Officer’s Termination Can Be Based On Convenience Store Video

Moises Rodriguez was a police officer for the City of Chula Vista, California. On May 24, 2008, Rodriguez assisted with the arrest of Robert Carlton. Intoxicated and belligerent, Carlton made verbal threats to Rodriguez and Officers Bryan Maddox and Kristy Voshell, who also participated in the arrest and search incident to arrest of the suspect. Carlton told the officers, “Fuck you, fuck you and your tin badge,” and “I’m going to kick your ass,” among other things. Rodriguez’s involvement in Carlton’s arrest was captured by a video surveillance camera mounted on the exterior wall of a convenience store.

The video shows Carlton handcuffed and bent over the hood of a police car during a search incident to arrest conducted by Maddox. As the search continued, the video shows Carlton’s head being “forcefully” struck at least twice on the hood of the police car, causing the hood to buckle slightly. Not caught on video was the burst of pepper spray Rodriguez directed at Carlton’s face as Maddox was placing Carlton into the backseat of the patrol car for transport to jail.

When the City terminated Rodriguez, he challenged the City’s decision in the California Court of Appeals. The crux of his appeal was that the convenience store video should not have been considered by the City’s Civil Service Commission because it was not authenticated, was a duplicate of poor quality and was thus inadmissible.

The Court held that “adherence to the technical rules of evidence is not required in an administrative appeal hearing. Any relevant evidence shall be admitted if it is the sort of evidence on which responsible persons are accustomed to rely in the conduct of serious affairs, regardless of the existence of any common law or statutory rule which might make improper the admission of the evidence over objection in civil actions.

“Here, the video came from a neutral source: A convenience store that was adjacent to where Carlton was arrested and searched incident to arrest. The police obtained the video on the same day Carlton was arrested, after it was determined there might be an issue regarding the use of force in connection with the arrest and search of Carlton.

“We independently conclude the trial court did not err when it – like the Commission – relied on the video to support the finding that Rodriguez used unreasonable, unnecessary or excessive force on Carlton when he twice slammed Carlton’s head on the hood of the police car during the search incident to arrest. We conclude Rodriguez’s objection to the convenience store video went to weight and not admissibility, as the video (viewed by this Court) contains evidence that was highly relevant on the use of force issue and is the type of evidence on which responsible persons are accustomed to rely in the conduct of serious affairs.

“We also conclude the admission of the convenience store video did not prevent Rodriguez from receiving a fair trial before the Commission. As noted by the Commission in its decision, Rodriguez vigorously attacked the quality and reliability of the convenience store video in that hearing, including offering the testimony of an expert. The Commission, however, found the portion of the video showing the head slams was sufficiently reliable, which the trial court also (tacitly) found when it noted the videotape plainly showed that Carlton was not banging his own head against the hood of the police car, as Rodriguez had claimed (a finding we conclude is amply supported by evidence in the administrative record).

“There is substantial, reliable evidence in the record showing how police initially came to possess the video and the chain of custody of the video, both of which support its admissibility as secondary evidence. Finally, even without the convenience store video we would still conclude there is sufficient evidence in the record to support the finding of the trial court that Rodriguez used unreasonable, unwarranted or excessive force when he twice slammed Carlton’s head on the hood of the police car during the search incident to arrest. Such evidence includes the testimony of Maddox, who witnessed the incident and prepared a use of force form that alerted his superiors to the use of force issue.”

Rodriguez v. City of Chula Vista Civil Service Commission, 2012 WL 3139753 (Cal. App. 4 Dist. 2012).