LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who alleges he was retaliated against for exposing illegal misconduct by his trainers testified today that he believes that three internal affairs investigations into his own behavior were launched by current Undersheriff Tim Murakami and that it is now impossible for him to return to the department.
``I will be seen as a rat or a snitch,'' Deputy Andrew Rodriguez told a Los Angeles Superior Court jury tasked with deciding the lawsuit the 37-year- old plaintiff filed against the county. ``There is a good chance I will not be safe.''
Rodriguez, who said he feels he has become a personal enemy of Murakami, testified that he fears if he returned to duty, his calls for backup help in the field during an emergency could be ignored. He said he turned down an offer given him in December to be a deputy at the Walnut station.
According to Rodriguez, Murakami told him in 2014 that he would ``find something'' to get the plaintiff fired. Rodriguez said that when he subsequently went on medical leave for stress related to his job, three separate internal affairs investigations into him were launched. One was related to his medical issues, another to his outside occasional employment doing electrical work with floats at Disneyland, and the third to an intruder he found trying to manipulate gas and inhale it from the air conditioning condenser at his home, Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said he believes Murakami was behind all of the probes, given the undersheriff's alleged vow to ``find something'' to get him fired.
In a sworn declaration, Murakami said Rodriguez ``did not progress through patrol training at an acceptable level of competence. Throughout his eight months of patrol training, he had conflicts with all three of his assigned training officers and others with whom he worked.''
Rodriguez's lawsuit, filed in October 2017, alleges he was subjected to a hostile work environment for speaking out against what he believed was wrongful conduct within the sheriff's department while working as a patrol deputy at the Industry station, where he was assigned in December 2013 after earlier stints in the county jails and as a bailiff in Compton Superior Court and the Edelman Children's Court. Murakami was a captain and the head of the Industry station at the time.
Rodriguez testified that his first two trainers at the Industry station 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 said that when he complained about the alleged improper actions of his first trainer, Joanne Arcos, to the station's supervising trainer, Kenneth Mort, he was swiftly rebuked.
``I just needed to follow orders,'' Rodriguez said he was told. ``His (Mort's) face was quite red.''
On Thursday, Rodriguez testified that Arcos made a questionable stop and search of an SUV in which she allegedly found a pipe used by methamphetamine users in the vehicle console. But Arcos wrote in her report that Rodriguez, not her, found the pipe and that it was discovered in a pocket of the motorist's clothing, the plaintiff said.
Rodriguez said he objected to the narrative and that Arcos took the report away and finished it without his input.
Rodriguez said Arcos also had a practice of parking outside motels, many along Valley Boulevard, and waiting for occupants to come out so they could be detained and their backgrounds checked without having any legal basis to do so. He said she ordered him to do the same thing with homeless people who stayed near the motel strip, also with no legal basis.
``I would tell her I didn't want her or myself ending up in legal trouble,'' Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said that on another occasion, a patrol car was used to block a driveway to force a person on probation to come outside of a home with the added threat that the person's children would be taken away if the order was refused. He said using children as leverage in such a case was improper.
``This wasn't what I signed up for,'' he said.
He said that if found in violations of citizens' constitutional rights, a deputy would likely end up in federal prison.
Rodriguez testified that matters did not improve with his second trainer, Timothy Nakamura, who he said called himself a good friend of Arcos and was not happy with what he'd heard the plaintiff had said about her.
Rodriguez said he worked the evening shift with Nakamura and that the trainer had a definite opinion about the people they would encounter.
``Anybody out after dark is up for grabs,'' Nakamura said, according to Rodriguez.
The plaintiff said he was particularly bothered by Nakamura's decision to detain four young Latino men, place them handcuffed and crowded together in the back of a patrol car and then never return the BB gun found in their car when they were released after no warrants turned up against them.
``Are you crazy, I'm not giving that back to them,'' Nakamura said, according to Rodriguez.
On another occasion, Nakamura, anxious to get his arrest numbers up, detained a black woman trying to get her baby out of her car at a motel on a rainy night, Rodriguez said. The woman was angry and said she would report the incident to a relative who was a Los Angeles police lieutenant, Rodriguez said.
Nakamura did not pursue the matter further and they drove away, Rodriguez testified.
Rodriguez said he was awarded a unit commander commendation for his arrest of a man who was found to have the keys to numerous stolen cars in the glove box of a car at the Puente Hills Mall in Industry.