Police Officers’ Rights Were Not Violated During Investigation Into Discharge of Weapon

Three police officers alleged their rights were violated during an investigation into the off-duty discharge of a weapon.  The court of appeal held that the police officers’ rights were not violated because the investigation was not conducted at an unreasonable time, there was no evidence of adverse mental or physical consequences, they were not denied counsel, and they were not subject to undue threats or coercion.  (Quezada v. City of Los Angeles (January 8, 2014, B245879) — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, Cal.App. 2 Dist.).

Belinda Quezada (“Quezada”), Abel Cepeida (“Cepeida”), and Enrique Verduzco (“Verduzco”) are police officers for the Los Angeles Police Department (“Department”).  They began work at 2:30 p.m. on June 15, 2010, and finished their shift at 11:00 p.m.  After work, they went to an establishment where Cepeida and Verduzco became intoxicated.  After the officers left the establishment, Quezada heard gunshots.  Believing that either Cepeida or Verduzco had fired a gun, Quezada disarmed both of them.  Several patrol cars responded to the gunshots.  A sergeant ordered the officers “on-duty” and separated them.  Verduzco stated he accidentally fired his gun in his truck.  However, there was no evidence that shots had been fired in the truck.  A weapon was found in plain view in Verduzco’s truck.

The officers were interrogated.  All three officers requested that attorney Randall Quan represent them, but he was not available.  The Department waited until 2:30 p.m. for the officers to find another attorney, but none of them requested a different attorney.  A search warrant was obtained to search Cepeida’s car and the search revealed two weapons and ammunition that matched the casings and bullets found at the scene.  The officers were released at 9:00 p.m.

Quezada was not handcuffed or placed in a holding tank.  She was allowed to wash her face, use the restroom, and go to Subway to get food.  The only threats made to her involved the consequences of refusing the breathalyzer test and refusing consent to search her car.  Cepeida was not handcuffed.  He refused an offer of food and water.  He was allowed to make a phone call.  No one threatened him with violence.  Verduzco never requested medical assistance.  He was given a bottle of water after he asked for it.  He was allowed to get a drink and sandwich at Subway.  The only threat made to Verduzco involved the imposition of impound fees if he did not consent to a search of his car.  

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the City of Los Angeles after the officers filed a lawsuit against the City for violations of the Bane Act and the Public Safety Officers Bill of Rights (“POBRA”).  POBRA sets forth rights and protections that must be afforded to peace officers by their employers.  The officers claimed their interrogations violated their rights under POBRA because they were conducted after the officers had been awake for a long time.  POBRA requires that an interrogation must “be conducted at a reasonable hour, preferably at a time when the public safety officer is on duty, or during the normal waking hours for the public safety officer, unless the seriousness of the investigation requires otherwise.”  

The court of appeal affirmed the decision of the trial court.  The appellate court found that the seriousness of the circumstances required that the investigation be conducted at the earliest opportunity.  The fact that the officers had been awake for so many hours before the interrogation was the result of the incident happening after their shift, not because of the Department’s actions.

The court rejected the officers’ claims that they were subject to physical and mental hardships during the Department’s investigation.  Although the interrogation process lasted from 2:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., the court concluded “the deprivation was not unreasonable given that [the officers] did have access to food, water and restrooms during the interrogation process.”  They did not ask for medical attention and they did not offer evidence they suffered any adverse physical or mental consequences because of the interrogation.

The court concluded that the officers’ right to counsel was not violated.  They were not entitled to wait for Quan to become available before they could be interviewed.  Also, they made little or no effort to find another attorney after they found out Quan was not available.  The court also concluded that the officers’ Fourth Amendment rights were not violated.  The gun in Verduzco’s car was in plain sight and the other evidence was found pursuant to a search warrant. 

The Bane Act authorizes a private cause against a person who “interferes by threats, intimidation, or coercion, or attempts to interfere by threats, intimidation, or coercion, with the exercise or enjoyment by any individual or individuals of rights secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or of the rights secured by the Constitution or laws of this state.”   The officers’ Bane Act cause of action fails because they failed to show that they were subject to undue threats or coercion.


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