Intimidating Demeanor Does Not Amount To Interrogation

Richard Correa was a police officer with the City of Inglewood, California. In January 2006, the Department learned of allegations that Correa had had sexual intercourse with a prostitute while on duty. After concluding the rest of its investigation, the Department questioned Correa slightly less than a year after it received the initial information about Correa’s potential misconduct. Following the interview, the Department served Correa with notice of its intent to terminate him.

Correa challenged his termination, focusing in large part on the manner in which his disciplinary interview was conducted. Three departmental representatives participated in Correa’s interview. One of the representatives, Lieutenant Mark Fronterotta, said nothing during the interview. Sergeant Peter Friesen questioned Correa during the interview.

Correa contended that he was intimidated by Fronterotta, who sat facing him two to three feet to his right throughout the investigation. Correa testified that Fronterotta “shifted in his seat several times, shook his head as if he was disbelieving my answers, sighed, crossed his legs and shifted in his seat while shaking his head every time my answers did not appear satisfactory to his liking.”

Correa contended that Fronterotta’s conduct violated a provision of California’s Peace Officer Bill of Rights to have all questions at an interrogation “asked by and through no more than two interrogators at one time.”

The Court rejected Correa’s challenge to the way the interrogation was conducted: “The transcript of the interrogation shows that Fronterotta asked no questions, and Correa does not contend otherwise. Rather, Correa contends that Fronterotta displayed an intimidating demeanor which violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the two-interrogator limit. We reject this contention for two reasons.

“The transcript does not show that Correa complained about Fronterotta’s conduct to the hearing officer. Furthermore, the language of the statute is not ambiguous in referring to questioning by no more than two interrogators at one time. The statute also recognizes that in addition to the interrogators and the interrogee ‘other persons may be present during the interrogation’ and that there will be one officer ‘in charge of the interrogation.’ These provisions suggest that the Legislature intended to leave it up to the presiding officer to control the behavior of the persons present at the interrogation. In any case, the trial court’s implied finding that whatever Fronterotta did was not coercive is supported by the record.”

Correa v. City of Inglewood, 2008 WL 4816653 (Cal.App. 2008).

This article appears in the February 2009 issue