A surprise settlement was reached Thursday in a civil trial brought against the city of Paso Robles by a former officer who accused the police department of implementing illegal traffic ticket quotas and retaliating against him when he complained.
The settlement — which both sides agreed to not disclose — came during recess about an hour after opening statements started in Superior Court.
The trial, brought on by a lawsuit from 25-year officer Jon Tatro, was expected to last until early April. It could have seen some 46 witnesses take the stand to discuss the department’s use of statistical data when it comes to citations.
Those slated to testify included former police Chief Lisa Solomon, current Chief Robert Burton, city manager Jim App, and a host of current and former police officers and city administrators.
Tatro argued that he was retaliated against and denied opportunities for advancement by department brass after raising the traffic quota issue. He resigned in December 2012 and was seeking an unspecified amount of money for emotional distress, loss of wages and benefits, and court costs.
“We’re pleased with the settlement,” said Jeff Lipow, Tatro’s Encino-based attorney, Thursday afternoon. “It’s one of those situations where a compromise was in the best interest of everyone involved.”
The city’s attorney, David Cumberland, did not respond to a request for comment. App said following the settlement that the city would not be making an official statement on the case.
“The case is over,” App said. “Now we can get back to matters of business.”
He could not confirm nor deny if the city paid anything in the settlement without breaking the confidentiality agreement, he said, but added: “In general, in matters like these, our insurance is there to provide protection.”
In opening statements Thursday morning, Lipow painted Tatro as “a man of conviction” who became a target of management.
“This case involves a situation where, what does a person do when those charged with enforcing the law break the law?” Lipow told jurors. “Jon Tatro was a whistleblower.”
Ticket quotas are illegal under California law.
Lipow said that when Tatro returned to patrol duty in 2009 following five years as a D.A.R.E. officer, he found a change in the way the department dealt with patrol officers.
“Everything always came back to tickets — tickets, tickets, tickets,” he said.
Cumberland countered that the city does track statistics in order to gauge productivity and interactions with the public, but that there was never a hard requirement to meet a shift average.
He further painted Tatro as an officer who never had a taste for traffic enforcement, which Cumberland said Tatro demonstrated as far back as 1990.
Lipow said the crux of the case was not whether there was a quota in place, but rather whether Tatro had reason to believe there was a quota, spoke out about it and then suffered retaliation from supervisors.
Cumberland said the jury’s job would be to determine whether Tatro’s belief that a quota existed was reasonable.
Lipow said Thursday afternoon his client is now ready to put the case behind him.
“It was obviously an emotional thing for (Tatro),” Lipow said. “He has some mixed emotions, but I think he’s happy to have a sense of closure.”