‘Brady Alert’ System Does Not Violate Officer’s Equal Protection Rights

Rehan Nazir was a police officer with the City of Torrance, California. In 2007, Nazir and another officer arrested a suspected narcotics dealer based on information provided by a confidential informant; the arrestee also matched the description of a suspect wanted in a convenience store robbery. Nazir prepared two probable cause declarations for the incident, but omitted information regarding use of the confidential informant because there was independent probable cause to arrest the suspect. In October 2008, the suspect’s attorney learned of the use of the confidential informant and moved to dismiss the robbery case. The District Attorney’s Office promptly dismissed the case.

On February 2, 2009, the District Attorney’s Office notified Nazir that it had conducted an investigation of the arrest and concluded that his declarations contained false information because they failed to document the use of the confidential informant. The District Attorney’s Office considered this “Brady material” and, as a result, decided to place Nazir into its “Brady Alert System.” Nazir submitted written objections to his placement in the System, but when they were denied, the City terminated him. Nazir then sued the City, claiming his termination violated his right to equal protection of the laws.

A federal court dismissed Nazir’s equal protection claim. The Court began by reciting some basic equal protection propositions: “When analyzing an Equal Protection claim, heightened scrutiny is applied only when a restriction burdens a suspect class or a fundamental right. Without heightened scrutiny, a distinction need be only rationally related to a legitimate purpose. Termination from government employment not based on a suspect classification is not subject to heightened scrutiny, and instead, is subject only to rational basis review.”

The Court found that “the proposed class Nazir identifies – those in the System – does not constitute a suspect class under the United States Constitution. Thus, there must only be a rational basis to uphold the City’s alleged disparate treatment of such class members and those officers who have Brady materials in their files but who have not been placed into the System. There are various rational bases for such a distinction.

“First, those entered into the System have been designated by the District Attorney as officers whose reports and testimony will not be deemed a reliable basis for a prosecution. Accordingly, such officers have far less utility than those who have not been placed into the System. Among other things, those placed in the System cannot perform various departmental duties that could require that they be witnesses in criminal prosecutions.

“Second, those in the System have been subject to the investigation and review procedures. Thus, it would be rational for the City to terminate only those who have been through such procedures, and not those who, because of the presence of some Brady materials in their files, might be eligible for entry into the System, but have not been investigated.

“Third, a review of all files for Brady material may be significantly more costly and less efficient than terminating only those who have been placed in the System following an independent review. Fourth, terminating all those with Brady material in their files might disqualify too many officers, leaving the department understaffed for purposes of police work that could lead to prosecutions – a different outcome than the termination of a smaller number of officers who have been placed in the System.”

The Court concluded that “each of these is a conceivable, legitimate basis for differential treatment. Therefore, under the rational basis review standard, each suffices to justify and immunize the alleged discrimination against an Equal Protection claim.”

Nazir v. City of Torrance, 2012 WL 3562534 (C.D. Cal. 2012).