By Mark Gutglueck
The Fontana City Council Tuesday night on a split vote with one of its member abstaining turned down the effort by a 17-year police department member to have his 2017 firing rescinded.
Officer David Moore, a 22-year law enforcement veteran, went to work for the Fontana Police Department in 2000 after he took a lateral transfer from the Los Angeles Police Department. With Fontana, Moore achieved the rank of corporal. He was terminated on March 27, 2017 following the conclusion of an internal affairs investigation and an arbitrator’s ruling against him.
The investigation arose out of what department higher-ups maintain was Moore’s falsification of paperwork he filed in late 2016 relating to the provision of medical insurance coverage he and his family members were entitled to as part of the benefit package provided to department employees. In filling out that paperwork, Moore had indicated that his ex-wife, Rosita Moore, from whom he had been divorced in 2016, was eligible for that coverage.
In actuality, as a consequence of the divorce, Rosita Moore fell outside the City of Fontana’s standard of coverage.
Upon the discovery of the discrepancy between Moore’s marital status and the representations on the document in question, known as the 2017 officer’s insurance plan update, the department opened an internal affairs investigation. Moore, an African-American who had been outspoken with regard to what he considered to be a culture within the department in which a clique of white males dominated the department’s hiring and promotional structure, did not fare well under the department’s inquiry. The upshot of the internal affairs division’s finding was that the falsification justified termination. Then-Police Chief Robert Ramsey acted in accordance with that recommendation and cashiered Moore. Moore appealed that firing, and by stipulation, the matter was heard by an arbitrator, Douglas Collins. Upon examining the record and hearing testimony from the department and Moore, Collins upheld the termination.
The city’s firing of Moore had played out against the backdrop of a suit Moore and another officer who had also transferred to Fontana from the Los Angeles Police Department, Andrew Anderson, had filed against the department. That suit pertained to a November 2015 off-duty incident Moore and Anderson, who lived proximate to one another in Hesperia, had become involved in.
Moore and Anderson had made the acquaintance of an elderly man, Steve Olsen, who lived in their Hesperia neighborhood. Upon learning that two squatters had moved into Olsen’s house and, without paying rent, forced Olsen to take up lodging in his garage, Moore and Anderson intervened. Reconnoitering the situation at Olsen’s house, they made a report of what they had observed to the Fontana Police Department, requesting that their superiors make an agency-to-agency referral to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which provides contract law enforcement service to the City of Hesperia, regarding Olsen’s circumstance. The Fontana Police Department did not make that referral. One night in November 2015, upon hearing sounds of distress coming from Olsen’s garage, Moore and Anderson, both police department supervisors at the time, did a welfare check on their neighbor. Once Moore and Anderson came onto Olsen’s property, one of the male squatters attempted to access a knife. Moore and Anderson restrained him. Olsen was found unconscious inside his garage, slumped over the steering wheel of his car. The sheriff’s department was called. The responding officers addressed the matter. Olsen survived, but would not be so fortunate in the months to come.
Moore and Anderson reported the incident as proscribed by their department policy, indicating in doing so that if someone did not take action with regard to the odd living arrangements at Olsen’s home, he would very likely soon be dead. Anderson and Moore’s assessment of the situation was again disregarded by their supervisors with the Fontana Police Department. Eleven months later, Steve Olsen died in the company of the two squatters.
In the meantime, the male squatter who was detained by Anderson and Moore complained to the Fontana Police Department, which thereupon initiated an internal affairs investigation of their action. The Fontana Police Department relieved Anderson and Moore of duty and declared their conduct unbecoming to the department, based upon a Fontana police lieutenant’s memorandum forwarded up the chain of command, the upshot of which was that Moore and Anderson were not truthful and honest in their reporting. The memorandum did not include a recording of Moore’s actual verbal report of the incident, which the department claimed had been lost. Under the direction of former Chief Rod Jones, Moore and Anderson were accused of false and misleading statements, as alleged in the lieutenant’s memorandum. They were terminated and compelled to participate in an administrative hearing to keep from having their careers ruined.
During the hearing Moore and Anderson produced their own audio recording of Moore’s report of the incident to the lieutenant, the contents of which contradicted what was in the memo and established that their statements in fact were accurate. The audio recording and other evidence marshaled by them cleared them of lying. This brought into question the integrity of the internal investigation process and the action of the chief.
As a result of this investigation, the officers were reinstated to full duty. In a face-saving gesture for the department, Fontana City Manager Ken Hunt gave them 30-day suspensions without pay. Moore and Anderson would not accept that punishment, asserting they had done nothing wrong in looking after their elderly neighbor and that there was no proof they had physically harmed the complainant. Anderson and Moore appealed the 30-day suspensions through an arbitration hearing.
