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By Bill Hetherman
A Los Angeles police officer who claims he was retaliated against for reporting alleged racial remarks and theft by a sergeant deserves up to $4 million in damages, his attorney told a jury last week. Officer Robert Hill, 48, who is white, claims he was transferred to another police station and given an inferior work assignment because he told supervisors in 2004 that Newton Division Sgt. Gilbert Curtis was making racist statements about blacks and Latinos and had taken money from the Explorer fund, a police ride-along program for teenagers. Curtis, who denies any wrongdoing, testified that Hill helped decrease crime while working in the Newton Division.
But he also said he believed Hill wanted to kill him during a February 2005 confrontation during which Hill maintains Curtis called him a "rat" for complaining about him. During closing arguments September 19, Hill's lawyer, Gregory W. Smith, told a Los Angeles Superior Court jury that Hill was sent home and stripped of his badge and gun while an internal affairs investigation into the confrontation took place. Hill was ultimately cleared after a Board of Rights hearing, Smith said. The officer sued the city in January 2007, and Smith said he should be awarded $2 million to $4 million in damages for emotional distress. He said Hill had a good rapport with the community and helped reduce crime when he was working at the Newton Division, but that after he talked to supervisors about Curtis, he was transferred to the Northeast Division and given inferior assignments.
The transfer also has cost him more than $230,000 in overtime, Smith said.
"You're not supposed to transfer someone when they report things," Smith said.
Hill was diagnosed with depression and at one point considered suicide, Smith said. Hill, who broke down while testifying, told jurors he originally planned to work until he was 55, but will instead retire at age 50 because of what he has endured while working for the LAPD. Another witness called on Hill's behalf, Marisabel Gonzalez, told jurors that she wanted Hill to attend a memorial ceremony for slain police in Washington, D.C., after her then-fiance, LAPD Officer Landon Dorris, was fatally struck by a car on Oct. 22, 2006.
She said an LAPD supervisor told her Hill could not go to the ceremony because Chief William Bratton did not believe he was a positive representative for the department.