A federal judge has ordered Hawthorne to pay more than $25,000 to a former policewoman who was forced to retire in 1984 after she was allegedly involved in several incidents of police misconduct.
Police Chief Kenneth Stonebreaker forced Officer Shari Barberic to retire after concluding that she was psychologically unfit to continue working. Barberic filed a $1-million suit against the city and Stonebreaker.
U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson ruled last week that Barberic should have been allowed a hearing to challenge the forced retirement. Wilson also said that Stonebreaker should not have made a public statement about Barberic's mental state without allowing Barberic a forum to rebut it.
City Ordered to Pay
Wilson also ordered the city to pay the difference between the $90,000 Barberic would have earned if she had continued to work for the department and the pay she earned as a department store security guard and in her current job as a transit officer for the Southern California Rapid Transit District.
"This case is not only important to Ms. Barberic, who feels vindicated, but to other police officers because it breaks new ground in police rights," said Barberic's attorney, Gloria Allred, in a telephone interview this week. "Cities cannot force police officers to retire . . . without a hearing to contest the charges."
Barberic, who is receiving a lifetime $1,100 monthly pension payment under her involuntary medical retirement, is pursuing a separate sex discrimination suit against the city for alleged sexist and derogatory statements made by department officials.
In forcing Barberic to retire, Stonebreaker had said she was insubordinate and psychologically unfit for police work. He also said she was accused of using excessive force in several cases and that there were $5 million in lawsuits against the city naming her as defendant.
Fewer Claims Now
Meanwhile, Capt. David Barnes and other city officials say the number of police brutality claims filed against the city has dropped each year since a high of 83 were filed in 1983, although statistics were not immediately available.
"For the most part, it's behind us now," Barnes said.
City Manager R. Kenneth Jue described the majority of claims being filed against the police as "junk" claims involving property damage rather than misconduct.
Barnes said internal investigations of police brutality charges have helped keep a check on police misconduct. "We found that in the early 1980s things were falling through the cracks," he said. "Now, all claims against the department are automatically referred to us for investigation."