Delay In Start Of Interrogation Caused By Officers, Not Department

California’s Public Safety Officers Bill of Rights Act requires that a disciplinary interrogation be conducted “at a reasonable hour” and “at a time when the public safety officer is on duty, or during normal waking hours” unless the “seriousness of the investigation requires otherwise.” A recent case from the Los Angeles Police Department dealt with the question of whether the Bill of Rights is violated if the delay in the start of the questioning occurs as a result of the officer’s conduct, not the employer’s.

Belinda Quezada, Abel Cepeida, and Enrique Verduzco are LAPD officers. On June 15, 2010, the regular work shift for the three commenced at 2:30 p.m. and ended at 11:00 p.m. After their shift ended, they parked their personal vehicles at the Hollenbeck Station parking lot and went to a local bar. Quezada had one drink, but Cepeida and Verduzco consumed more than one drink each and became intoxicated. The three left the bar shortly before closing at 2:00 a.m. on June 16, 2010.

Quezada was talking on her cell phone and had reached the gate of the substation’s parking lot when she heard gunshots. She stopped abruptly and looked. She turned and saw Cepeida and Verduzco behind her. Believing that they had fired a gun, she disarmed both of them.

Several patrol cars responded to the scene. A sergeant “ordered the three officers on-duty” and separated them. A criminal detective arrived at the scene around 4:25 a.m. to begin processing the evidence. It took approximately four hours to process the evidence. As the detective believed the officers had used their own weapons in the shooting, he needed to search their vehicles to determine whether the weapons were inside the vehicles. When the detective looked into Verduzco’s truck, he saw a weapon in plain view. He asked the three officers if he could search their vehicles, but they refused to consent.

The officers were taken to three locations during their interrogation on June 16, 2010: Central Station, Parker Center, and the Bradbury Building. The officers were released at 9:00 p.m. that evening. At each location, the officers gave a “public safety statement” and were subject to an administrative interrogation.

The officers later sued under California’s Bill of Rights, arguing that their interrogation sessions violated their rights because the interviews were conducted after they had been awake for a long time, Verduzco and Cepeida were intoxicated and/or hung over, and there were no exigent circumstances. The Court of Appeals, however, was unpersuaded.

The Court found that the Bill of Rights “permits that the seriousness of the investigation may allow interrogation at an unreasonable off-duty time. The officers were not entitled to wait for the specific criminal attorney they requested to become available. The seriousness of the circumstances prompting the investigation – the drunken random firing of shots by off-duty officers – mandated that Internal Affairs conduct its investigation at the earliest opportunity while officers’ memories (although hampered by excessive alcohol consumption) were freshest. The fact that the officers had been awake for many hours before being interrogated was the result of the incident occurring after they had been on duty for many hours, and was not the result of the Department’s unreasonable actions.”

The officers also contended that during their interrogations they were subjected to physical and mental hardships during the investigation, including having to watch their personal vehicles being searched without their consent, being housed in uncomfortable rooms that were too cold or too hot during interrogations, were denied their right to eat when they needed to and were limited in the amount of water they had access to, were not allowed to obtain a change of clothing or take a shower, and were restricted in their use of toilet facilities. The Court again was unpersuaded, holding that “the record here indicates that although during the interrogation process from 2:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. at times the officers were denied access to food or water, the deprivation was not unreasonable given that officers did have access to food, water and restrooms during the interrogation process. The officers did not ask for medical attention, and have offered no evidence that they suffered any adverse mental or physical health consequences as a result of the interrogations.”

Quezada v. City of Los Angeles, 2014 WL 60330 (Cal. App. 2014).