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Burbank police officer's firing questioned

Council member complains that he's not being kept informed by staff.

September 27, 2013|By Alene Tchekmedyian, alene.tchekmedyian@latimes.com

The Burbank City Council was caught off guard Tuesday when a speaker broke the news to elected officials that an arbitrator in an advisory decision ruled that one of the 10 police officers fired in 2010 in the wake of the infamous Porto’s robbery investigation shouldn’t have been terminated.

Longtime Burbank resident Mike Nolan asked city officials for a status update regarding the ongoing internal appeals of the fired officers — six of which remain pending — after he’d heard that in one case, a judge sided with the officer.

Without identifying the officer, City Attorney Amy Albano confirmed the news, noting that the ruling was not a binding one, meaning that the recommendation will be passed along to City Manager Mark Scott, who will make the final determination on whether to uphold the officer’s termination.

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Albano apologized to members of the council — two of whom voiced frustrations — saying she thought they had been informed.

“These last couple, three Tuesdays, I’m finding out more information from people at this podium than I am from my own staff,” said Councilman Jess Talamantes. “I would encourage more information coming to me as an elected official before it hits the newspaper and before it hits Tuesday night.”

Councilman David Gordon concurred.

“I find it troubling that a city elected official has to find out about what action is taken at a high level of city government with respect to the police department by members of the public,” Gordon said. “Something of that magnitude should be directly conveyed to the council.”

All but one of the employees fired for alleged misconduct in the 2008 Porto’s robbery investigation appealed their terminations. City officials have claimed the former officers used excessive force during the investigation or lied to supervisors about what they saw or did.

One of them — Omar Rodriguez — dropped all claims against the city and gave up his administrative appeal more than a year ago, with the city also agreeing to dismiss its cross complaint against him, records show.

A second officer, Elfego Rodriguez, has continued to fight the city in court. His administrative appeal hearing concluded last year, with a judge last September recommending the city uphold his termination. Then-City Manager Mike Flad adopted the recommendation the following month.

But Elfego Rodriguez is now challenging the decision in court, with a hearing on the matter slated for November.

More than three years after the officers’ firings, six cases remain pending.

“I would think over next few months we’ll see more and more of them coming to conclusions,” Albano said Monday.

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Follow Alene Tchekmedyian on Google+ and on Twitter: @atchek.

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