Los Angeles Police Depatment cop Steven Ruiz has taken a precipitous fall from grace in the last few years, going from a top-dog Captain III to Captain I then to lieutenant.
Now he's suing the LAPD and the city. His recent claim alleges that his double demotion constitutes retaliation for his refusal to fire a fellow officer while he sat on the department's Board of Rights. He alleges that while he was demoted for alleged drunk driving, another supervisor got off scot-free after he was stopped for a DUI investigation in Riverside.
It's a widely or at least somewhat-held belief that officers referred to the Board of Rights by Chief Charlie Beck are being sent to be terminated, a contention echoed in the suit, which was filed in L.A. County Superior Courut:
In a meeting with Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger in 2011, the claim says, Ruiz was told that his job on the Board of Rights was to fire cops:
Plaintiff was advised that both Assistant Chief Paysinger and Chief of Police Charlie Beck were “disappointed” in the decision not to terminate, and that Plaintiff knows the Chief expects officers to be terminated when ordered to a Board for termination.
It's not clear what the officer that was subject to the Board of Rights hearing allegedly did, but Ruiz's attorneys says he ultimately recommended a form of discipline that didn't involve the cop losing his or her paycheck.
What followed was a demotion to Captain III and training sessions designed to set the cop straight, the suit says.
Then, on May 30, 2013, Ruiz was off-duty when he was cited for suspicion of driving under the influence, the claim says.
The suit argues that this is not normally a demotion-worthy situation—that cops who have been cited for alleged DUIs usually face a "conditional official reprimand," a hearing before the LAPD's Settlement Unit, and treatment, "if necessary."
However, Ruiz says he was demoted down to lieutenant by none other than Earl Paysinger.
The suit compares his treatment to that of LAPD Capt. Edward Prokop, whom it says was stopped by cops in Riverside for investigation of a possible DUI—a story, unconfirmed, that has been told elsewhere.
The claim alleges that Prokop was taken to a police station and then released to LAPD Deputy Chief Jose Perez, and that he was never reprimanded for the reported traffic stop. The suit notes that Riverside's police chief is Sergio Diaz, who spent decades at the LAPD.
Ruiz says his demotions were " retaliatory," according to the claim. It seeks an unspecified cash for " ... physical, mental, and emotional injuries, pain, distress, suffering, anguish, fright, nervousness, grief, anxiety, worry, shame, mortification, injured feelings, shock, humiliation and indignity, as well as other unpleasant physical, mental, and emotional reactions, damages to reputation, and other non-economic damages."
Attorney Matthew McNicholas says:
The LAPD doesn’t always seem to play fair in its internal discipline system, which can jeopardize the constitutional and employment rights of their officers. We believe this suit demonstrates that Chief Beck can play favorites and ignore the Department’s established procedures.
The timing of the suit, of course, is interesting: Tomorrow the Police Commission will weigh Beck's application for another five years as the city's top cop.
Despite recent reports of officers misbehaving and Beck allegedly using inappropriate influence in matters involving his daughter, an LAPD cop, it doesn't appear that any of this will prevent the chief from taking on a second term. He has the support of Mayor Eric Garcetti.
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The Omar Little character from television's The Wire had some wisdom for situations like this. He said, "You come at the king, you best not miss."
That's not to say, however, that a court of law wouldn't agree that Ruiz was wronged. We'll see.
A department spokesman said he couldn't comment on matters involving ongoing litigation.