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Judge Orders Reinstating of Officer Fired for Mischief

July 31, 1986|DAVE PALERMO | Times Staff Writer

A Superior Court judge has ruled that a Los Angeles policeman fired eight years ago for ripping up his lieutenant's paycheck and mailing it to him piecemeal must be rehired, but department officials said the officer will not be given a position of trust.

"We haven't decided what his position will be," Assistant Chief Dave Dotson said Tuesday. "But it will not be the kind of a job where he is in an enforcement position, where he needs to be trusted or where he'll have the freedom to make decisions other field officers make."

Saying the firing was "insupportable when compared to other instances" of police disciplinary action, Judge Jack M. Newman on Monday ruled that Jacob Krygoski, former West Valley Division officer, must be reinstated and given back pay minus what he earned since his dismissal. Krygoski's attorney Jeff Epstein said his client would get about $100,000.

Krygoski, 35, was fired in 1978 after he admitted ripping up then-Lt. Mike Bagdonas' paycheck, gluing the pieces to postcards and mailing them to Bagdonas one piece at a time. Bagdonas has since been promoted to captain and assigned to the LAPD's narcotics detail.

'Outrageous' Ruling

Christine Patterson, assistant city attorney, said it was "outrageous" for the court to force the LAPD to reinstate Krygoski after the officer admitted possessing and ripping up his supervisor's paycheck. Patterson said she has not decided whether to appeal the ruling.

Newman's ruling came after three police disciplinary board hearings and two rulings on the case by the state Court of Appeal. The primary issue involved was whether the department fired officers for similar instances of misconduct or whether the action against Krygoski was an abuse of power.

"He admitted doing it and how sorry he was that it occurred," Epstein said, adding that his client was part of "a group of officers who weren't happy with the way the lieutenant was conducting himself, and just decided to harass him to get back."

"I agree the Police Department should be run like a paramilitary organization. I believe he should have been disciplined. But, if you're just using him as an example and not firing other officers who are doing the same thing, that's an abuse of power."

'Mental Gymnastics'

Epstein said officers have been suspended but not fired for soliciting prostitutes, disobeying orders, gluing a superior's locker door shut and squirting an arrestee with water.

"It is obvious that the police disciplinary board was going through mental gymnastics to support a preordained conclusion," Epstein said.

Assistant Chief Dotson disagreed.

"In the cases where the factual situation was similar, we fired the officer on every occasion," Dotson said. "That's why we're puzzled. We have difficulty understanding how anyone, if they read that record, could say the penalty of removal was inappropriate. How can a guy do what he did and perform the critical job of a police officer?"

Four officers who worked with Krygoski and Bagdonas said there was a serious morale problem in West Valley Division in 1977 and that Bagdonas was one of at least three superior officers being harassed by as many as five patrol officers. Krygoski was the only officer identified and disciplined for the harassment.

Along with the paycheck incident, three tons of gravel were dumped onto Bagdonas' lawn, magazine subscriptions were ordered in his name and his tires' valve stems were loosened, causing a flat during a trip to the desert with his family.

Two of the officers, who all spoke on the condition that their names not be disclosed, said Bagdonas was respected as a firm but fair disciplinarian who was targeted for harassment because he was ordered to direct a "team policing" concept of law enforcement initiated by former Chief Ed Davis and since abandoned.

Officers Resisted Change

The other two officers said the concept, which involved breaking down the division into smaller districts for patrol purposes, was used as a "scapegoat" by officers who resisted change and had a hatred for authority.

"West Valley was once a wide-open division not conducive to discipline," one of the officers said. "Bagdonas was expecting and demanding things people weren't used to and some guys took it upon themselves to act like kids."

"There were a lot of changes being made and some guys resisted," another officer said. "Mike is an excellent supervisor, perhaps the best in the department."

All four officers said they thought the firing was justified and were critical of the judge's ruling that Krygoski be reinstated.

Hurt by Harassment

Bagdonas, who characterizes himself as "an aggressive, hard-working police officer and supervisor," said in an interview Tuesday that he was hurt by the harassment.

"When another cop is doing something to you, and doing it in a sneaky way, it caused some hard feelings," Bagdonas said. "The majority of officers were hard working and very supportive of me. But West Valley had a bad reputation at the time. There's always some drones who go out and collect their paychecks every two weeks and don't produce too much.

"I made an effort to impact some people who were not producing, not doing their share of police work."

Krygoski, who has worked as a security guard since his dismissal, will not talk to reporters until a decision is made on whether the case will be appealed, Epstein said.

But he is anxious to return to the department.

"He told me, 'Jeff, I expect to get a lot of flak and to have problems, but I'm prepared to go through with it,' " Epstein said. "He said, 'I enjoyed being a policeman.' "

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