Community Commentary: Retired officer takes issue with former chief's comments

Re. "Sellers takes heat in Fullerton," Aug. 12: I was a Laguna Beach police officer and police detective for 15 years. I was honorably medically retired in 2003 for injuries suffered on duty.

I do not receive or read your paper, as I am not a resident. Nor was I ever contacted by writer Barbara Diamond in connection with this article in which she used my name and quoted former LBPD Police Chief Neil Purcell about Officer Keith R. Knotek's case in 1991. This article was forwarded to me by a current, concerned LBPD officer.

I read the article, and it is apparent that Purcell is trying to compare his actions as chief during the Knotek case to what is currently happening in Fullerton with Chief Michael Sellers.

Purcell has once again climbed up onto his soapbox and is now telling the world that when he was a police chief, he took immediate action against his officers when he suspected any wrongdoing.

You read a lot of articles about police and their "rush to judgment" to arrest certain suspects in cases. However, you never really hear about a case where a chief's "rush to judgment" against an officer costs the city.

You see, in the article, Purcell forgot to say that in the Knotek case, his "rush to judgment" — although rapid — was illegal and ultimately cost his city. He also apparently is disregarding a federal court judgment with regard to my involvement in the Knotek case by mentioning my name in print.

The article stated the following quote from Purcell: "I immediately put Knotek and Dan Lowrey, who was the ranking officer at the incident, on administrative leave. When they were cleared of criminal charges, I fired them for behavior that violated departmental policies."

No. 1: I was not the "ranking officer" on scene that night. In fact, Knotek and other officers outranked me by seniority at that scene.

No. 2: I never faced any criminal charges — ever. I was one of five other officers that were at the scene, and we were interviewed as witnesses. It is true that Purcell fired Knotek and fired me (illegally). In fact, after being interviewed several times by his captain, Purcell called me in and terminated me. He blatantly violated my Police Officer's Bill of Rights and never charged me with any wrongdoing. He fired me because it was his opinion that I was being untruthful about what Knotek did at the scene. There are procedures that must be followed to fire a police officer, and apparently Purcell could care less.

Knotek and I went before the city of Laguna Beach's Appeal Board. The board upheld the decision to fire Knotek. However, after my hearing, the board ruled that I should not have been fired, and I should have been reinstated immediately. Purcell did not like the decision of his own board; he delayed taking action and did not take me back.

In fact, my attorney, Greg Petersen, had to go to court and obtain a Writ of Mandate, which ordered Purcell to follow the ruling of his own appeal board. Only after obtaining an order from the court, and 30 days after the appeal board's ruling, did Purcell allow my return to duty.

His disregard for his own appeal board's decision and, more importantly, his disregard for the Police Officer's Bill of Rights motivated my attorney and I to file a lawsuit against Purcell and the city of Laguna Beach.

The city of Laguna Beach chose to settle the case out of court, and as part of my settlement agreement, Purcell, the LBPD and the city of Laguna Beach were ordered to immediately expunge any and all evidence of the Knotek case from my personnel file as my rights had been violated. I was told by the court that there would be nothing in my files showing that this case, and what happened to me as a result of Purcell's actions, ever happened.

Following that case in 1991, I returned to duty and went on to be decorated for my service at LBPD. I earned numerous commendations, eight service ribbons and two service medals over 15 years of service. I was awarded the Medal of Merit prior to retiring for being one of the two detectives that solved the infamous Laguna Beach Baskin-Robbins homicide case.

Now, 20 years after the Knotek case and eight years since I have been retired from LBPD, Purcell maligns my name in print for all who read your paper and all who will see this online. Purcell once again disregards the facts of the Knotek case and says and does what he wants.

The fact that he mentioned my name in this current article by stating that "they faced criminal charges" is completely false and libelous. I am now forced to reply to this to clear my name even after I was assured in a court settlement in 1991 that this case would not be held against me again, and it "never happened." This current act by Purcell is vindictive, malicious and libelous.

Please do not ask Purcell what he thinks they should do in Fullerton. He already cost Laguna Beach in the past with his "rush to judgment" in the Knotek case. He is not the expert you were looking for.

DAN LOWREY is a retired Laguna Beach Police Department officer.

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