(Super. Ct. No. 34200980000371CUWMGDS) (Super. Ct. No. 34200980000372CUWMGDS)
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Murray , J.
Medina v. State Personnel Bd. CA3
California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.
In this consolidated appeal, Manuel Medina and Jose Lopez, former officers with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), appeal the trial court's denial of their writs of administrative mandamus. Their writs challenged a decision of the California State Personnel Board (SPB) sustaining their dismissals from public employment for engaging in misconduct. Finding no merit in their appeal, we affirm.
I. Notices of Adverse Action
In June 2008, the CDCR issued a Notice Of Adverse Action (Notice) to Medina and to Lopez, notifying each of them that they were being dismissed, effective July 15, 2008, following an incident at the California State Prison, Sacramento (the prison). Medina served as a correctional sergeant, and Lopez as a correctional officer.
Medina's Notice of Adverse Action alleged that on May 8, 2007, during a search of a prison cell for contraband, he used excessive force on a male inmate by punching the inmate at least three times with a closed fist. Medina then failed to honestly document his use of force in the incident report he prepared on or about the day of the incident. In addition, during an internal affairs investigation, Medina misrepresented his use of force by dishonestly denying that he punched the inmate. Also, he falsely stated that no one had voiced concerns to him regarding his use of force on the inmate. The Notice alleged that Medina's conduct constituted incompetency, inexcusable neglect of duty, dishonesty, willful disobedience, and other failure of good behavior under Government Code section 19572. (See Gov. Code, § 19572, subds. (b), (d), (f), (o) & (t).)*fn1
Lopez's Notice of Adverse Action alleged that he was present during the incident and observed Medina punch the inmate, but that he failed to honestly document that use of force in his report. In addition, during an internal affairs investigation, Lopez also dishonestly denied observing Medina's use of force. The Notice alleged that Lopez's conduct constituted incompetency, inexcusable neglect of duty, dishonesty, willful disobedience, and other failure of good behavior. (§ 19572, subds. (b), (d), (f), (o) & (t).)*fn2
II. The Administrative Proceedings
Medina and Lopez appealed the adverse actions to the SPB and their cases were referred to an administrative law judge (ALJ). Their cases were consolidated with another matter involving the dismissal of Benjamin Haugen, a correctional officer who also had been present during the incident. The ALJ held administrative proceedings in March 2009, during which numerous individuals testified.
III. The ALJ's Proposed Decision
Following the administrative proceedings, the ALJ issued a Proposed Decision that ultimately sustained the adverse actions against Medina and Lopez. The Proposed Decision contained various sections, including Findings of Fact, Credibility Determinations, Principles of Law and Analysis, Penalty, and Conclusions of Law.*fn3 Portions of these sections are summarized and quoted below.
A. The ALJ's Findings of Fact
According to the ALJ's findings, the incident occurred in May 2007 after prison staff discovered heroin on an inmate in the main yard. The inmate told prison staff that other inmates were hiding narcotics in three prison cells. Teams of officers were assembled to search the cells. Correctional Officers Joel Carlson and Jeffrey Klink searched cell No. 2-212, which was empty at the time. Correctional Sergeant Ralls and two other correctional officers searched cell No. 2-218. Medina, along with Lopez and Haugen, searched cell No. 2-118.
Before Medina's team conducted its search, Medina informed Lopez and Haugen how the search would be conducted. They were going to sneak up on cell No. 2-118, signal Control Booth Officer Ronald Brown to open the cell door, and once the cell door slid open, they would enter the cell and search for contraband.
As planned, when Haugen approached cell No. 2-118, Lopez signaled to Brown in the control booth and the cell door slid open. Haugen was in the lead with his baton at the ready, Lopez followed with handcuffs, and Medina brought up the rear, holding pepper spray. There were two inmates inside the cell. Inmate Machuca was sitting on the toilet near the cell doorway, bathing himself with the toilet water. Inmate Palacios was behind a bed sheet that was strung between the bunk and the wall.
Haugen entered the cell and knocked the bed sheet down with his baton. Lopez came to the cell doorway, followed by Medina. Machuca was ordered to get down. Palacios launched himself toward Machuca with something in his hand. Machuca lifted his left leg off the toilet seat while Palacios thrust something into the toilet. Machuca flushed.
