Court Rules No Violation of Public Safety Officers Bill of Rights During Internal Affairs Administrative Interviews

by Best Best & Krieger LLP
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Officers Not Entitled to an Attorney During an Administrative Investigation Under POBRA

Overview: Police officers sued the City of Los Angeles for violations of their civil rights and under the Public Safety Officers Bill of Rights Act (POBRA) based upon their treatment during a departmental investigation into the discharge of one of the officers’ weapons while they were off duty and had been drinking. The court ruled the department did not violate either their POBRA rights or their civil rights.

Training Points: Staff should ensure officers who are interviewed as part of an internal affairs investigation are afforded their rights under POBRA. Staff who conduct Internal Affairs investigations should ensure that officers: (1) have access to food, water and restrooms; (2) do not suffer adverse mental or physical health consequences; and (3) are provided the opportunity to have counsel present. This case confirms that if the department can show it understood and complied with POBRA, taking into consideration the totality of the facts and circumstances, courts are more likely to find no POBRA violation, unless a specific right under POBRA has been violated. In addition, officers can be compelled to talk, however statements made without a Miranda waiver are not admissible in court should there be any criminal complaint filed. Best practices suggest that any investigation into allegations of criminal misconduct should occur prior to any administrative interviews and must be separated and conducted by separate investigators. Best practices also suggest that if the conduct at issue implicates the possibility of criminal charges being brought, all necessary administrative warnings should be given to the individual (i.e. Miranda, Lybarger, etc.).

Summary Analysis: In Quezada et al., v. City of Los Angeles, et al. after an off-duty officer who was intoxicated accidentally discharged his weapon, he, along with two other off-duty officers (who were with him and had also been drinking), were subjected to an administrative interrogation. The officers later sued the city for violations of the Bane Act and POBRA. The officers contended that: they had gone 30 hours without sleep when their interviews were conducted; they were given little food or water; they were intimidated by the search warrants; and they were interviewed when their chosen counsel was not available. The officers also alleged the department violated the Bane Act by compelling Breathalyzer tests, unlawfully searching their vehicles, intimidating them by the search warrants, and violating their right to an attorney.

The court held there were no POBRA violations since the officers were ordered on-duty, given overtime pay, allowed to eat, drink and use the restroom as needed, and allowed to make phone calls. The court held that the officers were not entitled to wait for their attorney to become available when the interrogation was taking place at a reasonable time because the employees were not entitled to an attorney as their representative during an administrative investigation and they were provided representation. The court reasoned the interrogation could proceed without an attorney since they were afforded a representative during the “administrative interrogation.” The court explained the timing of the interrogation was not unreasonable since the seriousness of the circumstances mandated an investigation at the earliest opportunity while the officers’ memories were freshest, despite the fact that the officers had been awake for many hours. The court noted that even though the attorney the officers requested was not available, they made little to no effort to obtain alternative counsel to represent them so their interrogations could proceed. The court held the department did not violate the Bane Act since there were no threats of violence, the vehicle searches were lawful, and the officers’ right to an attorney was not violated since they refused to waive their Miranda rights and POBRA does not guarantee an officer an attorney in an administrative investigation.

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