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Sunday, May 26, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge Pares ‘Ruined’ Cop’s Retaliation Claims

OAKLAND (CN) - A police officer who claimed Oakland Unified School District threatened him with economic ruin and jail time over his testimony about a fellow officer can only pursue a retaliation claim, a federal judge ruled.

Jonathan Bellusa claims he saw fellow officer Barhin Bhatt "firing multiple shots at passenger Raheim Brown, resulting in Brown's death," during a 2011 traffic stop.

Bellusa says that when he told school district lawyers that his testimony would be different from Bhatt's and that Bhatt unnecessarily fired the bullets that killed Brown, "they attempted to coerce Bellusa to conform his testimony to the version proffered by Bhatt, but to no avail."

He also complained to district officials that district police chief John Sarna engaged in a drunken rank in which he "uttered outrageous epithets concerning African-American and Asian-American children and police officers," Bellusa says in his original complaint.

As a result, district officials retaliated against Bellusa by placing him on leave, depriving him of his service weapon and badge, started an Internal Affairs investigation and ordered him to undergo several fitness exams, according to Bellusa.

He filed a whistleblower suit against the Oakland school board and several others involved in the alleged retaliation in federal court earlier this year. He also claimed violations of California's Bane Act, a civil rights law aimed at preventing threats of violence by law enforcement personnel.

But on Monday, U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley dismissed much of Bellusa's action, including the whistleblower retaliation claims, because the only real retaliation against him after Bhatt's trial was the fitness exams he had to undergo.

"Plaintiff has not alleged sufficient facts to support an inference that these acts constituted adverse employment actions, especially since plaintiff himself alleges that his physician placed him on medical leave," Corley wrote. "More must be alleged."

She also granted dismissal of retaliation against a whistleblower for the Reporting by School Employees of Improper Government Activities Act because Bellusa failed to show that he is a district employee or that the district committed retaliatory acts.

Finally, Corley dismissed Bellusa's Bane Act claim for failing to specifically identify acts of intimidation.

However, Corley said Bellusa's federal civil rights claims relating to Sarna's behavior and the subsequent complaints can move forward.

"Plaintiff's claim that he was relieved of supervisory responsibilities following his complaint about Sarna is sufficient at this stage to plead an adverse employment action," Corley wrote.

Bellusa has 30 days to cure the deficiencies in his original complaint.

He is represented by Dan Siegel with Siegel & Lee.

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