Court ruling upholds firing of Arroyo Grande police officer

A San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge has rejected a celebrated former Arroyo Grande police officer’s five-year bid to return to duty, siding with city officials who ordered the officer to take a psychological exam following concerns about his on-duty behavior.

On Jan. 17, San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall entered a ruling on the case of Albert Beattie, who was a 13-year veteran of the department when he was fired in December 2009.

Beattie had refused to take a department-ordered psychological exam after questions were raised about his judgment on when to use his gun.

Beattie could not be reached for comment on the ruling. His attorney, Andrew Dawson, did not return repeated calls.

Beattie had been named Arroyo Grande Police Department’s Officer of the Year in 2006, the same year he fatally shot a San Jose man that led CHP officers on a 100-mile high-speed car chase from Atascadero to Gaviota. The chase involved three carjackings—including one with three vacationers inside—and an exchange of gunfire on the freeway.

Beattie and another officer were returning from a narcotics operation and helping a motorist on the side of the freeway when the suspect sped toward them, firing a handgun. Beattie shot the suspect three times, ending the chase. The suspect, 41-year-old Jose Anders Cabrera, later died of his wounds.

The Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office classified Beattie’s actions as “clearly justified.”

In subsequent years, Beattie was involved in a number of high-profile drug operations and survived a serious accident when his patrol car was hit by a suspect fleeing in an SUV.

In November 2008, Beattie responded to a hang-up 911 call and found an elderly couple inside a residence struggling over what appeared to be a weapon. According to court records, Beattie ordered another officer, Erik Jensen, to forcibly enter the home. Jensen knocked instead, and discovered that the older man suffered from dementia and was struggling with his wife over a bottle of prescription pills.

As the officers were leaving the house, Beattie made a comment to Jensen about not having a clear line of fire through the window, according to court records. Concerned about Beattie’s judgment over the possible use of a weapon, Jensen reported the incident.

Police Chief Steve Annibali ordered Beattie to undergo a Fitness for Duty Examination, administered by a police psychologist who concluded that Beattie was uncooperative, preventing verifiable results.

On Nov. 20, 2008, Beattie’s attorney told the department that Beattie had completed an independent evaluation by his own psychologist and was found fit for duty. The city’s psychologist asked him to identify the specific tests his examiner administered. Beattie refused.

Between December 2008 and November 2009, Beattie was ordered to take additional city-issued exams. He remained uncooperative, according to Crandall’s ruling. Annibali then ordered disciplinary action taken, and between August 2010 and November 2011, Beattie and city officials participated in three sets of administrative hearings before a third party arbitrator.

In February 2012, the hearing officer sided with Beattie, issuing a non-binding ruling that the city had no cause to send Beattie to a fitness exam, or to terminate him. City Manager Steve Adams overruled the decision. Beattie took his challenge to court, where it was heard before Crandall on Dec. 9, 2013.

“There was good cause to refer Beattie to a Fitness Exam,” Crandall wrote in his ruling. “His involvement in a prior fatal shooting, coupled with his bizarre comments about a clear line of fire when deadly force was plainly unwarranted, raised legitimate concerns about his ability to fulfill his police duties.”

Crandall ruled that Beattie’s refusal to name the tests he took from the independent evaluator was not covered by the Confidential Medical Information Act, and that the names were not “protected medical information” as defined by the law.

“Beattie cannot circumscribe the confines of the city’s fitness exam,” Crandall wrote. “Given that psychological fitness implicates a fundamental qualification to be a peace officer … it is simply unreasonable to maintain that a police department is powerless to require the officer’s cooperation.”

Tim Carmel, city attorney for Arroyo Grande, said Wednesday that Beattie’s case was a particularly “sad” one, but that the city was left with no choice based on the officer’s behavior.

“The city’s obviously pleased with Judge Crandall’s decision,” Carmel said. “But that said, we truly regret having to terminate Mr. Beattie, who for many years served the city with great distinction. Unfortunately, concerns arose from his behavior over the last few years.”

Carmel said the issue may have resolved itself if Beattie had cooperated with the city’s examination process.

“We wanted (Beattie) to take part in the very same process he had done with the same evaluator before to make sure that he’s fit for duty,” Carmel said. “We as a city have an obligation to make sure an officer is fit for duty.”

An official judgment will be entered in San Luis Obispo Superior Court. From that date, Beattie has 60 days to appeal the decision to the Second District Court of Appeal.