The only Glendale police officer to retain his job after taking a joy ride with two other officers to Las Vegas told investigators the incident was a “stupid prank” that he regretted, according to court documents.
Last week, the Civil Service Commission voted 4 to 1 to reinstate police officer Patrick Hamblin after he was fired in March. But they voted 3 to 2 uphold earlier decisions to let go of officers Fernando Salmeron and Michael Ullerich, who had worked with Hamblin in the Community Policing Unit.
A week before taking the trip, Hamblin reportedly joked about the possible prank because the officers had previously mulled taking photographs in front a Home Depot as part of a work-related project.
According to the court documents, Hamblin said they hadn’t planned to do anything with the Vegas photographs, other than to use them to say they went.
“Going out there, I remember a couple of spots where I thought ‘This is completely stupid. We shouldn’t be doing this,’” Hamblin said in court documents. “And I never voiced those. I wish I had.”
The interviews, part of an internal investigation, were included in a preliminary injunction the officers filed in May in Los Angeles County Superior Court, but that was later dropped in June. Police officials have declined to discuss the matter, citing personnel privacy rules.
A report on why the Civil Service Commission decided to reinstate Hamblin, and not the other two officers, is due in mid-October. Hamblin must still serve a 90-day work suspension without pay.
According to the court documents, on Dec. 27, Hamblin, Salmeron and Ullerich drove about 269 miles to Nevada in their sergeant’s city-owned Chevy Impala to photograph themselves and the car in front of the Vegas sign at the south end entrance of the infamous strip, according to court documents.
The officers were on-duty and supposed to be working 10-hour shifts.
During their drive, they were stopped by a Nevada state trooper for speeding — once on the way there, and once on the return trip, each time by the same officer who let them off with a warning, according to court records.
Meanwhile, their supervising sergeant tried repeatedly to reach the men by phone, but it wasn’t until their return trip that they noticed the missed calls. When Salmeron called the sergeant back, he panicked and told him they were in Redondo Beach, according to the court records.
Hamblin told investigators that they later agreed to tell the sergeant the truth.
“The easiest thing, which is to take our lumps for doing something we never should have done, and tell him where we went,” Hamblin said in court documents. “And there was no point in calling him and saying that. We knew that he wanted to see us when we got back to the station. It was much easier.”
Ullerich later admitted to intentionally adjusting the Impala’s odometer to compensate for the Vegas trip, according to court records.
Once they were in Glendale, Salmeron, Hamblin and Ullerich reported to their sergeant, who urged them to come clean.
“How was Vegas?” the sergeant reportedly asked them. “I know you’ve been to Vegas...Tell me the truth ...or I am going to explode.”
When Hamblin was asked by a department Internal Affairs investigator if he had considered the consequences of his actions, he said: “Not as well as I should have. I mean...I made a stupid mistake,” court records show. “I wish I could go back to that morning and look at the reward versus the risk.”
After recounting the trip and an internal investigation, all three officers were fired, but the Civil Service Commission reinstated Hamblin last week.
Richard Shinee, the attorney representing all three officers, said the original disciplinary action was not justified.
“We thought the original decision by the chief of police was not an appropriate discipline for the circumstance,” he said.
Asked whether Salmeron and Ullerich planned to appeal the Civil Service Commission’s decision to uphold their firings, Shinee said “We have to see what the findings are.”