Burbank Police Det. Steve Karagiosian's attorney, Solomon Gresen, said in his opening statement Thursday that evidence would show ethnic slurs against his client were made and corroborated by other officers.
“From the time he passed probationary status, he received outstanding performance evaluations,” Gresen said, noting that Karagiosian was named Officer of the Year in 2007.
After Karagiosian's probationary period passed, “he started hearing comments, about him and people on the street,” and started to complain as early as 2007, Gresen said.
One of the six officers Karagiosian alleges made racial slurs was suspended for about 12 hours, Gresen said.
Officer Aaron Kendrick was accused of calling Armenians “towel heads,” which was corroborated by four other officers, according to documents presented in court that were based on an investigation by outside attorney Irma Rodriguez Moisa.
Former Police Chief Tim Stehr was the first witness in the trial, taking the stand Thursday to weigh in on the allegations.
“I believe it falls under the harassment section,” Stehr said when asked if Kendrick's statement violated a department or city policy.
Kendrick also allegedly told Karagiosian he was hired and promoted only because he was Armenian.
“It could be a violation,” Stehr said, adding that the first statement could also be a violation that would have to be investigated further.
Some in the department thought their comments were funny, Stehr said, adding that in general, he didn't want anyone in the department saying anything about another ethnic group.
He felt people in the department needed to be educated and recommended additional training for the department, Stehr added.
A four-hour diversity training course and a trip to the Museum of Tolerance was required of all people under his supervision after an anonymous letter surfaced in March 2008 about discrimination in the department, Stehr said.
Additional training for Kendrick and the five other officers who allegedly made disparaging comments about Armenians or toward Karagiosian was not recommended, Stehr testified.
But Lawrence Michaels, one of the attorneys defending the city, said in his opening statement that Karagiosian complained about the remarks years after they were made and only after there were rumors the FBI would be investigating the department for alleged excessive use of force. Karagiosian filed the lawsuit, Michaels argued, because he feared he would be investigated.
Michaels described Karagiosian as a foul-mouthed, abrasive person who did not fear retaliation or confronting people, and said the detective had previously deemed such comments as just jokes and failed attempts at humor — not harassment or discrimination.
Since the lawsuit was filed with five other officers in 2009, three of the claimants have been dropped for various reasons, including lack of merit or the expiration of the statute of limitations. One of those officers has a case pending in federal court.
The part of the case addressing the sexual harassment complaints of Officer Cindy Guillen might go to trial in the coming months.
A jury this week awarded former Deputy Police Chief William Taylor nearly $1.3 million after finding that the city demoted and fired him in retaliation for blocking the termination of minority officers and pushing for internal controls. He is expected to be called as a witness in the Karagiosian trial.