LOS ANGELES -- A Los Angeles jury Monday awarded $3.1 million to a Los Angeles police officer who said he was retaliated against for reporting that his superior used racial epithets and might have been involved in embezzlement of department funds.
Robert Hill, a 25-year veteran of the department, said he was called a "rat" and moved to an inferior assignment at a less desirable division after he reported that Sgt. Gilbert Curtis used racial slurs -- "wetbacks," for instance -- and made derogatory statements including, "If God loved them, why did he make them black?"
The officer had also raised concerns that Curtis might have been stealing funds from the department's Youth Explorer Program. Curtis, who according to an LAPD roster is Latino, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Hill, who is white, alleged in court papers that he was told by superiors to drop the complaint against the sergeant if he wanted to save his job.
Gregory Smith, Hill's attorney, told jurors in the trial that Hill suffered from depression after his superiors "cooked up this scheme" to punish him for violating a "code of silence" that existed within the department.
"His career is over, his friends are gone and his reputation is nothing," Smith said.
The jury returned with the verdict after deliberating for about three hours after it received the case late Friday at the conclusion of a weeklong trial. Jurors voted 11 to 1 in favor of Hill, Smith said. Jurors said Hill should receive $3 million for pain and suffering in addition to $127,500 in lost earnings.
Richard Loomis, an attorney for the city, argued that Hill was transferred to the Northeast Division from Newton, where he had worked for 16 years, only because the department was trying to separate two officers who could not get along. At Newton, Hill was a senior lead officer -- a community liaison position that generally pays more than a regular patrol job.
Loomis noted that even though Hill was put on patrol after being transferred, his salary increased from year to year. Hill could not be made senior lead officer at the new location because there were no openings, Loomis said.
"Officer Hill was separated from Sgt. Curtis because there were allegations of serious misconduct," Loomis told jurors in closing arguments last week, referring to a 2005 incident in which Curtis filed a police report saying Hill had threatened to kill him.
During the trial, Hill denied making such a threat and alleged that Curtis had fabricated the charges to retaliate against him. Hill was ultimately found not guilty at an internal disciplinary hearing.
"What the LAPD did and continues to do is criminal," Hill said in an interview Monday after the verdict. "There's a code of silence. . . . It's not as widespread, but there's an environment that needs to be corrected."
Hill said he would return to his job at the Northeast Division, where he has been promoted to senior lead officer since he filed the lawsuit in January 2007. He said he was concerned that he might be subject to further retaliation and that officers who testified in his case might also be penalized.
The LAPD in recent years has been accused repeatedly of retaliating against officers who report their superiors for alleged misconduct.
Last October, a jury awarded more than $1 million to detective Ya-May Christle, who said she was demoted three levels after she accused her former boss of promoting other female employees in exchange for sexual favors.
In January 2007, the city paid a $650,000 settlement to Jim Tatreau, a police commander who alleged that he was denied promotion after he clashed repeatedly with former Chief Bernard C. Parks and called for Parks' firing.
The city also paid $225,000 in 2006 to settle a lawsuit by veteran LAPD Officer Reggie Dickenson, who alleged that his supervisors fabricated complaints against him and assigned him far from his home when he raised concerns that his colleagues may have falsified racial data required by a consent decree for traffic stop reports.
In September 2005, the city settled a lawsuit in which Jonathon Goode, a white sergeant, alleged among other things that he was retaliated against for pointing out that a hangman's noose in a captain's office had offended at least one black civilian employee. The city paid $155,000.
Last week, the city prevailed in a case in which a lieutenant, Jim Gavin, alleged that he was retaliated against after uncovering evidence that undermined a decades-old murder investigation conducted by a colleague.