LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who alleged he was subjected to harassing conduct and retaliation for questioning the accuracy of his trainers' police reports and their reasons for stopping suspects was awarded $8.1 million by a jury today.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury deliberated for a little more than a day before finding in favor of 37-year-old Andrew Rodriguez, who trained at the Industry sheriff's station and says he believes his decision to speak out makes it impossible for him to ever work in law enforcement again.
Rodriguez said outside the courtroom after the verdict that he always believed in his case, but was wary of what he called the "overwhelming resources" the county brought against him during trial, including multiple trial attorneys.
"They were trying to crush us," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said he doubts he can work in law enforcement again because he will be seen as a snitch and any prospective employer will want to hear from some of the very people that he alleges harassed and retaliated against him. He said he is unsure at present what alternative line of work he may pursue.
A Sheriff's Department representative issued a statement regarding the verdict.
"The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is disappointed in the decision, but we must respect our legal process," the statement read. "The department plans to vigorously appeal the decision."
Rodriguez, who filed his lawsuit in October 2017, was assigned as a trainee at the Industry station in December 2013 after earlier stints in the county jails and as a bailiff in Compton Superior Court and the Edelman Children's Court in Monterey Park.\
Current Undersheriff Timothy Murakami was a captain and the head of the Industry station when Rodriguez was a trainee there.
Rodriguez testified that his first two trainers at the Industry station, Joanne Arcos and Timmy Nakamura, engaged in what he believed were unconstitutional stops and detentions of potential suspects that could have led to both him and the trainers going to federal prison.
Rodriguez alleged Arcos told him to falsely state in a report that a methamphetamine pipe found after a suspect's SUV was stopped was recovered from the motorist's clothing when it was actually found in the vehicle's console.
Rodriguez said that when he asked Arcos for her legal justification in stopping the motorist, she refused to answer. He said he also saw her make questionable searches of trunks of vehicles during traffic stops that appeared to conflict with the legal grounds to do so that he had learned at the sheriff's academy.
Both Arcos and Nakamura denied any wrongdoing.
Rodriguez claimed Murakami told him in August and September 2014 that he would "find something" to get the plaintiff fired.
Attorney Alan Romero, on behalf of Deputy Andrew Rodriguez, said during final arguments that the LASD spared no effort to make life difficult for the plaintiff.
"I can't imagine a case where so much time and resources were used to destroy a person's life," Romero said.
"This is a case about police corruption," added Romero, who told jurors that Murakami instigated an unwarranted investigation into Rodriguez when he was out on sick leave and deserves much of the blame for his client's difficulties.
Romero said some of the department witnesses were "coached" in their testimony and had no fear of being punished for any alleged misconduct on their part. He said they violated the oaths they took when they obtained their badges and when they took the witness stand.
"They knew they would get away with it," Romero said. "Most of the people actually got promoted."
Rodriguez is currently an unpaid, inactive member of the department.
Defense witnesses, including Murakami, testified that Rodriguez did not speak out about alleged wrongful conduct by his trainers at the Industry sheriff's station until after he filed a lawsuit.
Murakami also said that Rodriguez once left a female deputy stranded without transportation during a meal break and later said he didn't recall the incident when questioned about it.
The undersheriff further disputed Rodriguez's testimony that working at the Industry station gave him a better opportunity at career advancement than at other stations where there are fewer calls for service, such as the Walnut/Diamond Bar station, where he turned down an offer for a transfer.
"It doesn't impact your career where you work," Murakami said.