In February 2018 LAPD Lt. Raymond Garvin, officer in charge of the Bomb Detection Canine Section, filed suit against the City of Los Angeles. The relevant sequence of events began in March 2016 when Captain Kathryn Meek was put in charge of LAPD’s Emergency Services Division, which includes the BDCS. According to Deputy City Attorney Marianne Fratianne, who defended the case for the City, before Meek took command Deputy Chief Horace Frank told her that Garvin was doing a terrible job running the BDCS and he wanted Meek to get rid of him.1
In addition, according to Garvin’s complaint, it was common knowledge that Meek was “in a romantic relationship with one of Garvin’s subordinates, Officer DeLuccia, a K-9 handler with whom Plaintiff had had several work-related confrontations.”2 Garvin also states that Meek and DeLuccia’s romance started at time when she had been DeLuccia’s boss, Meek having had Garvin’s job as officer in charge of the BDCS before he took over.
On taking command of ESD Meek began collecting and creating evidence to support firing Garvin.3 Meek “counseled” Garvin about his putatively poor job performance. She also told him that “everyone hates you” and that he was a bully who used abusive and profane language at work. Later, in a deposition, Meek could not recall the details of her evidence for these claims4
She did identify two of her informants, both of whom testified under oath that they’d never said anything of the sort and also that Meek’s allegations against Garvin weren’t true. They also testified that since assuming command Meek had been “fishing” for negative information about Garvin and had apparently told one BDCS officer to “tell me something about the Lieutenant so I can get him out of here.”5
Garvin’s meeting with Meek left him rattled so he met with Meek’s supervisor, Deputy Chief Frank to discuss the issue. At this meeting he again informed Frank of Meek’s relationship with DeLuccia. Frank told Garvin that he was doing a great job. However, again according to Fratianne:6
…behind the scenes, Chief Frank and Captain Meek were actively taking steps to remove plaintiff as the OIC at BDCS by preparing the documentation necessary to administratively transfer and downgrade Plaintiff due to a purported “conflict in command.” In their communications, they commiserated about how there was an insufficient factual basis to actually remove Plaintiff.7
While all this was going on Garvin learned that his subordinate, K-9 officer Sauvao, “had tampered with another handler’s certification test.”8 Garvin reported Sauvao to Meek and someone initiated a complaint. Eventually the complaint resulted in Sauvao being removed from BDCS, which pissed off Sauvao’s buddies in the unit.
They all started filing retaliatory complaints against Garvin for using racist slurs, profanity, creating a hostile environment, and so on. Meek and Frank seized on the situation and transferred Garvin out of BDCS, relieved him of supervisory duties, and detailed him to the World Police and Fire Games, where he was put to work making sandwiches.9
The allegations against Garvin were eventually found, by Meek no less, to be either Unfounded or Not Resolved. According to Horace Frank as summarized by Fratianne the first finding requires enough evidence to show that the allegation wasn’t true whereas the second indicates that there’s not enough evidence to decide either way.10
For Garvin the main difference is that if they’d all been Unfounded he would have been reinstated to his former rank and position and been repaid his back pay. But since some of the complaints against him were Not Resolved he was neither reinstated nor repaid. Fratianne goes on to say that:11
The Department will claim that because some of the allegations were adjudicated “Not Resolved” as opposed to “Unfounded,” Plaintiff was technically not entitled to be reinstated as a Lt. II or given his back pay … However, based on these facts, [Frank’s] explanation would presumably enflame a jury given Captain Meek’s decisive conclusion and scathing representation that all of the allegations against Plaintiff were fabricated and lodged in a concerted effort to remove him from BDCS.
Fratianne ultimately advised the City Council to settle because the facts are against the City and because unlike Meek, Garvin is a very credible witness. Fratianne’s assessment is damning:12
Captain Meek, on the other hand, does not make a good witness. At her deposition she was snippy, defensive and alooof. During difficult questioning, she became argumentative and came off as coy and non-responsive as opposed to honest and forthright. Moreover, as detailed herein, Captain Meek was unable to substantiate the very serious allegations she made about Plaintiff’s character and demeanor. The City will have a difficult task of rehabilitating her testimony at trial.
Fratianne closes her analysis by estimating potential damages. She told City Council that if the case went to a Los Angeles jury the City’s liability was very likely to be between $1.5 million and $3 million so that settling for $700K was a good deal. They apparently believed her because on September 23, 2020 they voted thirteen to zero to take the deal.13
But the report isn’t all that Fratianne presented to the Council. The last three pages14 comprise a so-called “Corrective Action Report,” the purpose of which is described right on the form:
This form has been developed by the City Attorney’s Office to assist City departments in writing a Corrective Action Report (“CAR”) for issues resulting in litigation. The CARE should describe the current understanding of the most likely root cause(s). This CARE will accompany documents submitted by the City Attorney’s Office to the City Council and Claims Board.
