Burbank police lawsuits

A Burbank police cruiser passes in front of the department's headquarters. (Times Community News / February 26, 2013)

The cost incurred by the city as it continues to defend itself against a slew of lawsuits filed by former and current police officers has hit $7.1 million and counting, officials announced recently.

And most of the cases — which center on claims of racial discrimination, harassment and wrongful termination — remain ongoing.

The largest chunk of the cost, roughly $4 million, was spent defending a multi-plaintiff lawsuit in which three Latino officers, a black officer and an Armenian officer claimed racism and sexual harassment in a lawsuit filed in May 2009.

Two of the plaintiffs — Omar Rodriguez and Elfego Rodriguez, who were both dropped from the suit — were among the 10 officers fired in 2010 for alleged misconduct stemming from a Porto’s robbery investigation in 2007.

All but one of the fired employees appealed their terminations, City Atty. Amy Albano said Friday.

Omar Rodriguez, however, dropped all claims against the city and gave up his administrative appeal in July, with the city also agreeing to dismiss its cross complaint against him, records show.

Elfego Rodriguez, on the other hand, has continued to fight the city in court.

His administrative appeal hearing concluded last year, with a judge in September recommending the city uphold his termination. Then-City Manager Mike Flad adopted the recommendation the following month.

But Elfego Rodriguez is now challenging the decision.

Los Angeles County Superior Court records show that in December, Elfego Rodriguez asked the court to reverse the decision and award him attorney fees, back pay and benefits.

He was fired almost three years ago after police officials determined he assaulted a Porto’s robbery suspect who, as it turned out, was misidentified and not involved in the crime. The city claimed Elfego Rodriguez subsequently lied about the alleged excessive force to protect his reputation.

In addition to denying the excessive use of force allegations, Elfego Rodriguez also argued that the one-year statute of limitations for investigating such complaints had expired before he was disciplined. He contended that the one-year period began the night of the incident, Dec. 31, 2007, while the city argued the period started when officials were alerted to the allegations on June 11, 2009.

Elfego Rodriguez was fired on June 10 the following year.

Administrative appeals for the remaining seven officers are pending. Albano declined to comment on the status of each case, stating that they are “personnel matters.”

The $7.1 million in legal fees the city incurred does not include the cost of internal administrative hearings for the fired officers, Albano said.

Bill Taylor was the sole fired employee who did not appeal, but he did sue the city for wrongful termination. He won $1.3 million in damages and $820,000 in attorney fees.

Last June, the city appealed the verdict.

To date, the city has spent $1.5 million on Taylor’s lawsuit, in which he said he was fired in retaliation for refusing to sign off on the terminations of minority officers.

Two other officers involved in the discrimination lawsuit have had their trials, but are now tied up in appeals.

Burbank Police Officer Cindy Guillen-Gomez — the sister of City Council candidate Juan Guillen — claimed she was discriminated against for being pregnant and then faced retaliation when she complained.

A jury last year sided with the city, but Guillen-Gomez has since appealed.

Another officer, Steve Karagiosian, won $150,000 plus $900,000 in attorney fees in his discrimination case last year. The city has since appealed that decision.

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Follow Alene Tchekmedyian on Google+ and on Twitter: @atchek.