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Ex-Anaheim Officer Awarded $5 Million

A civil jury finds that the city and its former chief discriminated against the 30-year police veteran after he was injured on the job.

July 15, 2005|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

A retired Anaheim police lieutenant has been awarded a $5.2-million judgment by a civil jury that found the city and its former police chief discriminated against him after he suffered job-related injuries.

A jury reached its verdict Wednesday after a 2 1/2-week trial in front of Superior Court Judge Robert J. Moss in Santa Ana.

Ray Welch, a 30-year veteran, injured his back during various pursuits and, after grappling with a suspect in 1997, sustained an elbow injury that required three surgeries, according to court documents.

As a result, he was given modified duty by then-Police Chief Roger Baker and was passed over for promotion to captain, his attorneys said.

He unsuccessfully appealed to Baker, who said Welch lacked experience as a lieutenant to supervise other departments, said Jack Girardi, one of Welch's attorneys.

When Welch complained to the state Department of Fair Housing and Employment, Baker retaliated by taking away what limited duties Welch had, Girardi said.

"We had other testimony where people overheard Baker tell others that [Welch] was never going to get any other assignments," said Girardi's co-counsel, Larry Lennemann.

"Essentially, he would come to work, sit there and make sure he answered the phone when it rang," Lennemann said of Welch's reassigned desk duty.

His attorneys said Welch, who retired in 2002 at age 51, was happy with the verdict. He could not be contacted for comment.

The city attorney and city manager plan to discuss the case in closed session at the July 26 City Council meeting, said Larry Newberry, senior assistant city attorney. "We're very surprised and somewhat shocked by it," he said.

Baker was sued as police chief, which makes the city liable for the entire amount of the verdict. He left the department two years ago to become police chief in Des Moines, Wash.

"Unfortunately, he left a trail of wreckage that we and the city are having to pay for," Anaheim council member Richard Chavez said.

Baker's actions, including whether he had ordered police to spy on political enemies, including Chavez, were the subject of a probe by the state attorney general's office.

After a yearlong investigation, state investigations announced two weeks ago they found no evidence that police conducted covert surveillance of Chavez or a group of Latino activists that had accused the police of misconduct.

That probe was requested by the new Police Chief John Welter after retired Capt. Marc Hedgepeth said he was directed by two former police chiefs to spy on two activists who later joined the council.

They were Chavez and Lorri Galloway, director of the Eli Home shelter for abused women and children who was elected to the council in 2004.

Baker also is facing a federal class action lawsuit brought by Latino activists who allege he violated their civil rights when he ordered an investigation that included surveillance of them.

Baker characterized the background check as a "snapshot in time" designed to improve the Police Department's relationship with the Latino community.

He has denied that anything secret occurred.

For Welch, at least one chapter of his life as a police officer is over, Girardi said.

"Here was a guy who was born in Anaheim, went to Anaheim schools, was even an Explorer with the department, and had always wanted to be a police officer," Girardi said.

"All he ever wanted to be was on the Anaheim police force," he said.

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