Before I reveal Fratianne’s “understanding of the most likely root cause” of this litigation, before I discuss her recommendations for “corrective action”, let’s just list the main events:
⋇ Meek was having an affair with a subordinate when she was in charge of BDCS.15
⋇ Meek’s superior officer, Horace Frank, knew about this and apparently did nothing.16
⋇ Frank and Meek conspired to demote and transfer Garvin before Meek took over the ESD.
⋇ Meek tried to collect information damaging to Garvin from his co-workers in order to support her and Frank’s plan to get rid of Garvin.
⋇ At least two BDCS officers filed false and retaliatory complaints against Garvin.
⋇ Meek took advantage of these unfounded complaints to transfer and demote Garvin before the complaints were investigated.
⋇ Meek investigated the complaints and determined that some of these complaints, which she knew to be false and retaliatory, were “Not Resolved” as opposed to “Unfounded.”
⋇ Meek and Frank then refused to reinstate or repay Garvin, which Department policy allows but apparently does not require after complaints are found to be “Not Resolved.”
Which of these do you expect Fratianne thought was the “root cause” of Garvin’s lawsuit? The affair with the subordinate? The fact that Frank didn’t take corrective action against Meek over the affair?17 The fact that two sworn officers made false and retaliatory complaints against Garvin? That they felt safe filing false complaints? The fact that Meek and Frank demoted and transferred Garvin even before the complaints were investigated? The fact that Meek obviously knew that the complaints were fabricated yet intentionally tweaked her findings so as to allow her to keep Garvin from being reinstated?
And what corrective action did she recommend? Maybe discipline Meek and Horace Frank for conspiring to demote and transfer Garvin even though no evidence supported this course of action? Or discipline the false complainers?18 Discipline Meek for having an affair with a subordinate in her chain of command contrary to §271 of the Department Manual?19 Discipline Frank for failing to deal with the ongoing conflicts caused by Meek’s affair, also contrary to §271? Suggest literally anything at all that might prevent things like this from happening in the future? Not any of these, it turns out. Here’s Fratianne’s account of the root cause:20
Plaintiff was removed from his coveted Lt. II + II [sic] after stale, never-before-reported complaints were made against him. Despite the fact that the Captain (who is alleged to have retaliated against Plaintiff) concluded in the LOT that the personnel complaints against Plaintiff were, in essence, completely fabricated by select officers, the Captain adjudicated some of the allegations “Not Resolved” and therefore Plaintiff did not get reinstated to his Lt. II designation, did not get his coveted position back (and all of the attendant benefits) and did not receive back pay.
And in some sense Fratianne’s finding is not wrong. Meek’s “Not Resolved” findings were the cause of Garvin’s troubles. If she had determined all of them to be “Unfounded” Garvin might not have filed the lawsuit. But in another, much more serious sense, it’s totally wrong. If Frank and Meek hadn’t already been gunning for Garvin they wouldn’t have transferred him and demoted him until the complaints were resolved.
Meek’s widely known and out-of-policy romantic relationship with her subordinate might well have degraded the work environment to the point where officers felt able to file false complaints against one another. As the Department Manual says, such relationships can “lead to a disrupted work environment, reduced production and a decline in morale.”
Frank’s refusal to deal with Meek’s affair even though he was well aware of it likely also contributed to the chaotic BDCS work environment in which such shenanigans flourish. And if Meek and Frank hadn’t felt so free to conspire to fuck Garvin over,21 if this kind of dirty dealing weren’t apparently just a normal thing for LAPD brass to do, then the suit wouldn’t have been filed.22 So that’s another cause. And given Fratianne’s exceedingly narrow characterization of the root cause it’s not surprising that her corrective recommendation is also exceedingly narrow:
To the extent that the Chain of Command specifically and explicitly finds that allegations contained within a personnel complaint are decidedly fabricated and were lodged solely in a retaliatory attempt to remove a supervisor from command, consideration as to whether the allegations should be deemed “Unfounded” vs. “Not Resolved” should be given due consideration given the difference between the two and the ultimate effect of a “Not Resolved” finding.
Yes, she says that “consideration…should be given due consideration” regarding “Unfounded” as opposed to “Not Resolved” findings in “decidedly fabricated and … retaliatory” personnel complaints. As if it’s not obvious that Meek knew exactly the effect her choice would have, that even though she herself decided that the complaints against Garvin were retaliatory and completely made up, she knew that if only one was “Not Resolved” she and co-conspirator Frank would have a reason not to reinstate Garvin.
In the face of all this lawlessness, forbidden and highly disruptive romance, conspiratorial chaos, and palace intrigue, the only fix Fratianne recommends is that in the future LAPD brass should give due consideration to their considerations about what a “Not Resolved” finding might have on the victim of retaliatory complaints, which really seems like the very smallest of the LAPD problems that caused this lawsuit.
I mean, a few other things do come to mind. Maybe recommend a process making it harder for individual superior officers like Horace Frank to cover up reports of out-of-policy “romantic” relationships? Just off the top of my head why not require the Inspector General to receive notice of any such report, no matter how informal, for later followup?23
Or maybe recommend finding a way to handle complaints against supervisors like Garvin in such a way that their supervisors can’t so easily weaponize them to serve their own palace intrigues? I’m not sure what would work here other than a much more transparent police discipline process.
