Ex-police officer sues Menlo Park over firing | August 6, 2014 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - August 6, 2014

Ex-police officer sues Menlo Park over firing

by Sandy Brundage

Rolando Igno, formerly of the Menlo Park Police Department, has filed a lawsuit against the city on grounds that previous allegations of lying to his supervisors should not have been considered in a recent decision to terminate his employment.

He was fired in April after nearly seven years with the department, according to documents filed July 31 with the San Mateo County Superior Court.

In 2012, the lawsuit states, Mr. Igno negotiated a suspension of 100 hours for failing to appear in traffic court. In exchange, he says, allegations of lying were supposed to be deleted from his personnel record. Those allegations involved lies related to taking time time off work for a fishing trip instead of appearing in traffic court; attempting to hide evidence of a traffic stop to avoid appearing in traffic court; and trying to hide a failure to check a neighborhood while on patrol following a theft report.

Documents filed with the lawsuit state that Mr. Igno had three previous incidents of misconduct on his record already — failing to appear in traffic court in 2010; a two-shift suspension without pay for speeding through a red light with two prisoners in the backseat of the car in 2009; and failing to show up for an internal affairs interview in 2009.

Part of the agreement regarding the 100-hour suspension included a "last chance" clause that Mr. Igno "agreed to be terminated if he is hereafter determined to have violated any City or Department policy regarding truthfulness, dishonesty, or false statements to a supervisor."

That clause appears to play a role in Police Chief Bob Jonsen's decision to fire Mr. Igno following further alleged dishonesty. In January 2013, according to a memo attached to the lawsuit, Mr. Igno allegedly lied about what happened during an off-duty contact with at least one man in a Safeway parking lot in Aptos.

The memo includes a list of previous alleged misconduct by Mr. Igno, which the lawsuit claims violates the agreement negotiated in 2012. The complaint also claims that the officer was not given a chance to review or respond to the comments still in his personnel file, and that the department refused to delete the references to the prior alleged misconduct.

"Respondents use of the dishonesty allegation from the prior case shows an intent to taint the arbitrator who will be hearing the current case in dispute between the parties by disclosing uncharged, unsustained, and unmitigated allegations of dishonesty," the lawsuit states.

Mr. Igno is asking for monetary damages, court costs, and an order to prohibit the police department from using the prior allegations against him and to require the department to delete all references to the incidents.

Binding arbitration

Mr. Igno is looking to both the court and arbitration for relief, his attorney, Sean D. Howell, confirmed.

Mr. Howell said he couldn't comment on the specifics of an open case. In general, he explained, there are times when certain issues must be resolved by the court prior to going to arbitration in an attempt to "narrow the issues" before the arbitrator hears the case.

Menlo Park earned sharp criticism for using binding arbitration to resolve disputes over police disciplinary actions after the Almanac broke the story of how Officer Jeffrey Vasquez, fired after being caught naked with a prostitute in a motel room in Sunnyvale and reportedly admitting that it wasn't the first time he'd solicited a hooker for sex, was reinstated through binding arbitration and awarded $188,000 in back pay. He remains employed by the city.

The council and employee unions negotiated a minor tweak to the process in the wake of the Vasquez stories — either party can now ask to select an arbitrator from a pool of retired San Mateo County judges rather than being limited to a list of arbitrators provided by the state. But the arbitrator's decision remains final and confidential.

The Almanac obtained 17 redacted decisions from multiple California jurisdictions and found that in 10 of those cases, arbitrators reversed the discipline decision. Arbitrators reinstated the officers nine times, and shortened one suspension. They upheld terminations in the remaining seven cases.

Academic studies of similar binding arbitration cases in Chicago and Houston showed approximately the same 50 percent reversal rate.

Mr. Howell also represented Officer Vasquez during that disciplinary appeal.


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