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The Top 10 Stories Of 2009

December 30, 2009

1: Burbank Police’s year of problems:  A barrage of outside investigations, lawsuits filed against the city by current and former officers, a police sergeant taking his own life on a residential street and a no-confidence vote in the police chief just days after he announced plans to retire made for a turbulent year at the Burbank Police Department.

For a city still grappling with the 2003 shooting death of Officer Matthew Pavelka, the series of events has pummeled morale and left many inside the department in limbo as they await the outcome of probes by the FBI and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

FBI officials in September confirmed they were investigating allegations of excessive force and civil rights violations by officers, focusing on complaints generated in response to the 2007 Porto’s Bakery robbery and records in connection with the August 2007 arrest of Rene Escarsega, according to the subpoena.

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In April, city officials requested the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department conduct its own investigation before hiring an outside attorney and investigator to probe the allegations, officials said. In all, eight current and former officers filed a total of five lawsuits against the city this year.

In the latest lawsuit, Det. Angelo Dahlia alleged that high-ranking members of the department investigating the 2007 robbery of Porto’s Bakery assaulted and beat witnesses and suspects “under the color of authority,” according to the lawsuit filed last month in U.S. Central District Court.

Not since the scandals of the 1940s and ’50s, when a police chief was fired and city manager resigned amid a state commission’s ruling that organized crime put citizens in jeopardy, has City Hall faced such scrutiny over its handling of the Police Department. Lt. Omar Rodriguez and officers Cindy Guillen-Gomez, Steve Karagiosian, Elfego Rodriguez and Jamal Childs in May filed a lawsuit against the department alleging that they were subjected to routine racial discrimination and sexual harassment, and then faced retaliation from the command staff when they complained.

Stehr issued a directive as early as May 10 in an internal memo that ordered officers to “immediately cease and desist from engaging in any personal (non-official) communications with anyone in regard to pending internal administrative investigation, as well as any future internal investigation(s) that the department may commence.”

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