L.A.P.D. Officers Who Ignored Robbery to Play Pok?mon Go Lose Appeal
Two Los Angeles police officers were fired after an investigation found they had pretended not to hear a radio call for help as they played the augmented-reality game.
The two Los Angeles police officers were in hot pursuit. They had four minutes to catch their target or it would get away.
The target was sighted at 46th Street and Leimert Boulevard and they had to hustle. Using his knowledge of the neighborhood, Officer Eric Mitchell noted that Leimert doesn’t go all the way to 46th. Officer Louis Lozano suggested they go down 11th and swing up Crenshaw.
The clock was ticking. But just in the nick of time, they “got him,” according to court documents.
They had captured a Snorlax.
Then, they were off to find the Togetic.
While the two officers were playing Pok?mon Go in their police cruiser on April 15, 2017, they pretended not to hear a radio call to respond to a robbery at a nearby mall, an internal investigation found, based largely on a video recording from inside the car. The police chief fired the officers after a recommendation by a disciplinary board.
On Friday, the California Second District Court of Appeal again rejected the officers’ appeal, affirming a lower court’s decision.
Greg Yacoubian, the officers’ lawyer, said in an interview on Tuesday that his clients were “understandably disappointed” by the court’s decision and that they were “evaluating how best to proceed.”
The Los Angeles Police Department said the officers’ firing was warranted based on several charges of on-duty misconduct: They failed to respond when their unit was called over the radio about an in-progress robbery, and misled a sergeant when asked why they had not heard the calls. They played Pok?mon Go — in which players use their phones to capture exotic monsters from Pok?mon, the Japanese cartoon franchise, that can be found only in certain real-life locations — while on duty in their car, and made false statements to a detective during an investigation.
The officers pleaded guilty to failing to respond to a robbery call and failing to respond over the radio when their unit was called, and not guilty to the other charges.
In their defense, they argued that the department could not use a recording from inside their police cruiser of their “private” conversation because they were unaware they were being recorded. They also said their rights had been violated because their sergeant had questioned them without a legal representative present.
“This case really matters,” Mr. Yacoubian, the officers’ lawyer, said, “because it’s important to hold the department accountable regarding its own compliance with its own policies and rules.”
A disciplinary board found that an unintentionally recorded personal conversation could be used for disciplinary matters if there was “evidence of criminal or egregious misconduct.” The trial court found that the officers’ behavior “would certainly be classified as egregious.”
And the sergeant had questioned the officers in the “normal course” of his duty as a supervisor, so a legal representative was not necessary, the disciplinary board ruled.
The day of the Pok?mon hunt was a busy one in the L.A.P.D.’s Southwest Division, with more calls than there were police cars available to respond. There had been a homicide earlier in the day.
Assigned to a foot beat patrol, the officers were on duty when a call went out about a robbery in progress at the Macy’s store in the Crenshaw Mall. Capt. Darnell Davenport could see the Macy’s when the call came in, and noticed a police car in a nearby alley, but he could not identify the unit, according to court documents. A short time later, he saw the police car back out of the alley and leave the area.
Sgt. Jose Gomez tried to reach the officers by radio to ask them to go to the mall to help Captain Davenport but received no response, according to court documents.
Later, the sergeant asked the officers if they had heard a call for backup, and Officer Mitchell said they had not because it was “really loud in the park” they were in, according to court documents.
But a review of the video system inside the car told a different story, the court documents show. It revealed that theirs was the car close to the mall when the robbery call came in, and that they heard the radio call and decided not to respond.
“I don’t want to be his help,” Officer Lozano said of Captain Davenport as they left the area, according to court documents.
They debated whether to respond after several more minutes of chatter about the robbery, and decided not to when their unit was called.
“Aw, screw it,” Officer Lozano said, according to court documents.
Less than five minutes later, Officer Mitchell spotted the Snorlax, a chubby and uncommon creature. And for the next 20 minutes, they discussed Pok?mon as they drove to different locations chasing it.
“Don’t run away, don’t run away,” Officer Lozano said at one point.
“This thing is fighting the crap out of me,” Officer Mitchell said, apparently referring to the Togetic, a fierce species rarely seen in the wild. He added, “The guys are going to be so jealous.”
He later said: “I got you a new Pok?mon today, dude.”
When Sergeant Gomez later questioned them about playing the game while on duty, the officers denied it. They said that they were merely “having a conversation” about the game and that Officer Mitchell had been receiving text messages from a group in which people were “bragging about their scores.”
They also denied it to the disciplinary board. They said they were monitoring a “Pok?mon tracker” on their phones but not playing the game itself. Officer Lozano said he had not captured a Pok?mon, but captured an image of a Pok?mon on the tracking app to share with friends. Officer Mitchell said his comment about “fighting” the Togetic referred to “relaying that information to the groups on my app,” adding that “in order to take the picture, occasionally, the creature will fight.”
They admitted leaving their beat area to chase the Snorlax, but said they did it as part of an “extra patrol” and to “chase this mythical creature.”
The disciplinary board unanimously found them guilty on all counts except the failure to handle an assigned radio call, finding that the officers “were disingenuous and deceitful in their remarks” to the board. By playing Pok?mon Go on duty, the officers “violated the trust of the public” and represented “unprofessional and embarrassing behavior,” the board found.
Eduardo Medina contributed reporting.