Matt Lait and Joel Rubin, Times Staff Writers
Los Angeles Times
Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times
All Rights Reserved
Police officers assigned to protect Compton schools against vandalism and other campus crimes have been asleep at the wheel, quite literally, according to photographs and sworn testimony in a racial discrimination lawsuit.
The photographs appear to show several uniformed school officers in the driver's seats of parked squad cars with eyes shut and, in some cases, heads leaning back.
The pictures emerged in a suit against the Compton Unified School District, which operates the 34-member police department. The case was filed by a white ex-officer and two Latino officers who contend that they were treated differently from black colleagues within the predominantly African American department.
Former Officer Mark Shiva, who at one time served as president of the police officers union, and current Officers Victor Ayala and Sergio Reynoso allege that they were hit with racial slurs, ridiculed and retaliated against after lodging complaints against black colleagues.
Shiva, who was fired after the suit was filed in 2005, took the photographs within the last two years, according to testimony in the case. Shiva shot the pictures to prove that colleagues were sleeping on duty.
According to testimony, all of the officers accused of sleeping in patrol cars are black. But in the background of one photo, a white officer also appears to be sleeping.
When the conduct was brought to the attention of supervisors, none of the officers was disciplined, authorities said.
During Sgt. James Bradford's deposition in March, he recalled being shown one of the pictures and thinking it was of such poor quality that he could not be sure it was even him in the photograph.
When pressed by an attorney as to whether he had ever slept on the job, Bradford responded by saying, "Let me clarify sleeping." He said that any officer on the night shift who denied sleeping "is lying."
"Sleeping, you can pull your car up to the site and ... you know, lay back with your eyes open for a few minutes, that's sleeping. All of us does."
Asked if it was permitted to take a nap on the job, Bradford said, "Your lunch break is your time."
Other police employees, however, testified that Bradford and other officers sometimes slept when not on breaks.
Police dispatcher Gwendolyn Holmes testified that she had seen Bradford sleeping on duty and estimated that it occurred at least 10 times over an unspecified two-month period. Occasionally, she said, she had heard him snoring.
Another sergeant testified that Bradford's sleeping on the job was a weekly occurrence.
Bradford declined to comment when contacted by The Times.
At least five other officers have also been accused of sleeping on duty, according to testimony, police records and photographs obtained by The Times.
The school district officers are armed and trained to face the same potential dangers as the Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies who serve the rest of Compton. In fact, in 1987 a Compton school officer was shot to death by a sniper while on foot patrol at an adult campus.
Sleeping on duty is against department policy and was identified as a problem in 2002 under the district's then-Police Chief Anthony Alba.
"Obviously this activity is considered dereliction of duty and will be dealt with administratively," Alba wrote in a Jan. 9, 2002, memo to officers. "I must also remind everyone that depending on the location, sleeping on duty may result in deadly officer safety consequences."
The district's current police chief, Hourie Taylor, testified in March that he had been made aware of the sleeping allegations but had not seen the photographs.
He said he directed subordinates, one of whom was Sgt. Bradford, to conduct an investigation and that at some point they returned saying they were satisfied that the allegations had no substance.
In an interview this week, Taylor said the allegations were "unsubstantiated," but he declined further comment, citing the pending litigation.
He declined a request from The Times to review the photographs and identify the officers.
However, one sergeant, who was shown several photographs during his deposition, identified two others as Sgt. Bradford and Officer Douglas Mushett, who has since retired, and said he believed that a third picture showed an Officer Steve Scott, who resigned late last year, officials said.
In an interview Thursday, Mushett denied that he slept in his squad car when he was supposed to be on patrol but acknowledged that he would occasionally sleep during his lunch and twice daily 15-minute breaks.
"Let's face it, guys working late shifts would get tired and on their breaks would go back to the [station] and snooze," Mushett said. "We all did it. I did it."
He said he found it hard to believe that officers would sleep in their cars on the streets or on campuses. "That's just asking to get popped," he said.
Scott could not be reached for comment.
In an interview last week, Compton school board member Joel Estrada reacted angrily when told of the photographs.
"If those officers are not on a permitted break, then that is completely, utterly unacceptable," Estrada said. "I would definitely want an investigation launched to see what's going on -- how common is this? We're paying these individuals to patrol."
Estrada said district lawyers had told board members about the claims of police sleeping on duty but that police officials had concluded the claims were unfounded.
School district attorney J. Michael Declues said the district denies the allegations contained in the lawsuit but declined to comment on the photographs.
Shiva also declined to comment to The Times, but in a deposition in April he elaborated on his allegations. He said he saw a female officer take a pillow to her patrol car so she could sleep while working overtime.
"It's been an ongoing problem since I've worked there," said Shiva, who served for five years.
Shiva also alleged that officers would drive their squad cars home and sleep there when they should have been patrolling.
Internal police documents show that Shiva was terminated for allegedly orchestrating an unlawful job action, or "blue flu," among other reasons. Ayala and Reynoso, who remain on the job, were disciplined for allegedly participating in the job action.
Attorney Yael Trock, who represents Ayala and Reynoso, said police administrators unjustly punished her clients while allowing other officers to "get away with failing to do their jobs." Co-counsel Etan Z. Lorant said the lawsuit is expected to go to trial this summer.
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