Opening arguments may begin Wednesday in Superior Court over a lawsuit filed by a former Paso Robles police officer accusing the department of instituting a quota system for issuing traffic citations.
Jon Tatro filed the lawsuit in San Luis Obispo Superior Court in February 2012, then amended it after his resignation the following December that ended a 25-year career with the Paso Robles Police Department.
He is seeking unspecified damages and attorney fees.
According to his court filings, Tatro returned to patrol duties in 2009 following nearly four years assigned as a D.A.R.E. officer. He alleges that once he was transferred to patrol he received monthly performance reviews comparing the number of citations he wrote to other officers in his shift, as well as to the shift average.
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Paso Robles City Manager Jim App said Tuesday he could not comment on the active litigation. Court filings show that the city believes its policy is legal.
In January 2010, Tatro received notice he failed to meet department expectations by falling below the shift average, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that nine months later, he was taken into a meeting with supervisors, given a written reprimand and told that he was going to be suspended based on a personnel complaint.
Tatro then allegedly complained to former Police Chief Lisa Solomon and the city’s human resources department about illegal quotas. He was allegedly told to pursue the matter through department channels.
According to the lawsuit, in March 2011, the department began an internal affairs investigation into the officer. Tatro alleges that department supervisors retaliated against him, denying him opportunities for advancement, subjecting him to ostracism from co-workers, making malicious statements against him, and subjected him to unwarranted counseling.
A claim for damages was rejected by the city in January 2012.
According to the California Vehicle Code, law enforcement agencies are prohibited from forcing officers to meet quotas for traffic citations. Agencies also may not use the number of citations issued by an officer as the sole reason to promote, demote, reassign, or otherwise discipline an officer.
An internal department memo obtained by the Tribune March 2012 titled, “Traffic Enforcement Expectations,” denies there was a quota system, but said more than one officer voiced concern.
“A number of complaints have come up over time regarding traffic enforcement,” Solomon wrote in the memo. “We have also had some concerns raised about whether our use of these statistics create an improper ‘arrest quota.’”
She added that it was the city attorney’s opinion that it did not. City Manager Jim App said at the time that he suggested Solomon write the memo to clarify to officers that the policy was legal.
“There was no quota and the memo was a reflection of that to the troops,” App said in April 2012.
As of Tuesday evening, jury selection had not been completed, but Tatro’s Encino-based attorney, Jeffrey Lipow, said he hoped to begin opening arguments in Paso Robles Wednesday and expected the trial to last through next week.