During that hearing the city attorney accused Moore and Anderson of conduct unbecoming. After a short opening statement by Moore’s attorney, the city attorney asked for a brief intermission. The city attorney approached Moore with a settlement offer. The offer was to reimburse Moore for his lost wages from the 30-day suspension and have him accept a letter of reprimand, which would be eliminated within one year’s time. Moore rejected the offer and decided to file a civil suit to clear his name and reputation.
In early 2016, Moore and Anderson fought back, filing suit against the department. While the lawsuit was moving forward, Moore was still working at the department as a police corporal.
Moore’s marriage had begun to unravel in 2012. Throughout this time frame, Moore’s marriage was proceeding toward dissolution in fits and starts, with several on-again, off-again efforts at reconciliation. His termination by the department proved a major impediment to the reconciliation effort, and on June 15, 2016 in a court proceeding at which Moore did not make an appearance, a “status only” judgment was rendered, finalizing the divorce.
It was based on that June 15 judgment and Moore’s handwritten filing of the 2017 officer’s insurance plan update that the city’s second termination of Moore was based.
In a rare proceeding before the Fontana City Council beginning at the hour of 6 p.m. on Tuesday, August 28 sandwiched between an hour of a closed meeting of the council that began at 5 p.m. and the public meeting that began at 7 p.m., members of the public were allowed into the executive conference room in one of the back chambers at City Hall. A standing room only crowd was there to hear presentations by an attorney with the firm Best Best & Krieger specializing in labor law, Joseph Ortiz, who is a colleague of Fontana City Attorney Jeff Ballinger. According to Ortiz, Douglas Collins, the arbitrator, had upheld the city’s determination that Moore should be fired because he had made a material misrepresentation on his 2017 officer’s insurance plan update. Moore had been directly informed and knew, Ortiz said, that his wife was not eligible for insurance coverage supplied as a consequence of his employment with the department and had been told “If you are divorced, your spouse is not allowed to remain on your insurance policy.” Ortiz said Collins had “weighed all evidence and weighed each argument,” and found that “the preponderance of evidence set forth against the appellant” prevailed. The determination of “dishonesty” on Moore’s part with regard to this issue, Ortiz said, “justified” his firing.
In his statement to the city council, Moore noted his 22 years in law enforcement, clean background and professional decorations, including officer of the month and officer of the year recognitions previously made by the department, and awards for solving robbery homicide cases and ones pertaining to auto theft.
Acknowledging that he made an error in submitting the document in question, Moore said the punishment meted out was out of proportion to the seriousness of that transgression. “Other more egregious offenses have been committed within the department and officers were retained,” Moore said. “I ask you, why am I being punished so harshly?”
Moore said, “I had a lengthy complicated divorce which tired me and wore me down. My divorce is still not fully resolved. I suffered from various medical problems and I was recovering from a recent discipline of 30 days, all of which was a great distraction on my life. This was only an oversight, not an intentional act of dishonesty.”
His superiors in the department were using the mistake he had made as a pretext to fire him, Moore asserted. “The record shows the way the IA [internal affairs] investigation was initiated was questionable and did not follow normal protocol. It was clearly retaliatory in nature. It is very suspicious that a chief, a captain and a sergeant would look into the divorce status of an officer. This has never been done before. This shows conspiracy and premeditation. These are the same administrators who attempted to get me and a fellow officer terminated, just a year before this incident. Even before the IA investigation, I was singled out. HR [human resources] had me sign a letter requiring me to verify my marital status. This was never done before. Why would I intentionally attempt to defraud the city when I knew I was being watched by HR? No one discussed the matter with me before initiating the IA. They never asked me to simply remove my wife from my insurance. They immediately initiated an IA investigation. They never even offered me an opportunity to pay back any lost funds, because there were no lost funds. No extra expenses were paid by the city. The city did not lose any money, period. I could have opted out of the city benefits and paid for my own benefits.”
Furthermore, according to Moore, “During my interview there was no attempt to clarify what my state of mind was at the time I filled out my insurance forms and listed Rosita as my wife.”
Moore said that at the time he filled out the paperwork “I was not certain of what a status only judgment was.” He said that at the time of the arbitration of his case he understood that the status only judgment freed him to remarry. He did not know that to be case when he filled out the paperwork, Moore maintained. The arbitrator, Douglas Collins, misconstrued that as an admission that he had knowingly falsified the 2017 officer’s insurance plan update, Moore said. “The comment the arbitrator chose to focus on was, that ‘I thought I could get married again.’ That was my assertion during the investigation, after I had been placed on administrative leave and had the ability to do research. I explained this during the arbitration hearing. However, Mr. Collins chose to interpret this as me admitting that I knew I could get married again when I left Rosita on my insurance.”
Moore insisted, “I did not know my divorce was final. My acts were totally innocent and naïve. As I indicated, I was still of the impression that the unresolved issues were separate and different from my marital status. Had I been completely divorced without the obscure title of ‘status only,’ I would have removed her from my insurance. Again, my life insurance, medical, dental, pension, deferred comp, child support, personal property and alimony were not settled. Obtaining the status only judgment was my attorney’s idea, of which I had no legal understanding.”