"Haugen [then] forced Palacios into a face-down position on the cell floor between the bunk and the toilet, and straddled him. Simultaneously, Lopez and Medina struggled with Machuca. Machuca was wet and slippery with soap. Medina and Lopez took Machuca down to the floor. [¶] . . . Carlson and Klink, on the second tier, heard the melee . . . and rushed down to the scene. [¶] . . . Meanwhile, inside Cell 2-118, Palacios grabbed Haugen's baton and tried to take it from Haugen. Haugen wrested the baton away from Palacios' grip, grabbed Palacios' hands, and pulled them behind Palacios' back. [¶] . . . Simultaneously, Medina and Lopez were subduing Machuca. When Medina and Lopez took Machuca down, Machuca landed on his back, with his upper torso outside the cell, and his legs inside the cell. Medina was outside the cell on the right of Machuca, near Machuca's head and torso. Lopez was outside the cell on the left side of Machuca, near Machuca's legs and waist. Machuca had his arms at his side. Medina punched Machuca several times in the upper torso/arm area, then drove a forearm into Machuca's midsection. Brown, Carlson, and Klink saw Medina punch Machuca. Lopez, with [the] help of other officers, handcuffed Machuca. [¶] . . . In writing their incident reports, Appellants [i.e., Medina, Lopez and Haugen] did not mention that Medina punched Machuca several times. During their administrative interrogation, Medina denied punching Machuca, and Lopez and Haugen denied that they observed Medina punching Machuca."
B. The ALJ's Credibility Determinations
The ALJ issued express credibility determinations. He did not believe Medina and Lopez on key points.
"Medina testified that he did not punch Machuca, while Carlson, Brown, and Klink testified that they saw Medina punch Machuca. Applying the factors set forth in Evidence Code section 780 for determining credibility, Medina's testimony is not believed. Medina testified in an evasive, defensive, and unconvincing manner. While Carlson disliked Medina, and his version of events contained inconsistencies, the testimony of Carlson, Brown, and Klink was consistent regarding the type of punches Medina administered to Machuca, and the area of Machuca's body that he punched. Brown and Klink, moreover, had no known motive to testify against Medina. Brown, in particular, had a clear sightline from the Control Booth to witness the incident, and observed the incident from beginning to end.
"Lopez testified that he never saw Medina punch Machuca. Applying the factors set forth in Evidence Code section 780, that testimony is not believed. Lopez testified in an evasive and highly defensive manner. He was inches away from Medina when Medina punched Machuca, and thus could not help observing those punches.
"Haugen also testified that he never saw Medina punch Machuca. Applying the factors set forth in Evidence Code section 780, that testimony is believed. Haugen testified in a straightforward and relaxed manner. From where Haugen was straddling Palacios within the cell, it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, for him to see Medina punching Machuca outside the cell. [Fn. omitted.] In addition, Haugen's attention was diverted when the punching occurred, as he was struggling for control of his baton with Palacios at the time."
From these credibility determinations, the ALJ concluded, "[i]t is believed . . . that Medina punched Machuca several times in the torso/arm areas while Machuca was lying on the floor with his hands at his side. It is believed that Lopez observed these punches, but that Haugen did not."
The ALJ made one further credibility determination with respect to a postincident conversation between Medina and Carlson. According to the ALJ, ". . . Carlson testified that after the incident, he told Medina that he had concerns about Medina's use of force during the incident. Medina testified that Carlson expressed no such concerns to him. Applying the factors set forth in Evidence Code section 780, Medina is not believed. Medina admitted during hearing that Carlson spoke to him after the incident and was upset, and that he told Carlson that if Carlson saw something untoward during the incident, he should report it. When asked during the hearing why Carlson was upset, and what Carlson said to prompt Medina to tell him to report any untoward behavior, Medina could not give a cohesive answer. It is believed, then, that after the incident, Carlson expressed concerns to Medina about the force Medina used during the incident."
C. Principles of Law and the ALJ's Analysis
Applying the law to the facts, the ALJ found that Medina and Lopez engaged in multiple forms of misconduct.
"Regarding the allegation that Medina punched Machuca, CDCR officers are prohibited from using excessive force on an inmate, i.e., more force than is objectively reasonable under the circumstances. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 15, § 3268, subds. (a) & (b)(3).) It was not reasonable for Medina to punch an inmate who was lying prone [sic] on the floor with his hands at his side.*fn4 Medina's knowing contravention of CDCR's use of force policy violated Government Code section 19572, subdivisions (d) inexcusable neglect of duty, (o) willful disobedience, and (t) the failure of good behavior. [Citations.]
"CDCR employees who engage in or observe force greater than verbal persuasion must report that force. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 15, § 3268.1, subd. (a)(1); Department Operations Manual, § 33030.3.1.) Medina's and Lopez's intentional failure to report Medina's use of force on Machuca violated Government Code section 19572, subdivision (d) inexcusable neglect of duty, (o) willful disobedience, and (t) failure of good behavior.
"Dishonesty under Government Code section 19572, subdivision (f) is the intentional misrepresentation of known facts, or a willful omission of pertinent facts. [Citation.] Medina's and Lopez's failure to report Medina's use of force, and their statements during their administrative interrogations that they did not see Medina punch Machuca, constitute dishonesty. In addition, Medina's false claim during his interrogation ...