Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The Region

Year After Ouster, Detective Wants Job Back

Police: Lawyer says the 26-year veteran, fired for a sexual relationship with alleged rape victim, is the scapegoat in city's $25,000 settlement of lawsuit she had filed.

June 15, 2002|TINA DIRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Riverside police detective is demanding his job back, 14 months after being fired for having a sexual relationship with a woman whose alleged rape he was investigating.

Al Kennedy, a 26-year member of the department, was terminated April 16, 2001, after Chana Zucker filed a lawsuit against the department. The Riverside resident said Kennedy used his position to take advantage of her while looking into allegations she had been kidnapped, raped and tortured by an unknown assailant.

The city terminated Kennedy and settled Zucker's lawsuit this winter for $25,000.

But an attorney for the detective said the firing was unfair--a politically motivated move to settle a lawsuit that never should have been filed. "They needed a defense to [Zucker's] lawsuit," said Ken Yuwiler, a Santa Monica attorney who will represent Kennedy at an arbitration hearing later this month. "And one of their defenses was, 'Hey, we got rid of him.' That was their chip if they went to trial."

To bolster his point, Yuwiler said that when the relationship initially came to light, Kennedy's supervisor recommended nothing more than a letter of reprimand. Newly appointed Chief Russell Leach, however, would not approve the reprimand, adding that the behavior was conduct unbecoming an officer.

"I'm the authority who hires and fires," Leach said. "And in my view, the case was a little more serious than that.... It goes to the level of trust this department needs to have with the public."

According to court records, Kennedy, then a detective with Riverside's sexual assault unit, was assigned to investigate Zucker's kidnapping and rape allegations. During the investigation, he began referring to her as one of his "special ladies," with whom he had a "special relationship," her lawsuit said.

On one occasion, Kennedy met Zucker at a hotel room with the apparent intent of showing her some booking mugs and talking about the case. He also brought several wine coolers, said Zucker's attorney, Carol Watson. Kennedy, who was married at the time, also began sending Zucker cards and love letters, Watson said.

The pair began a sexual relationship, which Zucker said she was afraid to end because Kennedy said he was "helping her, looking out for her and taking care of her," court papers said.

By January 2000, Zucker had begun seeing a therapist about the relationship. Shortly after, she told Kennedy she was "not afraid of him and did not want to see him again," the lawsuit said.

No suspects have been arrested in Zucker's alleged kidnapping, rape and torture case.

Zucker later sued the department, saying that her civil rights were violated and that the department failed to adequately supervise and control Kennedy.

Defense attorney Yuwiler said the suit was absurd. Not only was the relationship consensual, he said, it was Zucker who pursued it as the investigation was ending.

"There is no question in my mind he is getting a bum rap," said Yuwiler, who is asking for Kennedy's reinstatement and two years' back pay. "She's the one who invited him to lunch or to go get a soda pop or something. She continued to contact him."

Until his final year with the department, Kennedy also typically "met or exceeded" expectations in his annual reviews, his attorney said. As the department prepared to fire the detective, however, his reviews became increasingly critical, Yuwiler said.

The attorney also said that all sexual encounters between Kennedy and Zucker happened while the detective was off duty.

Chief Leach, however, said that mattered little to him. "This is a serious thing, whether it happened on the clock or off the clock," he said. "It goes to the level of trust we have with the public."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|