A Los Angeles police officer is suing the city, alleging he was harassed for not going along with attempts to discredit a K9 unit trainer who had previously reported what he believed was retaliatory conduct by supervisors.
Alberto Franco’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit alleges whistleblower retaliation, discrimination and harassment. He seeks unspecified damages in the complaint brought Wednesday. A representative for the City Attorney’s Office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Franco was assigned as a handler in the bomb K9 unit, a small, elite detail where jobs are coveted, in part because they include higher pay and more overtime opportunities, the suit states.
In late December 2016, Franco’s supervisor contacted him and made derogatory comments about Mark Sauvao, the bomb unit K9 handler and trainer, stating he did not have the plaintiff’s best interests in mind and was not looking out for him, according to the complaint.
The next month, after Franco finished the first part of a mandatory annual Transportation Safety Administration K9 evaluation, he was summoned to the office of a unit lieutenant who told him, “When it’s all over, you and I are going to have a beer, and I will tell you everything. Mark is shady. Just finish your eval and we will do the rest,” according to the complaint.
Franco knew Sauvao had reported the bomb unit K9 supervisors for alleged retaliatory conduct and concluded that the bosses were targeting the trainer, the suit states.
Franco was present during another day of the training and saw an exchange between two unit sergeants with Sauvao while he was being evaluated by the TSA, the suit states. Later, the sergeants made false accusations of serious misconduct by Sauvao and a lieutenant subseqeuntly served the trainer with written discipline based on the allegedly invalid information, according to the suit.
The lieutenant and one of the sergeants “harassed plaintiff to corroborate their false statements in the official reports as they knew plaintiff was an eyewitness to the events giving rise to their false report,” the suit states.
When Franco refused to lie, the lieutenant and sergeant “persisted to badger him, making unlawful racial remarks about the trainer, including, calling him a `big angry Samoan’ and insisting that the trainer had physically assaulted two sergeants,” the suit states.
Franco spoke out against the supervisors’ alleged retaliation against Sauvao and refused to provide false testimony against him, the suit states.
Franco later attended a unit meeting and spoke out in support of Sauvao, after which the lieutenant summoned the plaintiff to his office with one of the sergeants present and said, “You (epithet), you let me down. You threw me under the bus in there. I told you that Mark was dirty, but you had to speak up.”
Over the next several months, the lieutenant and one of the unit sergeants tried to coerce Franco to provide negative evidence about Sauvao, but Franco refused each time, the suit states.
When Franco accidentally missed an overtime assignment, the lieutenant in alleged retaliation banned him from taking part in any overtime opportunities for three months, longer than any other handlers who missed overtime details, the suit states.
The lieutenant later told another handler that Franco had “back-stabbed” him for speaking in favor of Sauvao, the suit states. In addition, one of the sergeants shunned Franco, refused to speak to him and did not reply to his text messages for months, the suit states.
Franco alleges that he was later falsely accused of abusing his K9, Rocky, suspended for 10 days and removed from his advanced pay grade level, all in alleged retaliation for his “protected activity.”
The alleged wrongful conduct experienced by Franco “is continuing and ongoing as of the present date,” the suit states.
In April 2017, Sauvao was removed from the unit in alleged response to his own reports of discrimination, retaliation and violations of law, according to Franco’s suit. Sauvao filed his own suit against the city in May 2018 that is still awaiting trial.
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