Our readership will recall the uplifting story in our November issue of Irvine P.D. Sergeant Brian Clifton, who was exonerated of 84 disciplinary charges and recommended for reinstatement by retired Judge Richard Beacom. According to the department’s charge letter, Clifton was fired for his alleged mismanagement of the Special Enforcement Team. According to Judge Beacom, Clifton was really fired for his activities as Irvine Police Officers’ Association president. Also fired in the purge were two of Clifton’s subordinates, Officers Randy Lack and Jerry Head, ostensibly to add justification for terminating Clifton. After a separate hearing before retired Judge John Flynn, Lack was recommended for reinstatement as well. City Manager Allison Hart has now adopted Judge Flynn’s recommendation and ordered Lack to return to duty. Lack, like Clifton, was represented throughout by Bill Hadden, of Silver, Hadden & Silver.
In many respects, the allegations against Lack mirrored those brought against Clifton. Both were charged with numerous counts of misusing department time and receiving pay for time not worked. As in the Clifton hearing, the unchallenged evidence in Lack’s case showed that officers of the SET team were given great flexibility in adjusting their hours, authorized to retain “memory banks” of previously worked but uncompensated for overtime, and allowed to perform minimal amounts of personal business on duty. In essence, unit members were treated for timekeeping purposes more like salaried than hourly employees by management, primarily to avoid the payment of overtime. The evidence showed that management knew of, condoned and perpetuated these practices. Judge Flynn found that Lack’s conduct was consistent with the standards of the unit, and that the department charges on these issues were meritless.
In many cases with political overtones, a department will not rest until it tacks on dishonesty allegations to the charge letter, allegations often composed of minor discrepancies magnified out of all proportion to justify the penalty of termination. Like Clifton, Lack was also charged with numerous contrived counts of dishonesty stemming from the internal affairs investigation. While no one disputes that actions implicating an officer’s integrity are matters of great importance, such allegations should never be frivolously made or whimsically supported. Discrepancies between the statements of two witnesses may prove nothing more than mistaken recollection or innocent misunderstanding. To be able to sustain career ending allegations, a department must be required to do more than show that the officer made a statement with which it disagrees, or that the officer’s statement was factually inaccurate. Instead, the department must show that an officer made a false statement with full knowledge of its falsity.
In its bumbling attempt to fire officer Lack, the department abysmally failed to come close to meeting this standard. In virtually every instance, Judge Flynn found that there was no proof that Lack had said anything that was remotely false, never mind intentionally false. Accordingly, Judge Flynn dismissed all of the dishonesty allegations. In recommending Lack’s reinstatement, Judge Flynn noted that none of the serious charges were sustainable, and that Lack, a veteran of nine years as a law enforcement officer with five at the City of Irvine, had previously received excellent personnel evaluations and numerous commendations.
Lack was relieved to learn that his three-year ordeal with the department was finally over. “I am grateful to have had the support of the Legal Defense Fund and my panel attorney throughout this two year ordeal, and I can’t emphasize enough how indispensable that support has been,” he said. “You always think that something like this will never happen to you, but it’s great to know that as an LDF member you have the resources to defend yourself if the worst happens.”