by Terry Leoni, Rains Lucia Stern, PC
On December 29, 2011, the parties to this case learned that Arbitrator James Margolin determined that the City of Livermore had absolutely no cause to terminate Detective Anthony Batrez of the Livermore Police Department, and ordered his immediate reinstatement with full back-pay and benefits. On that same day, an ecstatic Det. Batrez learned that, after a 26-month fight, he would be returning to work as a police officer once again.
Det. Batrez’s Outstanding History
Prior to the internal investigation at issue and the eventual termination, Det. Batrez had approximately twenty-two years in law enforcement, ten years of which he served as a dedicated and decorated officer at the Livermore Police Department.
When he joined the Livermore Police Department in 1999, Det. Batrez quickly established himself as an enthusiastic, highly proactive team player who never hesitated to assist his fellow officers. The Department recognized Det. Batrez’s work ethic and commitment by selecting him for various specialized units and assignments. Time and again, Det. Batrez was praised for his professionalism, hard work, and dedication to the Department and the community. In fact, Det. Batrez’s personnel file is replete with outstanding evaluations, letters of accommodation, Departmental commendations, and the like from command staff, community members, and other officers in Department.
In 2006, Det. Batrez assisted in creating and implementing a Departmental Gang Unit. For obvious reasons, the Department appointed Det. Batrez a member of the Unit. Not only did Det. Batrez assist in dramatically curbing gang violence in the City, but he also worked at snuffing out the problem at its roots by teaching gang awareness classes in local schools, homes, and at community meetings. Det. Batrez held this prestigious position until his termination.
Before his termination, no one questioned Det. Batrez’s character, honesty, or commitment to law enforcement.
That changed on October 9, 2009.
The Incident and Medical Condition that Led to His Termination
Despite his nearly unblemished record and proven dedication to the City of Livermore, Det. Batrez’s integrity and veracity were called into question on October 9, 2009.
Prior to October 9th, Det. Batrez worked a gang detail that involved extensive undercover surveillance and travel. Accordingly, the Department entrusted Det. Batrez with a take-home vehicle. The detail also involved very long and erratic hours, requiring Det. Batrez to work well into the early morning. Such was the case the week prior to October 9, 2009.
Obviously, the erratic nature of the assignment was disruptive to his sleep schedule, and Det. Batrez often had difficulty falling or staying asleep. This problem was compounded by a previously diagnosed condition of sleep apnea, for which Det. Batrez was undergoing treatment, and on-going allergies, for which Det. Batrez ingested a daily dose of prescribed medication.
On October 8, 2009, Det. Batrez was feeling the effects of working the gang detail, weeks without sleep, and unending allergies. As a result, he ingested his daily dose of prescribed allergy medication that morning. Much later that evening, he also ingested recommended doses of over-the-counter medications, in an attempt to obtain much-needed rest and to curb recent flu-like symptoms that had developed. He had never before taken such medications together, nor had he taken this combination of over-the-counter medications while also ingesting his allergy medication.
The next morning, Det. Batrez felt a bit tired but decided to shake it off and drive his take-home vehicle from his home in Tracy to the Department. About halfway through the drive, Det. Batrez collided with an object in the freeway causing a tire “blow-out”. Rather than calling AAA, friends, or family for assistance, Det. Batrez immediately contacted dispatch, informed them of the blow-out, and requested assistance. Det. Batrez also immediately reported the accident and resultant damage to the on-duty supervisor. In fact, he discussed the accident, the damage, and his whereabouts with the on-duty supervisor numerous times after the accident, and agreed to meet the supervisor at the Department’s Corp. Yard.
Throughout his communications, Det. Batrez appeared confused and “out of it” to both dispatch and the on-duty supervisor. Det. Batrez began to realize that he was not merely drowsy from lack of sleep, but that he might be suffering from a serious medical condition. Although Det. Batrez waited for the on-duty supervisor for some time at the Corp. Yard, he left prior to the supervisor’s arrival because he was feeling increasingly ill and wanted to go home to rest. Det. Batrez did, however, inform the on-duty supervisor that he was headed home.
