LONG BEACH — City officials will appeal a Superior Court order that could eventually force them to rehire two police officers fired in 1983 for fondling and sexually harassing prostitutes, and inciting a fight between a prisoner and jail security guards.
Scott Chrisman and Samuel Zavala--described by their attorney as being "gung-ho, Starsky-and-Hutch-type cops"--were fired May 20, 1983, for "numerous violations" of Long Beach Police Department rules and regulations, court records say.
While Long Beach Superior Court Judge Norman Gordon upheld the truth of the city's allegations against the officers, he ruled that the decision to fire the pair was too severe and ordered city officials to reconsider the penalty.
City officials said this week that the city would appeal the ruling. Gordon filed his decision Feb. 11 in a pair of similar four-page legal briefs, one for each man.
Chrisman and Zavala originally appealed their dismissal to the city's five-member Civil Service Commission, but the panel upheld the action after hearing five days of testimony in August and September, 1983. The officers, both 30, then sued in Superior Court asking that their jobs be reinstated or for a new hearing.
City Atty. Robert Parkin said in an interview Monday that Gordon overstepped legal bounds by ruling on the "penalty phase" of the Civil Service Commission's decision. Parkin said that, under law, the judge should have only ruled on the question of whether there was enough evidence to justify taking action against the officers, not on the penalty.
Attorneys for the former officers and city legal officials agreed that Gordon's decision in essence calls for Chrisman and Zavala to be reinstated in their jobs.
"Unless they actually go ahead and appeal the case, I don't see what the city can do except restore them to their jobs," said Albert Ramsey, a Long Beach attorney representing Chrisman.
Although Gordon upheld the city's allegations against Zavala and Chrisman, Ramsey said the pair were "good cops" being set up by witnesses who "wanted them off the streets."
"These two cops were just raising hell on the West Side," Ramsey said. "They've taken it real hard. The way they see it, the harder you work, the more feathers you ruffle and the more trouble you can get into."
Insist on Innocence
Chrisman and Zavala still insist they are innocent of all charges, Ramsey said. He questioned the credibility of witnesses against the pair, saying the city's case rests on testimony provided by "drug addicts, street people or prostitutes."
Since being fired, Zavala has been employed as a private security officer and Chrisman has been working as a carpenter, Ramsey said.
Neither were charged with a crime in the incidents.
The police department's Internal Affairs Division launched its investigation after a prostitute arrested Jan. 23, 1983, on a narcotics violation complained to a jail matron that the officers had harassed and sexually abused her.
According to a brief filed in the case by the city, the woman told internal affairs investigators that, while undergoing drug testing in a trailer adjacent to the police station, Zavala lifted her blouse, looked at her exposed breasts and made a lewd comment.
Later, Zavala patted the prostitute on the rear, and made a lewd comment about how she earned her living, these records say.
The legal documents also say Chrisman advised the woman that he would help her "get out of jail and have her case dropped" if she would have sex with a security officer--who had been a witness against both officers in another internal affairs investigation--then turn the man in.
After the prostitute filed her complaint, investigators questioned several other women arrested by the two officers. Most, however, said they were reluctant to formally complain, fearing they wouldn't be believed and that other policemen could make trouble for them, city officials said.
But one woman, who described herself as a former prostitute, agreed to testify before the Civil Service Commission. According to court documents from both sides, the woman met Chrisman while he was on duty one evening in October, 1981, and had sex with him when he was off-duty later that night.
"She stated she had felt intimidated because she had previously been a prostitute and occasionally used drugs," a legal brief filed by the city said. "She had never been in jail before and wasn't sure what he could do to her if she refused him."
In the months that followed, Zavala and Chrisman arrested the woman on at least three occasions for narcotics violations. During one of those arrests, Zavala made crude remarks to her, a court brief filed by the city said. Zavala fondled the woman's breasts during other arrests, according to the documents.