Moore took further issue with one of Collins’ determinations which held, essentially, that Moore had insulted one of the deputies that responded to the incident in Hesperia relating to the mistreatment of Olsen by the squatters who had taken over his home. “Mr. Collins paid little attention to my testimony,” Moore said. “He indicates that I was disciplined after local law enforcement responded and I participated in an argument with a deputy, where I used ‘disparaging remarks.’ This is nonsense and it never happened. The deputies always stated that we did nothing wrong during that incident. Also, it should be noted that we contested the 30 day suspension, since the ‘conduct unbecoming’ charge was baseless. They never elaborated as to how our conduct was unbecoming, especially since the man we were checking on eventually died, as I warned them would happen.”
Moore said he believed that Collins failed to maintain the proper degree of distance and independence from one of the parties in the matter, thus compromising his impartiality and ability to act as an honest broker in his capacity as an arbitrator. “I find it extremely difficult to believe the arbitrator, Mr. Collins, could remain unbiased, when he was heard openly discussing dinner arrangements with the police department’s attorney, Paul Coble,” Moore said.
He added, “It should be pointed out that they had to hire a legal expert to clarify what a status only judgment was. The city manager and the chief both stated they lacked knowledge of the status only judgment and found it to be complicated. Yet, they held me to a higher standard. I consulted my attorney before leaving Rosita on my insurance and I was also given a court order to continue to provide insurance, until the pending issues were resolved. Furthermore, no one ordered me to obtain medical insurance on my own, the courts never advised me to do so, my attorney never advised me to do so and my wife’s attorney never instructed me that I needed to obtain a separate policy. There is absolutely no wording in the department policy pertaining to status only judgments. According to most attorneys, this is an area of the law which has been found to be obscure and misused. I was terminated for a family law matter that I misunderstood and the administrators found complicated as well. I was never intentionally dishonest. I have suffered now for almost two years without the income, which I worked so hard to acquire.”
Moore asked the council to “Please prevent them from terminating me. Termination is not a just penalty for my naïve conduct. Please reinstate me to my rightful position as a Fontana police corporal.”
Advocating on Moore’s behalf was Russell Anderson, a now-retired 28-year veteran with the California Highway Patrol who served in the capacity of a drug interdiction officer with the California Highway Patrol who had attended Moore’s arbitration hearings.
“I have known Dave about seven years,” Anderson said. “The arbitration was a circus. The department heads were unprepared to testify against Dave. They repeated the same answer over and over: ‘It was a long time ago. I don’t remember.’ It was the same with Chief Ramsey: ‘I don’t know.’ Dave is an honest and good man.”
Moore’s firing was a set-up, Anderson suggested “Something is wrong with this city. Something has to be corrected. Dave never should have lost that arbitration. The city officials were unprepared because they already knew what the outcome was going to be.”
Lorena Corona, a city resident involved in efforts to shelter the homeless in Fontana, said Moore had assisted in her group’s effort “to take care of the most vulnerable families in our community. How can you fire this man, who has a proven record of doing right for the community? We need him to continue to be the role model our children will see. Look at the record of what he has done. This is our hope. Our police department has responsibility for what is happening to him. We need people like him. We hope you will make the right decision.”
Moore’s attorney, Brandi Lynne Harper, said Moore “is a good officer. He made a mistake on his [insurance benefit] application. He failed to understand the process in family law court. There had been multiple [family law] court orders between 2012 and 2015. When the status only judgment was entered, he did not know what that meant. He did not understand his divorce was final. The judgment was entered at a hearing on June 15, 2016. He made no appearance on that date. He did not recall seeing the one-page judicial form. A layperson does not understand what that means. He did put his ex-wife on his insurance form. He advised the city his son should be removed because he had gone to work as a law enforcement officer himself. This was a glitch that caused him to be terminated. He filled out the form incorrectly. No one from the city came and talked to him. Instead, an IA investigation was initiated and he was terminated. This case should not have ended with a termination. It should have ended with a conversation.”
The hearing ended just before the beginning of the 7 p.m. start of the public portion of the council meeting. The council adjourned out of the hearing and left the executive conference room for the council chambers without having resolved the pending issue. After the end of the public portion of the council meeting, the council returned to the executive conference room to deliberate on the matter, this time behind closed doors and without the public present.
Ultimately, the council voted 2-2 to uphold the decision to terminate Moore, with Mayor Aquanetta Warren and Councilman John Roberts confirming the firing and councilmen Jesse Sandoval and Michael Tahan voting to reinstate Moore. Councilman Jesse Amendarez recused himself in the vote. Based on the deadlock, the arbitrator’s ruling remains in effect.
By Mark Gutglueck