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A former Vernon police officer who sued the city, alleging he was forced to retire five years early because of alleged harassment he endured due to medical problems — including kidney cancer — has reached a settlement in his case, averting a retrial.

Lawyers for former Vernon police Officer Jerry Chavez filed a notice of settlement on Monday with Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Susan Bryant-Deason, who vacated the scheduled March 6 retrial.

In his opening statements in the first trial in September, plaintiff’s attorney Eduardo Olivo stated that Chavez deserved more than $1 million in lost wage damages and additional compensation for his emotional distress. But Jamie E. Wrage, a lawyer for the city, called the ex-officer someone who could never admit to being wrong in his interactions with others.

The case ended in a mistrial on Oct. 25 when jurors said they were hopelessly deadlocked on Chavez’s retaliation claims.

Chavez, who was 54 years old at the time of the first trial, was hired in 1994 and quit in November 2021, after his lawsuit was filed. He started to experience harassment and discrimination in the workplace after he was diagnosed with kidney cancer in May 2009, requiring him to take a medical leave of absence, the suit stated.

When Chavez returned in August of that year, according to the suit, Sgt. David Zapien allegedly mocked the plaintiff’s health, insulted him, called him derogatory names and went out of his way to demean and humiliate him, including asking, “Oh, you’re not dead yet?”

Zapien also wrote “unmarked cop car” on the back of Chavez’s undercover vehicle, putting the plaintiff’s cover and potentially his life in peril, the suit stated. A supervisor to whom Chavez complained “brushed the incident aside and merely told Mr. Chavez to clean the car,” the suit stated.

When Chavez told Zapien that he was thinking of filing a grievance against him, Zapien threatened him, the suit stated.

Olivo told jurors that the plaintiff wanted a career in law enforcement because he did not want to live in a world of crime and drugs like what existed in the area in which he was raised.

“He loved being a police officer and he was good at it,” Olivo said, adding that the plaintiff enjoyed mentoring other officers.

Chavez’s attitude has since changed, according to Olivo.

“He’s ashamed of the badge, it makes him feel like a loser,” said Olivo, who nonetheless added that Chavez misses being a police officer.

In January 2021, the police chief demoted Chavez because the plaintiff texted with another police officer concerning a disagreement about an evaluation of a trainee, according to the suit, which states that Chavez’s resignation late that same year was due to his intolerable working conditions.

Chavez obtained a master’s degree that he hoped would boost his chances of being promoted to captain or lieutenant, Olivo said. Looking back, Chavez wonders whether he “should have kept quiet and let things go,” Olivo said.

But Wrage told jurors that Chavez was the “cause and master of his own problems at work,” clashing with people both within and outside the department.

In May 2014, Chavez was involved in an off-duty altercation at the Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula that resulted in physical violence and threats while Chavez was in possession of his firearm, according to Wrage’s court papers.

Wrage told jurors that the city hired an independent third party to investigate and the final report showed that Chavez took no accountability or responsibility for his behavior and claimed he was being targeted by Vernon police management, Wrage said.

“It should have been a learning experience, but he claimed retaliation,” Wrage said.

The department tried to treat Chavez fairly, but its efforts to work with the plaintiff were futile, Wrage said.

“He was never able to see the truth or change his conduct,” Wrage said.

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