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$700,000 payout followed finding that LAPD whistleblower was wrongly ousted, records show

LAPD headquarters exterior.
Los Angeles officials approved a $700,000 payout to a veteran LAPD lieutenant, records show.
(Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles officials approved a $700,000 payout to a veteran police lieutenant in September after city attorneys determined his supervisors — including Assistant Chief Horace Frank, one of the LAPD’s highest-ranking commanders — wrongly demoted him after he reported alleged misconduct in his unit, records show.

In a confidential legal analysis reviewed by The Times, Deputy City Atty. Marianne Fratianne advised the city to settle the lawsuit brought by Lt. Raymond Garvin — former head of the department’s Bomb Detection Canine Section — because the facts of the case “simply do not bode well for the City.”

Among other issues, internal communications showed that Frank and Garvin’s direct supervisor, Capt. Kathryn Meek, had “commiserated about how there was an insufficient factual basis” to remove Garvin from his position, then built “an ad hoc paper trail of poor performance” to remove him anyway, Fratianne wrote.

In addition to raising questions about the leadership of Frank, who oversees all special operations and detective bureaus, Fratianne’s analysis described a canine unit once again engulfed in allegations of mismanagement and wrongdoing — years after other claims by members of the unit cost the city millions in court settlements.

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Her analysis described how Garvin’s removal in 2017 followed his reporting what he felt was an inappropriate relationship between Meek and one of the canine handlers in the unit, to whom he feared she would show favoritism, as well as his reporting another incident in which one dog handler allegedly sabotaged another by intentionally confusing his colleague’s dog during a federal bomb-sniffing certification test at Los Angeles International Airport.

Fratianne noted that several officers had lodged “a flurry of personnel complaints” against Garvin after he reported the alleged LAX incident, including that he had created a “hostile work environment” and made “several inappropriate, offensive, and racially charged remarks” toward subordinates. But she also noted that Meek later determined that all of those complaints were “completely fabricated, retaliatory in nature, coordinated, and lodged in revenge” for Garvin having reported the alleged LAX incident, which led to the investigation and removal of the accused handler.

Because Frank and Meek refused to reinstate Garvin even after determining the claims against him were fabricated, and because they ultimately had no other reason for removing Garvin that “had anything to do with his ability or job performance,” Fratianne determined that the city would “likely be held liable for either (or both) of their wrongdoing” if it tried to fight Garvin’s lawsuit in court — possibly to the tune of $3 million.

Settling the case for $700,000 instead would be reasonable, she wrote.

City records show the City Council approved the spending Sept. 23.

Frank declined to comment on the case or Fratianne’s assessment, referring questions to an LAPD spokesman. Meek, who heads the department’s emergency services division, did not respond to a request for comment.

Josh Rubenstein, the LAPD spokesman, said the department is “not able to comment on facts and circumstances from prior personnel investigations,” but that members of the bomb unit are required to do their work with “professionalism and integrity” and “are accomplishing that goal.”

Rubenstein would not say whether the department agreed with Fratianne’s analysis of “wrongdoing” by Frank and Meek, or whether their alleged actions were ever the subject of an internal affairs investigation.

Richard Tefank, executive director of the Police Commission who was copied on Fratianne’s analysis, said it would “not be appropriate” for him to comment on a “confidential civil matter.”

Kevin Salute, Garvin’s attorney, said he was unaware of the internal communications showing that Frank and Meek had been working together to remove Garvin before his ouster, but that the information did not surprise him or change Garvin’s central claim in the case — which was that he had been retaliated against for reporting wrongdoing.

Garvin was a model employee with three decades of service to the LAPD when he reported Meek’s alleged relationship with a subordinate and the alleged wrongdoing by the officer at LAX, and ended up demoted, transferred and professionally embarrassed as a result, Salute said.

Garvin sued because the commanders responsible for his removal, including Frank, failed to protect him as a whistleblower and refused to reinstate him to his position even after determining that the claims they had used to justify his removal were baseless, Salute said.

“This is a guy who had not a stain on his record. Perfect record. And then he basically gets pushed out of this coveted position based on false allegations,” Salute said. “I thought [the city] got off damn cheap.”

Garvin is now retired.

Still pending against the city are two separate lawsuits by two other members of the bomb-sniffing unit — including one from Mark Sauvao, the officer who was accused of sabotaging a colleague’s canine test.

Sauvao alleges in his lawsuit that he did no such thing, and that Garvin and unit sergeants falsely accused him after the colleague being tested failed his certification and made up a lie about Sauvao to justify that failure. Sauvao alleges that Garvin and the sergeants made derogatory remarks about his Samoan heritage, and that Meek ignored his complaints about their conduct. He also alleges that other top commanders later removed him from the bomb unit based on the false claims made against him, causing him professional and financial harm.

A second pending lawsuit was filed by Alberto Franco, another dog handler who sided with Sauvao and filed complaints against Garvin and the unit’s other supervisors in which he alleged he was unfairly retaliated against for refusing to conspire against Sauvao.

Franco alleges in his lawsuit that Meek at one point met with the unit, called its members “an embarrassment to the department” and ordered them to stop making discrimination and harassment complaints — stifling his due process rights.

Attorneys for Sauvao and Franco did not respond to requests for comment.

Rubenstein said Sauvao and Franco remain on the police force but declined to answer questions about their lawsuits, saying the LAPD cannot discuss pending litigation.


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