Dismissed Burbank Detective Angelo Dahlia Blew the Whistle on Brutality by the Burbank Police Department
An 11-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals revived the suit by Angelo Dahlia, a former Burbank Police detective who claimed that he was put on administrative leave after he reported alleged brutality in the Burbank department. A lower court threw out Dahlia’s suit on the grounds that he reported the misconduct as part of his “official duties” and thus was not entitled to First Amendment (free speech) protection as a private citizen, and that being placed on paid administrative leave did not constitute punishment.
Previously, a three-judge panel agreed, deciding it was bound by a 2009 precedent. But the larger panel overturned the precedent and decided that police officers, in some situations, may be entitled to First Amendment protection when they disclose misconduct. The court also said that paid administrative leave could constitute punishment.
“It is relevant to the resolution of Dahlia’s case that Dahlia disclosed misconduct to LASD in contravention of the numerous threats and admonitions from his superiors not to reveal the misconduct to anyone,” wrote Judge Richard A. Paez, “Even assuming arguendo that Dahlia might normally be required to disclose misconduct pursuant to his job duties, here he defied, rather than followed, his supervisors’ orders.”
Dahlia claimed that he saw other officers brutalize arrestees during a high-profile robbery investigation that began in late 2007. He claimed that he saw a lieutenant grab a suspect by the throat, put a gun under his eye and threaten him. Dahlia also claimed that he heard yelling and the sound of somebody being hit and slapped from a room where a sergeant was interviewing a suspect. When Dahlia reported his claims to a superior, he alleged he was told to stop his “sniveling.”
The Burbank Police Department has had more than its share of turmoil in the past few years. The public suicide of 22-year veteran Sergeant Neil Thomas Gunn, Sr., in October, 2009, in the hills of Burbank was “absolutely work related” according to his suicide note. Burbank’s police chief stepped down following Gunn’s suicide. Federal authorities have been investigating allegations of excessive force, corruption and other abuses. With Dahlia’s suit revived, the saga continues.