A retired Los Angeles police bloodhound handler testified Thursday that a supervisor sexually harassed her when he unexpectedly showed up in the field during her on-duty calls.
But Karolin Clarke said she was reluctant to complain to LAPD management about her boss, Sgt. Joe Danny Garcia, for fear she would be ostracized within the department. She said promises by another supervisor to improve conditions within the unit proved hollow.
“They never did,” Clarke said.
Clarke retired last year from the LAPD, which she joined in 1995. She said she became a member of the canine unit in 2007, working with animals trained to detect narcotics. She said that in 2014, she started working with bloodhounds, which help officers find missing people.
The 47-year-old Clarke is a former co-plaintiff in a lawsuit with Officer David Dooros and retired Officer Elliot Zibli that was filed against the city in August 2016. She reached a settlement with the city in her part of the suit and was called to testify on behalf of her former colleagues’ portion of the case, which is being tried before a Los Angeles Superior Court jury.
Zibli and Dooros maintain they were retaliated against for coming forward about Garcia’s alleged harassment of Clarke. Zibli and Dooros allege they were denied additional training, appropriate weapons to defend themselves and back-up officer support during searches. Dog handlers hold leashes with both hands and need an armed officer walking behind them in case they encounter a dangerous suspect.
In her testimony, Clarke said that when she first left patrol to join the canine unit, she was happy to be working with seasoned officers who were dedicated to their work.
“It was a great unit, hard-working,” Clarke said. “We were like a little family.”
When Garcia became her boss, he was not well experienced in working with canines, Clarke said. As time went on, Garcia would surprise her by appearing when she was on duty with her dog in the field. He often massaged her shoulders and pressed his body up against hers, she said.
Garcia also allegedly walked so close to her that he often became tangled in the dog leash.
Clarke said she protested, but Garcia ignored her.
“He never listed to what I said,” Clarke testified.
In January 2016, after Dooros and Zibli came forward with their concerns about Garcia, work conditions became more difficult in the unit, Clarke said. The bloodhound handlers were denied helmets and appropriate firearms and were no longer allowed to train with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which had access to rural areas where it is easier to train dogs, Clarke said.
Clarke said it is important that dog handlers have the proper weapons to protect themselves because they don’t want any adversaries they encounter to have superior firearms.
“We don’t know what we’re coming up against,” Clarke said.
Dooros was told he would no longer be working with bloodhounds and would return to handling dogs used in detecting narcotics, Clarke said.
The bloodhound handlers also were ordered to report and begin their work each day at the dog unit building instead of going directly to their assignments, causing her to have to drive 90 minutes each morning to work, Clarke said. The requirement also hampered her ability to conduct her ongoing training of her dog in the morning, Clarke said.
Zibli maintains he was forced to retire in July 2017, earlier than he wanted to, because of stress. Dooros is still with the LAPD, but says 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.