Former Burbank police officer sues city

A former Burbank police officer has filed a federal lawsuit against the city alleging that he was wrongfully terminated in retaliation for suing the city four years ago for racial discrimination and harassment.

The lawsuit was filed last week in U.S. District Court by Elfego Rodriguez, who was one of five officers who sued the city for racial discrimination and harassment in 2009. Rodriguez was ultimately dropped from the joint lawsuit by a judge.

It marks the latest lawsuit filed by former and current police officers that center on discrimination and wrongful termination. To date, the lawsuits have cost the city more than $7.1 million in legal fees.

Rodriguez is one of the 10 Burbank officers fired in 2010 for allegedly engaging in misconduct and using excessive force when handling the 2007 Porto's robbery investigation, allegations he has repeatedly denied.

City officials believe Rodriguez assaulted a Porto's robbery suspect who, it turned out, was misidentified and not involved in the crime. The city claimed he subsequently lied about the alleged excessive force to protect his reputation.

City Atty. Amy Albano said the city had not yet been served with the lawsuit, but it will “defend the lawsuit as it has the previous ones.”

“The city's position was, and always has been, that he was involved in misconduct and that's the basis for him being terminated,” Albano said of Rodriguez.

But in his lawsuit, Rodriguez alleges that city officials — including former Police Chief Tim Stehr and former Chief Assistant City Atty. Juli Scott — “conspired to retaliate” against him “by making false accusations of unlawful conduct against him, intimidating witnesses, and hiding exculpatory evidence.”

Specifically, he claims that the suspect alleged that a “tall, bald, Caucasian officer struck him” and that Rodriguez himself is “short and compact, and could never be mistaken for Caucasian,” according to the lawsuit.

Additionally, Rodriguez claims that the police department improperly used its policies “to retaliate against minority officers who complained of discrimination or other unlawful conduct.”

Rodriguez filed almost an identical lawsuit in June 2011, but it was dismissed later that year after a judge ruled that he must first complete the city's internal appeal process.

“We're happy that we're finally able to proceed on a claim that was denied to us for the past two years,” Rodriguez's attorney, Solomon Gresen, said.

Rodriguez's efforts to get his job back through the internal appeal process were unsuccessful. Last fall, he exhausted the appeal when a judge recommended that then-City Manager Mike Flad uphold his termination, which Flad did.

“We had an independent hearing officer determine he was involved in misconduct, and I think that speaks volumes for even this current lawsuit,” Albano said.

Los Angeles County Superior Court records show that in December, Rodriguez asked the court to reverse the decision and award him attorney fees, back pay and benefits.

According to the lawsuit, Rodriguez claimed he received awards for his “outstanding” performance during his time at the department. He was hired in 2004 and was promoted to field training officer roughly three years later, according to the lawsuit.

Burbank has spent about $483,000 on legal fees and costs tied to the internal appeals filed by nine of the 10 police officers, including Rodriguez, who were fired approximately three years ago, officials said.

Albano has said just one internal appeal — that of Elfego Rodriguez — has been completed, and a second, that of Omar Rodriguez, was dropped.

The other seven are pending.


Follow Alene Tchekmedyian on Google+ and on Twitter @atchek.

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