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Cop who alleged improper helicopter rides settles with Glendale

The former police helicopter pilot, who will receive $450,000, had sued Glendale, saying he faced retaliation when he voiced concerns about charity ride-alongs.

May 28, 2012|By Veronica Rocha, Los Angeles Times

A former Glendale police officer will receive a $450,000 settlement from the city after alleging in a lawsuit that he faced retaliation for raising concerns over officials allegedly auctioning rides in the department's helicopter to charity groups.

David Gillispie's lawsuit was dismissed last week in Los Angeles County Superior Court after both parties agreed to the deal, which also requires the city to destroy and seal flight training logs, complaint information, internal memos, two performance evaluations and information regarding his transfer.

Gillispie's attorney, Marla Brown, declined to comment, citing an agreement with the city to not talk with the media.

Gillispie worked for the Glendale Police Department for 16 years before retiring in December after suffering a work-related back injury.

City Atty. Michael Garcia said the settlement did not presume guilt on the city's part.

"We maintain that the city did nothing improper," he said. "There are risks associated with going to a jury trial, which we chose to avoid through a settlement."

In his lawsuit filed in 2009, Gillispie said he was transferred from his position as a pilot in the department's Air Support Unit to regular patrol after he alleged the ride-alongs violated Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

The practice — in which the Police Department allowed schools and charities to auction helicopter rides for a contribution of at least $500 — was in place for more than 10 years, according to court documents.

The city alleged that senior officers had already investigated the legality of the flights and determined that they were in compliance with FAA regulations, according to a motion filed by the city.

The FAA allows charitable ride-alongs as long as they adhere to certain other trip criteria, such as starting and ending from one point and limits on distance traveled.

The city argued in court documents that Gillispie was transferred from the air unit because he was not "flying at proficient levels," even after his superiors gave him multiple opportunities to perform various maneuvers and he had 500 hours of flight time.

Gillispie allegedly expressed concerns about the ride-alongs in October 2007. The next month, Police Department officials stopped the program because they wanted to merge their air unit with the Burbank Police Department and the number of ride-alongs was becoming burdensome, according to court documents.

A senior officer performed most ride-alongs — typically 11/2 hours and during normal patrol hours, according to the city's motion. But for the most part, the unit's officers disliked "conducting the ride-alongs because it added weight to the aircraft and was at times annoying dealing with passengers who felt they could command where the helicopter could go," the motion stated.

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