Ken Leighton 2:46 p.m., Oct. 15
Former Officer's Lawsuit Reopened on Appeal
Former San Diego Police Department officer Aleksei Sviridov has been granted a partial reversal of judgment in a complaint against the City of San Diego alleging wrongful termination, discrimination, a hostile work environment, and retaliation that was originally dismissed via summary judgment.
Sviridov, a Russian-speaking native of the former Soviet Union and a United States citizen, was an employee of the SDPD from 2001 to 2007. During this time, Sviridov alleges he was subject to various abuse and harassment, some of which referred to his Russian heritage. These include comments referencing him as a “Russian spy,” asking “How long have you been speaking English?” and “We shoot defectors in our military.” At times he was falsely accused of possession of an AK-47 assault rifle, referred to as “RPS” by colleagues (one of whom told him it meant “Russian Piece of Shit”), and ordered to carry a ceramic monkey in his patrol vehicle, in which a large quantity of marijuana was planted on another occurrence.
After filing a complaint about his treatment (which was ruled unfounded), colleagues began referring to Sviridov as a “rat.” He continued to earn a whistle-blower reputation by reporting discrimination against a Vietnamese officer to a field supervisor, after which he was transferred to a different division.
Supervisors prepared negative performance reviews, accusing Sviridov of discrimination against African Americans, inability to drive a vehicle, and illiteracy. Sviridov refused to sign them, eventually annotating “under duress” to his signature when ordered to sign by superiors, according to his complaint.
On March 23, 2006, Sviridov allegedly struck his daughter, prompting child abuse charges by the middle of that year. At this point he was stripped of his police powers. Sviridov filed another internal discrimination complaint in September 2006, but an equal employment investigation manager told him “his allegations did not fall within the purview of that office,” according to a review of the case. Later that month, he was convicted of battery in the criminal case, despite protestations that the child abuse accusations were falsely brought by a group of officers in the mid-city division.
In February 2007, internal affairs released a report accusing Sviridov of dishonesty, which he rebutted. Captain Boyd Long , Sviridov’s supervisor, recommended his termination, based on the battery conviction involving his daughter. The decision was upheld by Lieutenant Marvin Shaw, though Sviridov still contested the charges. That October, while his appeals with the Department were pending, Sviridov’s criminal conviction was reversed and a new trial was ordered.
On November 30, 2007, Sviridov was fired, with a recommendation from Captain Long that he not be eligible for future city employment. The same day, the city attorney’s office dropped the criminal charges against him. In January 2008, Superior Court Judge Robert O’Neill found Sviridov innocent of all charges against him, including child abuse, battery, and witness/victim intimidation.
The city then moved to rescind Sviridov’s termination, but he no longer wanted to go back to work, given the events that had unfolded. He instead filed the lawsuit alleging wrongful termination and a host of other grievances.
In October 2008, the termination was rescinded and Sviridov was ordered back to work immediately. He had not been medically cleared for duty, had not had his uniform, badge, or weapon returned, and had not received back pay, earned wages, or vested vacation pay. After refusing to report, he was issued a letter on October 15, stating in part that “[a]bsence from duty without leave for a period of three days shall be considered a resignation and may be processed as such.” Instead, he was once again terminated by the department on October 18.
Sviridov’s case against the city was eventually dismissed on all counts. The city had, line by line, argued nearly every statement in Sviridov’s declaration, although the trial court eventually overruled all but two sentences of the rebuttal due to evidence submitted by Sviridov. Their compelling argument was that many of the allegations of harassment were invalid, as Sviridov had only one year after making his initial complaint to file a lawsuit, and the statue of limitations had expired on many of the charges in his complaint.
The Court of Appeals of California agreed with this ruling last week, with the exception of Sviridov’s fifth and ninth causes of action, which allege breach of contract by the city. Sviridov states that he was entitled to, but denied hearings both before and after his 2008 termination, as well as being denied pretermination due process before his initial 2007 firing.
Sviridov now will be allowed to amend his complaint and have these items heard by the Court of Appeals in the coming months.