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6-Year Fight : Fired LAPD Officer Wins Back His Job

July 10, 1986|DAVID FREED | Times Staff Writer

A former Los Angeles vice officer, fired six years ago in an internal investigation of police officers protecting ghetto bookmakers, has won back his job, along with back pay, because he was not properly informed of his rights, officials said Wednesday.

Michael Lybarger, 42, who joined the department in August, 1966, quietly returned to work this week, after waging a lengthy court battle to clear his name.

"He's been assigned to Personnel Division, where he's being briefed on a number of changes over (the) last several years," said Lt. Dan Cooke, a Police Department spokesman. "When that's completed, he will be transferred to one of the geographic divisions. He'll be working patrol, in all probability."

Los Angeles police administrators, routinely critical of "loopholes" in the law that sometimes result in reversals of prosecuted cases, declined to comment Wednesday on Lybarger's reinstatement, and Lybarger turned down a request to be interviewed.

'Look Good'

He was one of four vice squad officers in the 77th Street Division implicated in 1980 for allegedly allowing suspected bookmakers to operate freely, if the bookies would submit to occasional arrests that made the officers look good--a so-called "arrest-by-appointment" arrangement.

A Police Department Board of Rights found Lybarger guilty of insubordination for refusing to answer questions by Internal Affairs Division sergeants investigating the allegations, and he was fired in May, 1980. Afterward, Lybarger maintained that he was innocent and said that he had kept quiet on advice from his attorney.

He exhibited "suicidal tendencies" and had to be hospitalized for 10 days under psychiatric observation after Internal Affairs investigators detained him for 14 hours, according to court records.

Two years later, Lybarger and the three other former 77th Street vice officers--David Wallace, Brian Weld and John Williams--pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of filing false arrest reports in connection with the department's bookmaker investigation. In exchange, the district attorney's office dropped felony conspiracy counts against them.

Placed on Probation

Each of the accused received two years' probation and a $150 fine. Lybarger was released from probation in July, 1984.

Lybarger argued that his firing was invalid, because he was never advised by Internal Affairs that his statements would not have been used against him in a criminal case had he spoken to investigators. Such protection is set forth under the California "policeman's bill of rights," passed by the Legislature in 1978.

In 1983, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Leon Savitch refused to reinstate Lybarger, saying he believed that the former vice squad officer was "interrogated properly." Savitch's decision to deny Lybarger's reinstatement request was upheld by the state Court of Appeal but overturned in December by the California Supreme Court.

The high court ruled that the department had, in fact, violated Lybarger's rights. It ordered that the city pay his legal fees (more than $32,000) and that he be rehired with full back pay and interest--less the salary he has earned at another job since his termination.

Based on department payroll sheets, calculated from May, 1980, through March, 1986, Lybarger would have earned at least $196,955 had he remained employed by the Police Department.

Two of the officers implicated with Lybarger in 1980 have since won stress-related pensions from the Police Department: Weld receives $1,511 monthly; Wallace gets $1,550.

The fourth officer, Williams, was dismissed from the department in 1980, after a Board of Rights hearing and now works as a school security guard, according to his attorney, Mary Ann Healy. Like Lybarger, Williams contends that he was denied his rights and is also seeking reinstatement, Healy said.

Capt. Terrence Dyment, head of the Internal Affairs Division, said Wednesday that since the Supreme Court's ruling on the Lybarger case, internal affairs investigators have changed their procedures when questioning officers.

Officers suspected of criminal misconduct are still advised of their "Miranda" rights--those which afford a suspect the right to remain silent, Dyment said. If an officer waives those rights, interrogation still continues unabated.

Now, however, if an officer refuses to waive his Miranda rights, questioning can still continue if he is given what Dyment calls an "add-on admonition." It is a warning that tells an officer that he has the right to remain silent; that such silence could be deemed insubordination leading to administrative discipline, but that should the officer choose to talk, his statements could not be used in a criminal proceeding.

"It gets a little complicated, but we do everything we can to make sure the officer's rights are not violated and that we do all we can to investigate a case," Dyment said.

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