At home, Det. Batrez slept for nearly 12 hours and, therefore, did not communicate with anyone from the Department. After being “passed out” for almost 12 hours, Det. Batrez awoke to difficulty breathing and near inability to swallow. Given the gravity of the situation, Det. Batrez elected to go to the emergency room. To communicate his whereabouts and condition to the Department, Det. Batrez contacted one of the highest-ranking members of the Department and informed him that he was suffering from a serious medical condition and was en route to the emergency room.
Eventually, Det. Batrez was admitted to the hospital overnight, a gamut of tests were conducted, and doctors determined that Det. Batrez suffered from a severe reaction to ingredients in the medications he ingested. As a result, doctors have drastically altered Det. Batrez’s medications and now carefully monitor his condition.
No one from Department inquired about Det. Batrez’s welfare. Instead, believing that Det. Batrez’s actions and reactions were caused by some criminal or deceitful conduct, the Department immediately placed Det. Batrez on administrative leave and began a formal investigation.
The Investigation, Arbitration, and Return to Work
Over the course of a nine-month internal investigation, the investigator searched high and low for untoward conduct preceding this incident by interviewing members of the Department, officers on gang detail at neighboring agencies, and Det. Batrez’s friends. He found absolutely nothing. More, neither the investigator nor the Department could unearth any alternate cause for Det. Batrez’s accident or subsequent behavior. Every piece of evidence suggested a medical emergency. However, as is the case with many investigations, the investigator omitted nearly every reference, either documentary or by witnesses, that this accident and subsequent behavior resulted from a medical emergency. At the conclusion of the investigation, and without pertinent information, the Department overlooked Det. Batrez’s positive history and terminated him.
At the arbitration to determine the validity of the termination, Det. Batrez introduced a variety of medical records. All of these records indicated that he suffered from a very serious medical condition. With the generous assistance from the Legal Defense Fund, an expert on the effects of drugs on the human body reviewed these records, as well as the side-effects of the medications ingested by Det. Batrez on October 8th. The expert testified at the arbitration that, in his expert opinion and after careful analysis, Det. Batrez’s accident and actions on October 9th and 10th were caused by an adverse reaction to prescribed and over-the-counter medications. He further opined that this type of adverse reaction to the medications ingested is not widely known in the medical community and is largely unnoted on warning labels.
Nearly all of the other witnesses and documentary evidence corroborated the expert’s opinion that Det. Batrez’s actions were not criminal or deceitful, but arose due to a medical condition. In fact, one of the City’s star witnesses, the on-duty supervisor on October 9th, testified that he informed the investigator shortly after the incident that he believed Det. Batrez’s vehicle accident and subsequent behavior could be due to a medical condition or medications, but that his information was ignored in the final report.
Eventually, in the face of overwhelming evidence, the Department capitulated that Det. Batrez’s vehicle accident and his actions after the accident resulted from a serious medical condition. Thus, the Department acknowledged at the arbitration that it terminated Det. Batrez solely because he suffered from an unintentional, adverse reaction to medications.
After four days of testimony, largely consisting of favorable testimony from the City’s witnesses, and written briefs, the arbitrator determined that the internal investigation and discipline implemented as a result of the investigation should be given little to no weight. He based this decision on a myriad of reasons, including that a conflict of interest with the investigator severely tainted the investigation, the investigator ignored exculpatory information, the investigation and report were based on impermissible opinion and unsubstantiated suspicions, and, ultimately, the investigation was driven by improper motives. In the end, the arbitrator focused on the actual evidence and readily agreed that Det. Batrez’s “motor vehicle accident on October 9, 2009, and his subsequent behavior that day, resulted from an unanticipated medical condition that was compounded by the effects of his strenuous working hours.” As a result, he ordered that the City immediately reinstate Det. Batrez with full back-pay and benefits.
Today, Detective Batrez has returned to work at the Livermore Police Department and is, once again, dedicating his life and career to serving the citizens of Livermore. He is thankful that the Legal Defense Fund provided unwavering support through this long and difficult struggle.
On a personal note, there is nothing more rewarding in this practice than helping vindicate a client, and now friend, and returning him to a job that he loves.