Lawsuit Alleging Police Falsified Crime Reports Dismissed

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Two former officers and their Bay Area police department on Thursday agreed to dismiss a lawsuit in which the officers accused the city of ordering them to falsify documents to reduce the city’s reported crime rate and not to document use of force.

Former officers Michael Sibbitt Jr. and Elisabeth Terwilliger filed separate complaints against Pittsburg, its Police Chief Brian Addington and Police Capt. Michael Perry in August 2016, claiming they were forced out of their jobs for refusing to falsify crime reports.

Sibbitt and Terwilliger have had trouble finding new jobs because the police department gives prospective employers “inaccurate information” about them, they said in their lawsuits.

Pittsburg Police Capt. Steve Albanese declined to say whether the parties had settled, in a Thursday afternoon phone call.

A spokesman for the city manager’s office could not be reached for comment.

Pittsburg, a city of 70,000 about 40 miles east of San Francisco, whose median income is about the same as the state’s, reported a significant reduction in violent crime from 2007 to 2012, according to FBI crime data. Violent crimes dropped from 250 a year to 152 a year in five years, according to the statistics.

In 2015, the most recent year for which FBI crime data is available, the number of violent crimes increased to 225.

Sibbitt and Terwilliger, both hired in September 2012, said they were instructed to downgrade felonies to misdemeanors unless someone was arrested, and, preferably, witnesses were available to testify.

“Defendant, by mandating these lesser crime classifications and instructing officers to redact incident reports, artificially spiked its department’s crime-solving rate, misrepresented the city of Pittsburg’s safety, and fraudulently received federal funds,” Sibbitt said in his 18-page complaint.

report from the Contra Costa County District Attorney and Sheriff’s Department in July 2016 confirmed that police underreported crimes. Of 204 police reports reviewed, the department misclassified 103 incidents as “suspicious circumstances,” which should have been recorded as crimes, according to the report.

Sibbitt described in his complaint an April 2014 incident in which he hit a suspect resisting arrest in the knee with his flashlight. A second officer, Sibbitt said, then smashed the suspect’s face into a car door.

Sibbit’s supervisor, Sgt. William Hatcher, told him to remove references in his report about hitting the suspect and the man’s facial injuries, according to the complaint.

The next month the department placed Sibbitt and Terwilliger on administrative leave and told them they were being investigated by Internal Affairs.

Days later, Terwilliger was interviewed about another April 2014 incident in which Sibbitt hit a suspect in the arm with a flashlight.

Sibbitt and Terwilliger said Hatcher ordered them not to arrest any suspects that day and not to document Sibbitt’s use of force.

That incident became the focus of an internal investigation of both officers, in which Terwilliger said she had been pressured to blame Sibbitt for not reporting what happened.

“Union President Chuck Blazer explained that plaintiff’s best course of action was not to expose Sergeant Hatcher, rather, to blame Sibbitt by contending she did not know Sibbitt used force and thought Sibbitt would mention the incident in his report,” Terwilliger said in her 11-page complaint.

“Plaintiff Terwilliger explained that she had refused to fabricate the report because she knew that Sergeant Hatcher had specifically ordered both of them not to document the use of flashlight or force in their reports. She refused to sacrifice Officer Sibbitt and insisted, ‘I’m not going to lie.’”

Sibbitt and Terwilliger are represented by Scott Brown with Brown Poore in Walnut Creek. The defendants are represented by Michael Christian with Jackson Lewis in Sacramento. Neither attorney returned emails seeking comment.

 

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