An El Monte police detective who was fired and later reinstated by an arbitrator’s ruling had uncovered evidence of possible misconduct within the department and city management concerning a developer’s alleged influence in the city, an attorney told a jury Wednesday.
In his opening statement in trial of Detective Eric Walterscheid’s retaliation lawsuit against the city, lawyer Matthew McNicholas said his client and fellow Detective Brian Glick discovered what they believed to be corruption involving a development company that was behind a project called Transit Village. But the police command told them that they did not support the detectives’ work on the investigation, McNicholas told the Los Angeles Superior Court panel.
Defense attorney Nancy Doumanian countered that the case was actually about public safety and the EMPD’s belief after an audit of all 12 detectives, including Walterscheid, that he should be fired.
The plaintiff was a high-ranking member of the powerful El Monte Police Officers Association and had hoped the developer could help obtain pay raises for the rank-and-file in the financially strapped city, Doumanian said.
“This case has nothing to do with him complaining about illegal activity,” Doumanian said.
According to McNicholas, the investigation by Waltersheid and Glick began when someone contacted them in 2009 about a possible forged signature on a document. The probe led to the developer and expanded to the point that the detectives took their concerns to the FBI at the bureau’s West Covina office, McNicholas said.
The detectives later executed search warrants and the developer was arrested, McNicholas said. But while the detectives were gathering information according to the warrant, then-Police Chief Tom Armstrong showed up, the lawyer said.
“Detective Walterscheid will tell you it is very unusual for the police chief to show up at the scene of where a search warrant is being executed,” McNicholas said.
Despite Armstrong’s insistence that some binders belonging to the developer not be seized, the detectives did so anyway, McNicholas said.
Walterscheid and Glick were later called into a meeting with high- ranking EMPD members that included Armstrong and Steve Schuster, who himself would later become chief until his retirement last year. The detectives were told their investigation “was not endorsed by the department,” McNicholas said.
Meanwhile, Walterscheid and Glick received a tip from a confidential informant, who met with them at a restaurant, that only increased their concerns about possible improper ties between the developer and city officials, McNicholas said.
Walterscheid and Glick had further meetings with the FBI and eventually took their case to the District Attorney’s Office, McNicholas said.
A series of internal memos in support of firing Walterscheid were prepared at a high level in 2010 and he was fired the next year, McNicholas said. His three-year battle to win his job back in 2014 with full back pay left him and his wife so financially strapped in the interim that they could not refinance their home or afford a Christmas tree, McNicholas said.
But Doumanian said Walterscheid kept Armstrong in the dark when the search warrants were executed and that it was proper for the chief to go to the scene to get up to speed on what was happening. She also said that after a full investigation, the developer was never charged.
The audit conducted on Walterscheid and the other detectives stemmed from a newspaper article in which the plaintiff complained that he and his colleagues were overloaded with work. The audits were performed to determine whether his assertions were true and resulted in Walterscheid being fired and four other detectives being disciplined or agreeing to leave the department, Doumanian said.
Walterscheid was assigned to sex crimes and Glick was actually the one who spearheaded the probe into the developer, Doumanian said.
The EMPD ultimately laid off 17 police officers during the recession and the union did not get the raises it wanted, Doumanian said.
— Wire reports