conduct. What they were doing was investigating violations of their policy.”
Guterres, among a team of lawyers representing the county, declined to comment on the verdict.
The Sheriff’s Department said in a statement that it is disappointed in the verdict and plans to “vigorously appeal” the decision.
Rodriguez, who has been on medical leave since 2016, alleged that the retaliation began in 2014 after he reported his field training officer, Joanne Arcos, now a sergeant in the department, for instructing him to lie on a report.
He testified that Arcos told him to write that they found a pipe in a man’s pocket when it was really hidden in the center console of his vehicle under a pile of papers.
He pointed to another incident he said still haunts him. Arcos, he said, threatened to have the Department of Children and Family Services remove a woman’s children when the woman refused to help her contact a man she wanted to question.
“This isn’t what I signed up for,” Rodriguez said he told a supervisor after the incident. The supervisor, he said, rolled his eyes.
Arcos denied the allegations. In the meth pipe incident, she testified that they stopped the suspect for a broken brake light and he appeared to be under the influence, sweating and acting erratically with his pupils dilated.
Rodriguez was later reassigned to another training officer who was immediately hostile and told Rodriguez that he was friends with Arcos, Rodriguez testified.
On one occasion, the officer saw a woman getting out of her car at a motel and asked Rodriguez: “Is she black?” Rodriguez said yes and the officer directed him to perform what he considered an improper stop, detaining the woman for no apparent reason. They eventually let her go.
Rodriguez said the department opened three internal investigations against him. He also alleged that his third training officer, Deputy George Meza, doctored an evaluation report in which he falsely accused Rodriguez of threatening to kill a suspect while they were in a patrol car on their way to a disturbance call in August 2014.
Romero showed jurors two versions of the report, one of which offered a positive review of his performance. The second questioned his skills and quoted the threat.
Meza testified that he didn’t reference the incident in the first draft of his report because he needed guidance from supervisors about how to handle it.
Jurors were not swayed.
“We really felt that he was wronged,” jury forewoman Henny Marshall said of Rodriguez, adding that she felt the department was nitpicking Rodriguez’s performance to “nab him with” something.
Rodriguez testified that he would not feel safe returning to the department.
“I will be seen as a snitch or a rat,” he said. In law enforcement, “that’s about the lowest thing you can be.”
Outside court, Rodriguez told The Times he was satisfied with the verdict.
“I feel that justice was done on this,” Rodriguez said. “It’s embarrassing to have to be dragged through this entire process for five weeks, and have all my personal business out in the open. But the upside is it also brought out the corruption in my department.”