The Long Beach City Council last week approved a $775,000 payout to settle a lawsuit from an ex-employee who said his bosses retaliated against him when he pointed out a pro-police bias and discrimination against minorities in the city’s process for investigating complaints against police officers.
Thomas Gonzales, a former civilian investigator for Long Beach’s Citizens Police Complaint Commission, alleged the city fired him because he complained about the bias, which he said included his supervisor telling him to ignore certain complaints from Latino residents about excessive force, racial profiling and sexual misconduct.
The settlement still requires approval from Gonzales who said he and his lawyers haven’t yet been informed of the proposed deal. But the City Council’s decision indicates Long Beach is dropping an appeal in the case, likely marking the end of Gonzales years-long fight with the city.
Gonzales originally filed a complaint in 2009 alleging the city fired him for speaking out about a pro-police bias within the CPCC, which is a body of civilians empowered to investigate complaints about the Long Beach Police Department.
Gonzales accused the commission of refusing to investigate complaints from minority residents and questioned whether they were truly independent from the police department. The case went to trial in 2013 where a jury originally sided with the city. After an appeal, a jury in 2018 sided with Gonzales and decided the city violated state whistleblower protections. The jury awarded him $736,000 plus court costs “to be determined.”
The city filed motions asking for a new trial and a reduction in the jury’s award, but a judge denied the requests.
“Like any verdict, you work to see if you have any chance on appeal and whether or not prolonging the case would be the best outcome,” said Howard Russell, Long Beach’s principal deputy city attorney.
The city decided that $775,000 would cover the verdict, as well as any interest on the verdict and attorney’s fees, Russell said.
“It’s not an admission of liability on our part,” Russell said. “… The city still disputes that there was anything done wrong. There was no retaliation.”