One former and one current Los Angeles police bloodhound handler, who each reported the alleged sexual harassment of a female colleague, suffered a backlash from their supervisors that put their lives in danger in the field, an attorney told a jury Wednesday.
In his opening statement to a Los Angeles Superior Court panel hearing trial of the consolidated retaliation lawsuits brought by retired Officer Elliot Zibli and Officer David Dooros, lawyer Gregory W. Smith said the plaintiffs were “put in harm’s way to get rid of them.”
But Deputy City Attorney Dennis Kong said the supervisor the plaintiffs accused of sexual harassment, Sgt. Joe Danny Garcia, met a stiff wall of resistance when he tried to bring about change in the dog handling unit and to improve accountability. He said the team also was undergoing change with the introduction of bloodhounds adept at finding missing persons.
Canines also are used to detect drugs and cash, Kong said.
Zibli first began working with police dogs in 1998 and became a bloodhound handler in 2015 in the LAPD’s gang and narcotics division, according to his lawsuit, which says Garcia was put in charge of their unit the same year. Soon thereafter, Garcia began to harass Zibli’s colleague, Karolin Clarke, by making inappropriate comments, massaging her shoulders and pressing his body up against hers, the suit alleges.
Clarke asked Garcia to stop his advances and to cease coming to her calls, Smith said.
In January 2016, Zibli told another lieutenant that Garcia was harassing Clarke, Smith told jurors. Instead of taking corrective action, the K-9 unit supervisors “undertook a pattern of retaliation” against Zibli and his fellow officers that the plaintiffs called a “beatdown,” Smith alleged.
Zibli and Dooros were denied additional training, appropriate weapons to defend themselves and back-up officer support during searches, according to Smith. Dog handlers hold leashes with both hands and need an armed officer walking behind them in case they encounter a dangerous suspect, he said.
The plaintiffs also were given assignments far from home, according to Smith, who said conditions did not improve even after Garcia was replaced by other supervisors.
Zibli was forced to retire in July 2017, earlier than he wanted to, because of stress, according to Smith.
“He couldn’t sleep,” Smith said. “He worried that either one of his handlers were going to be killed or a civilian was going to be killed.”
Dooros maintains he was not given a replacement for his 11-year-old bloodhound and that conditions became so intolerable for him that he entered a program in July 2016 in which he also will retire earlier than he otherwise would have.
Clarke also sued the city, but reached a settlement. She is scheduled to testify on behalf of the plaintiffs.
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