There are strong state anti-transparency laws limiting the possibilities here, but also I don’t work for the City Attorney’s office and presumably they have a lot of expert knowledge that I don’t have. All they’re doing here is recommending. Why not recommend that City Council order a report-back on possibilities?24
I could go on with these suggestions but I won’t. The ultimate point is that the LAPD has a lot of very serious internal problems to go along with its extensive list of much more well-known public-facing problems. It’s disappointing but not surprising that the police won’t fix their own problems and likewise with the Inspector General and the Police Commission.
But it was news to me that even in the face of an endless parade of successful lawsuits against LAPD the City Attorney is unwilling or unable to do something so small, so without external consequences, as to make realistic suggestions for avoiding legal liability, even when they could do so in confidence. I don’t expect such recommendations to benefit Angelenos. After all, it’s well known that the City of Los Angeles, as opposed to the people of Los Angeles, is the City Attorney’s client.
Nevertheless it really seems like realistic recommendations for avoiding lawsuits would at least serve the City’s interests. Fratianne’s recommendation won’t avoid a single one. If a supervisor is set on exploiting the distinction between Unfounded and Not Resolved then they’re going to exploit it. But these deputies are not incompetent attorneys25 so I imagine this failure isn’t actually a failure at all and that LAPD’s status quo serves City interests which are far more important than saving money on lawsuits. The lawsuit payouts are the cost of having LAPD do whatever it is that the City is paying them to do. Everyone who’s paying attention already knows this, of course, but more evidence doesn’t hurt the chance to change things.
Acknowledgements: I usually don’t mention it when people leak things to me but in this case I was explicitly asked to do it. So thanks to whoever it was that was brave enough and kind enough to pass Fratianne’s report on to me!
- According to Fratianne’s professional assessment of the likely content of Meek’s sworn testimony should the case go to trial. This and every other factual claim either unattributed or explicitly attributed to Fratianne comes from her September 1, 2020 report to City Council supporting her recommendation that the City pay Garvin $700,000 as part of a settlement. The matter is found in Council File 20-1140. The settlement was approved by Council on September 23, 2020 and by the Mayor on October 5, 2020.
- The linked-to copy of Garvin’s first amended complaint is of super-low quality, blurred, scanned at an extreme angle to foil OCR, and so on. It was created by the City of Los Angeles as an exhibit to a “Compendium of Evidence”, filed in the case. Which is of extreme independent interest given that at one point Deputy City Attorney Bethelwel Wilson told me (and I am paraphrasing radically but the gist is unchanged) that the City didn’t single me out for these passively aggressive (not Wilson’s adjective!) unreadable photocopies, that they even filed them this way as discovery. I’ve heard this confirmed by a number of attorneys who regularly oppose the City in court. This particular pleading isn’t discovery, but the sheer gratuitous illegibility of the reproduction is consistent with Wilson’s story.
- According to Fratianne. See page 2 of her report.
- Fratianne report p.3.
- Fratianne report p.3.
- See page 4 of her report.
- I don’t have copies of these communications between Frank and Meek yet, but if they were filed with the court I will eventually get them. If they were only available to the City’s lawyers probably I won’t get them, although who really knows?!
- I have no idea what that means but it doesn’t sound good. This is found in Fratianne’s report on page 4.
- The LAPD seems to have a real knack for aggressive workplace retaliation. See Fratianne report page 4.
- See page 6 of her report.
- Also on page 6 of her report.
- Also on page 6 of her report.
- Price was absent that day and Huizar was already kicked.
- Pages 10-12.
- And possibly after. It’s not clear from the records I have when or if it ended.
- There’s really no way to know for sure if Frank did nothing or not, but it seems like Fratianne would have mentioned it if any action had been taken against Meek.
- See what Frank was required to have done in the LAPD Manual Volume 1 §271.
- Which might have happened, there’s no way to tell since no one mentions it and the results or probably even the existence of such disciplinary action is top secret as far as LAPD is concerned.
- Again, maybe this happened and it’s just not possible to find out. But if it did it didn’t figure into Fratianne’s analysis at all.
- See page 10 of her report.
- They felt so free that they planned their moves via email, something that people who worry about getting caught don’t do.
- At least not based on these facts.
- I feel like this might sound naive, especially given the fact that the OIG is essentially in thrall to LAPD and performs no meaningful oversight. But I don’t expect solutions like this to fix anything permanently. The point is that they create a record over time of either action or inaction. I don’t see this as a solution to the problem, but only as a more realistic version of the kind of solutions which the City Attorney can be practically expected to propose.
- Again, I know report-backs don’t usually solve much, but again, I’m not looking for actual solutions here, just more realistic things that the City Attorney might actually be politically able to propose.
- I base this opinion on my extensive experience suing the City for violations of the California Public Records Act.