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Trial begins for LAPD captain who says he was unfairly passed over for promotion

The opposing attorneys used strikingly different words to describe Capt. Peter Whittingham’s career as they addressed jurors inside a downtown L.A. courtroom on Thursday.

Despite Whittingham’s work to reduce violence and improve the culture within the Los Angeles Police Department, his attorney said, the captain’s career “came to a grinding halt” after Charlie Beck became chief in 2009. Whittingham wasn’t promoted for five years, even as others who once worked for him rose through the ranks, his attorney said.

“He is where he is,” attorney Robert Stanford Brown said. “But not where he should be.”

Deputy City Atty. Jenna Galas disagreed, saying Whittingham was steadily promoted, working key assignments that complemented his skills. As a captain, she said, Whittingham ranks among the top of the department’s 10,000 officers.

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“This is the type of level that most dream of,” she said.

The attorneys’ remarks marked the beginning of a civil trial, two years in the making, that is being watched inside and outside the LAPD. Several current and former high-ranking officers are expected to testify in the coming days, including Beck.

Whittingham, who joined the LAPD in 1988, sued the city in 2014, alleging retaliation and discrimination. The discrimination claims have since been dropped. 

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On Thursday, Whittingham’s attorney told jurors that he was unfairly passed over for promotions after going against the chief’s wishes in a 2012 disciplinary hearing and after disagreeing with another captain over whether a black officer should be demoted. 

Whittingham’s lawsuit contends that he and other command staff were told that when Beck sent officers to a three-person disciplinary panel — known as a board of rights hearing — the chief expected those officers to be fired.

But in August 2012, the lawsuit said, Whittingham served on one such hearing and voted to suspend an officer instead of fire him. After that, Whittingham alleged, he was warned by Beck’s then-chief of staff that Beck considered a captain’s votes during those hearings when deciding on promotions.

Beck has drawn criticism in recent years over how he imposes discipline, which some say has been inconsistent. 

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Whittingham, who currently heads the LAPD’s Criminal Gang Homicide Division, eventually received an upgrade in his position in June 2014 — after he filed his lawsuit, his attorney said. Brown described it as an “empty promotion” meant to “undercut” Whittingham’s case.

Galas, the deputy city attorney, told jurors that Whittingham was the best fit for the job and that the LAPD “has never shied away” from promoting him. She declined to comment further on the case outside of court.

Whittingham watched the proceedings from the second row of the small courtroom, scribbling notes in a yellow legal pad.

Follow @katemather for more LAPD news.

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