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Quezada v. City of Los Angeles

California Court of Appeal, Second District, First Division

January 8, 2014

Belinda QUEZADA et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
CITY OF LOS ANGELES et al., Defendants and Respondents.

As Modified January 28, 2014

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Barbara M. Scheper, Judge. Affirmed.(Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BC464380)

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Fullerton & Hanna and Lawrence J. Hanna, Van Nuys, for Plaintiffs and Appellants Belinda Quezada, Abel Cepeida and Enrique Verduzco.

Carmen A. Trutanich, City Attorney, and Paul L. Winnemore, Deputy City Attorney, for Defendants and Respondents City of Los Angeles and Charles Beck, Chief of Police.



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Plaintiffs Belinda Quezada, Abel Cepeida, and Enrique Verduzco appeal summary judgment in their action against the City of Los Angeles (City) and Charles Beck, the Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. Plaintiffs, police officers with the City's police department, sued the City based upon their treatment during a departmental investigation into the discharge of one of the officer's weapons while the three officers were off duty and had been drinking at a bar near the police station. Plaintiffs asserted claims for civil rights violations under the Bane Act (Civ.Code, § 52.1) and violations of the Public Safety Officers Bill of Rights Act (Gov.Code, §§ 3300-3313) (POBRA). We affirm.


A. Factual Background

1. The Incident

Plaintiffs are police officers employed by the City's police department (the Department). On June 15, 2010, the regular work shift for plaintiffs commenced at 2:30 p.m. and ended at 11:00 p.m. After their shift ended, the plaintiffs parked their personal vehicles at the Hollenbeck Station parking lot and went to Weiland's Brewery, located near the intersection of First Street and Hewitt Street. Quezada had one drink, but Cepeida and Verduzco consumed numerous alcoholic beverages and became intoxicated. The three left the bar shortly before closing at 2:00 a.m. on June 16, 2010.

Quezada was talking on her cell phone and had reached the gate of the Hollenbeck substation's parking lot when she heard gunshots. She stopped abruptly and looked behind her. She turned and saw Cepeida and Verduzco behind her. Believing that they had fired a gun, she disarmed both of them. Central Area officers received a report of " ‘ shots fired’ " near First and Hewitt Streets. The witness heard approximately five to six gunshots, and described the suspects as two male Hispanics in white T-shirts.

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Several patrol cars responded to the scene. Sergeant Hicks, one of the responding officers, ordered plaintiffs " on-duty" and separated them. Verduzco told officers that he had accidentally fired his gun in his truck, but an officer who looked into Verduzco's truck did not find any evidence of shots fired. Cepeida does not dispute he did not see anyone search his car while he was still on the scene. Although Quezada observed officers looking in her car, she did not feel intimidated and did not see them look at any part of her vehicle that was not in plain view. One of the responding officers took Quezada's gun. Quezada, Verduzco and Cepeida were separated. Quezada did not tell the responding officers that she believed either Cepeida or Verduzco had fired a gun.

[166 Cal.Rptr.3d 483] Detective Daniel Ornelas, who was assigned to the Internal Affairs Group's Criminal Investigations Division, received a call regarding the incident and arrived at the scene around 4:25 a.m. to begin processing the evidence. It took approximately four hours to process the evidence. As Detective Ornelas believed the officers had used their own weapons in the shooting, he needed to search their vehicles to determine whether the weapons were inside the vehicles. When Detective Ornelas looked into Verduzco's truck, he saw a weapon in plain view. He asked plaintiffs if he could search their vehicles, but plaintiffs refused to consent.

2. Interrogation of Plaintiffs

Plaintiffs were taken to three locations during their interrogation on June 16, 2010: Central Station, Parker Center, and the Bradbury Building. [1] Plaintiffs were released at 9:00 p.m. that evening. At each location, plaintiffs gave a " public safety statement" [2] and were subject to an administrative interrogation.

At Central Station, plaintiffs were separated and were appointed an employee representative. Later, plaintiffs were taken from Central Station to Parker Center for photographs and breathalyzer tests. Finally, plaintiffs' Internal Affairs administrative interviews were conducted at the Bradbury building.

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Commander Richard Webb, who is the Commanding Officer of the Department's Internal Affairs Group,[3] was advised that the public safety statements made by Officers Cepeida, Verduzco, and Quezada at the scene did not provide any useful information. Commander Webb was told that Quezada had unloaded Cepeida's or Verduzco's weapons, that an officer had an unloaded weapon on his or her person, and that one or more of the weapons involved in the shooting was in one of the plaintiffs' cars. Either Verduzco or Cepeida told a responding supervisor that he accidentally discharged his weapon in his vehicle although this was not true. None of the witnesses who called 911 could identify which of the plaintiffs was involved in the shooting, the weapons they used or where the weapons were located. Commander [166 Cal.Rptr.3d 484] Webb determined to obtain search warrants of plaintiffs' vehicles, conduct breathalyzer tests of the officers, photograph them, and to administratively interview them pursuant to the Department's Internal Affairs procedures.

Plaintiffs also could have been charged criminally with violations of Penal Code sections 246.3, 594, subdivision (a), and 647, subdivision (f), as well as potentially false and misleading statements made by plaintiffs regarding the incident. Pursuant to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in effect between the Department and the Police Protective League,[4] when an officer is subject to an administrative or criminal investigation, any interview of an employee in connection with an investigation that the employee reasonably believes may result in disciplinary action against the employee entitles the employee to the representative of the employee's choice. Sergeant Rachel Canchola was provided to plaintiffs as their employee representative.

The plaintiffs requested attorney Randal Quan to represent them, and Quan was contacted. However, Internal Affairs Group learned, at 8:00 a.m. on June 16, 2010, that Quan would not be available until late that evening. Commander Webb thus waited a reasonable amount of time, until about 2:30 p.m., to begin interviewing the officers to give them time to find an attorney. According to Randal Quan, at 9:00 a.m. on June 16, 2010, he was contacted

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by Sergeant Canchola regarding representing plaintiffs, and was advised all three plaintiffs were sleep deprived and that two of them had consumed excessive amounts of alcohol. Quan advised Canchola that he had previously-scheduled interviews and was not available, and that he would represent plaintiffs if Internal Affairs Group could approve rescheduling of Quan's currently scheduled appointments. Quan stated he would be available at 9:00 p.m. Detective Ornelas informed Quan that plaintiffs' interviews would not be rescheduled, and that Internal Affairs Group would not wait for Quan to be available. In Quan's belief, Internal Affairs Group often does not want attorneys present during Internal Affairs Group investigations, and often has no regard for the physical or mental status of accused officers.

Detective Ornelas obtained a search warrant at 1:00 p.m. on June 16, 2010, and searched the plaintiffs' vehicles. In Cepeida's car, he found two weapons and some ammunition that was later determined to match the ...

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