Superior Court sides with Costa Mesa officer
A Costa Mesa police officer won a year-long legal battle against the city for docking his hours because of a month-long relationship he had while allegedly on duty, court documents show.
Allen Rieckhof filed a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court in June 2011, saying he was improperly suspended from 100 hours of duty because of a relationship he had with a Costa Mesa woman. In legal papers filed on his behalf, Rieckhof said the city did not follow proper protocol in implementing his suspension.
Judge Thierry Patrick Colaw sided with Rieckhof last week and reinstated all of his lost wages and benefits, saying that there was insufficient evidence that the officer neglected his regular duties and that the city failed to tell him in a timely manner when the date of the discipline would go into effect.
The city wrote in court papers that between December 2008 and January 2009, Rieckhof dated a woman, and in an internal police investigation, neighbors testified to seeing him park his police motorcycle in the woman’s garage and sit outside on his bike talking with her.
Rieckhof, the city said, stated that to visiting the woman he met through a citizens’ academy program and kissing and hugging her while at her condominium.
But Rieckhof, who was police association’s president at the time, said in court documents that he stacked his lunch and break hours when periodically visiting the woman, and he wasn’t on city time.
One neighbor in the woman’s condo complex said she heard Rieckhof arrive on his police motorcycle about 11 p.m. one day, and leave about 3 a.m. the next day, according to documents.
In its internal investigation, the Police Department found no work activity done during the periods of time when Rieckhof was supposedly with the woman. But in court documents his attorney pointed to the fact that the city never established how much time the officer spent at the woman’s house.
Rieckhof is said to have enlisted other officers to buy flowers and a $100Victoria’s Secretgift card for him to give his companion while on duty, according to court documents.
In a hearing on the patrol officer’s punishment, an independent arbitrator found Rieckhof’s former lover to be an unreliable “scorned woman out for revenge,” according to court documents filed for the city.
But the city disagreed.
” … it can be fairly said that [Rieckhof’s lover] was reluctant to get [Rieckhof] in trouble at first,” the city said. “But when the facts of her testimony were compared to the police enforcement activity of [Rieckhof], or lack thereof, when he was with her on duty, her credibility was amply established.”
Using an estimate from Rieckhof’s 2010 compensation, he lost about $5,500 in pay and benefits when he was suspended for two and a half weeks.
Rieckhof, Costa Mesa police and the city would not comment on the lawsuit.
Then-Police Chief Chris Shawkey said he wouldn’t comment on the investigation while he was at CMPD, but said he agreed with the ultimate decision. At the time, Shawkey elected to suspend Rieckhof when some in the department wanted the officer fired.
“I can say that I believe the appeal process used in these matters is fair and impartial and I think the decision the court rendered in this particular case was an appropriate one,” he said.
—Staff Writer Joseph Serna also contributed to this report.