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LaDucer Files Rights Suit Over Firing

Courts: Ex-lawman claims privacy, due process violations were made by Gates for political gain.

September 04, 1997|GEOFF BOUCHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Former Orange County Assistant Sheriff Dennis LaDucer filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday claiming his civil rights were violated when Sheriff Brad Gates fired him in August amid sexual misconduct allegations.

The lawsuit in U.S. Federal Court in Los Angeles claims that Gates breached LaDucer's rights to privacy and due process by publicly announcing the firing. The suit also accuses Gates of sacrificing his longtime employee and friend with an eye toward reelection.

"Gates is facing serious competition in the upcoming election," the suit states, later adding, "Gates knowingly and maliciously chose to violate plaintiff's privacy and due process rights . . . to distance himself from plaintiff and advance his own political interests."

LaDucer, 52, was fired after an internal inquiry into sexual harassment claims by three female employees led investigators to a fourth woman, another department employee, who accused LaDucer of raping her at his home in June 1995.

All four women have now filed sexual harassment lawsuits against LaDucer, and the district attorney is reviewing the rape allegation for potential criminal charges, officials said.

Gates declined to comment Wednesday, citing the pending litigation. The sheriff, who has compared LaDucer's firing to "losing a family member," has not announced whether he will seek reelection in November 1998.

LaDucer could not be reached Wednesday for comment. Attorney Pat Thistle, who represents the four women suing LaDucer, also could not be reached for comment.

LaDucer's suit claims he was denied due process when he was refused access to reports and conclusions from the inquiry that led to his firing, and when he learned of his dismissal only after Gates announced it in a press release.

That public announcement "also virtually removed any possibility of a fair review" of the firing, according to Jeffrey M. Epstein, LaDucer's attorney.

The suit, which seeks unspecified compensation and punitive damages, also claims LaDucer was forced to provide information during the internal investigation that may now be used against him improperly in the criminal inquiry.

In an internal investigation, officers can be ordered to answer questions or risk losing their badges, but they cannot be ordered to abandon their constitutional right against self-incrimination.

LaDucer's suit claims Gates and Assistant Sheriff Raul Ramos have access to all of LaDucer's confidential statements and will use them to unfairly guide the ongoing criminal investigation.

At the time of the firing, Gates said LaDucer "clearly . . . violated our department rules and regulations," although he would not elaborate.

The firing of LaDucer, a 31-year veteran of the agency, shocked the rank and file of the department. As leader of all patrol operations and investigative units, LaDucer was seen as an innovative and powerful figure in the department, and, at one time, a possible successor to Gates.

But the sexual harassment suits--including one filed by Lt. Wendy Costello, one of the agency's highest-ranking women--claim that LaDucer's sway in the department allowed him to relentlessly intimidate, grope and proposition the women under his command.

The most serious allegations against LaDucer were leveled by an unnamed civilian employee who, in a "Jane Doe" lawsuit, claims she was raped and forced to perform oral sex on LaDucer when he attacked her two years ago at his home.

Two veteran investigators in the agency were assigned to review those allegations against their former boss, and last week the case was submitted to county prosecutors.

The besieged lawman has fought back in recent weeks, suing his accusers for slander and, in Wednesday's filing, targeting Gates, his longtime mentor and friend.

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