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Officer Fired After Report on Prostitute Settles Suit : Police: An officer said his rights were violated when he was discharged after reporting a city councilman was seen with a prostitute.

January 11, 1990|TINA GRIEGO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BELL GARDENS — A settlement has been reached between the city and a police officer who had charged that his civil rights were violated when he was fired in 1987 after he reported that a city councilman had been seen with a known prostitute.

The lawsuit was settled last Thursday as a federal jury was to begin hearing the case.

Terms of the settlement were sealed by U.S. District Judge Robert M. Takasugi, and the parties in the case would not comment. The officer, Richard Rice, previously had rejected a city offer of $50,000, saying he was seeking $100,000 in damages.

Rice filed the federal complaint in September, 1988, against the city of Bell Gardens, City Manager Claude Booker, then-Assistant City Manager Maria Aguirre and Police Chief William Donohoe.

Rice was placed on administrative leave, then fired, after he filed a police report stating that an officer under his command saw a known prostitute get into Councilman Roger McComas' motor home.

He was reinstated, with full back pay, in March, 1989, after a Superior Court judge ruled that Rice had been improperly dismissed, and an appellate court upheld the decision.

During the Superior Court hearing, Chief Donohoe said Rice was fired because he lied in talking with the president of the local police union about the police report on the councilman. The judge said, however, that there was no proof of such a conversation.

When news reports of the McComas incident first were published, the councilman called the report as a "big, made-up story."

McComas, who last spring became mayor of Bell Gardens, later acknowledged that he picked up a known prostitute "for the heck of it," but said he did not solicit or have sex with her, according to court documents.

The district attorney's office in May, 1987, decided not to prosecute McComas for soliciting prostitution, saying there was not enough evidence.

The incident first was reported by Officer Joe Marquez, who said he saw a known prostitute run up to McComas' motor home at a tavern on Eastern Avenue. The woman, Marquez reported, opened the passenger door and climbed in.

After a trip around the block, Marquez reported, the motor home stopped again just outside the bar, and the woman got out. Marquez then questioned the woman, who told him the driver was a "regular customer" who used an alias, according to the police report. The woman said the driver gave her money "not to tell the police what we do or to mention the motor home," Marquez reported.

In an interview before the settlement, Rice said he believed he was entitled to more than regaining his job, with back pay.

"I was unemployed for 12 months," Rice said "I had a lot of time to think about this. There's been a lot of depression, anger and resentment at what people tried to get away with. They seem to do what they want, when they want, and I want to keep that from happening again."

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