Jury awards $8.6M to LAPD officers in retaliation lawsuit
A jury awarded each officer more than $4 million for reprisals they faced from reporting sexual harassment on behalf of a coworker
Richard Winton and Alene Tchekmedyian
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — For months, the two Los Angeles Police Department bloodhound handlers saw their supervisor harass their female colleague.
Over and over, they saw him try to massage her shoulders, unsolicited, and heard him make suggestive comments about her body. The supervisor often showed up to her calls, something he didn’t do as much with her male counterparts.
When they complained on the woman’s behalf, Officers Elliot Zibli and David Dooros suffered backlash so severe that they feared for their safety. They said they were denied tactical bloodhound training, and weren’t given adequate equipment and support during searches for violent suspects.
Eventually, Zibli resigned. Dooros is still on the force.
The supervisor, meanwhile, was transferred to the internal affairs group, the division that investigates officer misconduct. He remains with the department.
“Instead of taking care of the bad apple, they literally destroyed us,” Zibli told The Times. “We blew the whistle on the wrong person — one with connections.”
A jury has awarded Zibli and Dooros each more than $4 million for the reprisals they faced, a massive verdict in a retaliation case that comes on top of a $1.6-million settlement for the female officer who was harassed. Jurors deliberated for only about half a day before awarding Zibli $4.4 million and Dooros $4.2 million.
An LAPD spokesman declined to comment.
“These men came forward to back up their female colleague who was being sexually harassed and got nothing but punished,” said Greg Smith, an attorney representing the plaintiffs. “The LAPD left only the perpetrator of sexual harassment unscathed.”
The city attorney’s office said it is considering appealing the decision. “We are reviewing all of our options,” said Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the office.
Ed Obayashi, an attorney and sheriff's deputy in Plumas County who conducts sexual harassment training, said the evidence suggests the LAPD failed to heed the warnings of officers trying to protect their peer. Instead, it proceeded to punish them.
“What were they thinking?” he said.
Obayashi said higher-ups should have been extra vigilant about sexual harassment happening within their ranks given that officers work long hours in close quarters in a male-dominated space.
“Retaliation only makes matters worse,” he said, adding that jurors view retaliatory acts by police supervisors to punish their subordinates dimly. “Hence, the significant verdict.”
The problems for Dooros, 52, and Zibli, 54, began soon after the supervisor — Sgt. Joe Danny Garcia — took over the department’s K-9 unit in May 2015. Several times over the next year or so, both officers, who have worked with police dogs since 1998, went to various superiors with their complaints.
They said Garcia’s actions created a hostile work environment for Officer Karolin Clarke, who is now retired. They also alleged Garcia instructed them to falsify their overtime slips so he could do the same. Garcia had instructed bloodhound handlers to stay at a scene even after the incident was resolved so that he could finish driving there and thus bill for more overtime.
Garcia denied the allegations during the trial.
Zibli said that one 2015 incident in particular sticks in his memory. He and other officers were in a corridor when they saw Garcia put his arm around Clarke and massage her. Clarke’s eyes widened.
“Her eyes were as big as grapefruits,” Zibli said. “I remember that look in her eyes — I will never forget it.”
It was up to them, he thought at the time, to make the harassment stop.
Clarke remembered that moment.
“It scared me. I thought immediately, ‘Nothing good can come of this,’ ” she said. “I was terrified what would happen next.”
On another occasion Clarke was in her car changing out of sweaty clothes after a four-mile foot chase. Garcia, against the other officers’ advice, walked over to the car, Zibli said.
“The jury verdict was really a vindication. We knew the truth and we have been telling the truth for 3 1/2 years,” Zibli said. “It was so good to see 12 jurors from all walks of life agree with us.”
After Clarke complained, she said in court documents that she faced backlash that put her in clear danger.
Clarke said she was holding her bloodhound’s leash with both hands as the dog led her into a pitch-black alcove. The two officers backing her up were about 20 feet behind her, much farther than they should have been.
“If the homicide suspect whom we were searching for had been in that alcove, I could easily have been stabbed or killed as I went around that blind corner,” Clarke told The Times. “We found a bloody glove in the alcove. He'd been there minutes before. After, I was … angry and I thought they are going to leave me hanging.… The guys with guns were way too far back to protect me.”
City News Service contributed to this report.
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