Las Vegas POA

Non-Disciplinary Questioning Does Not Violate Bill Of Rights

Written on 04/08/2021
Will Aitchison

Errol Cruz worked as a senior trooper for the Maryland State Police. In February 2018, his supervisor, Ser­geant Torres, noticed that “he could not verify Cruz’s location” using a GPS device installed in Cruz’s patrol car and discovered that he was not able to log into the GPS device through­out Cruz’s shifts. Such GPS devices are installed in all police vehicles to enable the State Police to identify the location of its vehicles and promote officer safety. Cruz, like other state troopers, was required to log into the GPS device upon beginning his shift and to remain logged in throughout the entire shift. Disabling any part of the GPS device in a police vehicle is a violation of departmental policy that could lead to disciplinary action.

Torres took several actions to attempt to discover whether the GPS device in Cruz’s vehicle was faulty, including sending the vehicle’s hard drive for technical support, driving Cruz’s vehicle to test the GPS himself, and asking Cruz directly about his use of the GPS. On March 24, 2018, after determining that no problem existed with the GPS device, Torres sent an email to First Sergeant Ronald Stevens stating a concern that Cruz had been disabling his GPS.

Separately, Cruz, who had become disenchanted with what he viewed as his sergeant’s overly intrusive supervi­sion, requested a meeting with Stevens to request a reassignment. On March 26, 2018, pursuant to Cruz’s request, Stevens, Detective Sergeant William McFarland, and Corporal Victor Taylor met with Cruz. While all three were aware of Cruz’s sergeant’s concerns regarding the GPS device in advance of the meeting with Cruz, the sole purpose of the meeting was to discuss Cruz’s reassignment request.

During the meeting, Cruz stat­ed that the reason he wanted to be reassigned was “that he was being micromanaged and being treated like a child” by his sergeant, complained that “he and his sergeant were going back and forth in reference to his GPS always being turned off,” and stated that his sergeant “was accusing him of intentionally turning his GPS off in his in-car computer and Cruz was disputing that he was doing that.”

Stevens denied Cruz’s request for a reassignment. Subsequently Stevens learned that contrary to Cruz’s state­ments during the meeting, Cruz in fact knew how to turn his GPS device off. The State Police charged Cruz with six violations of State Police policy, including four counts of false report, one count of neglect of duty, and one count of failure to log into the GPS device while on duty.

Cruz sued, seeking a determination that he was unlawfully interrogated at the March 26 meeting in violation of Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill Of Rights (LEOBR). The Mary­land Court of Special Appeals recently rejected Cruz’s lawsuit.

The Court reasoned that “LEOBR protections attach when an investiga­tion or interrogation by a law enforce­ment agency of a law enforcement officer for a reason that may lead to disciplinary action, demotion, or dis­missal. We have consistently concluded that the procedural safeguards of the LEOBR are implicated only in cases involving a threshold investigation or interrogation resulting in a recommen­dation of punitive action and attach only when an officer is investigated and/or interrogated as a result of a disci­plinary-type complaint lodged against the officer. Thus, an investigation must precede the application of the officer’s LEOBR rights.

“We decline to adopt the State Po­lice’s position that LEOBR protections are not triggered in the absence of a for­mal complaint. The statutory language does not include any explicit or implicit reference to the filing of a formal com­plaint or the commencement of a formal investigation as the triggering event for LEOBR protections. Moreover, such an interpretation would gut many of the protections of the LEOBR by allowing a law enforcement agency to sidestep them entirely by choosing to delay the filing of a formal complaint.

“However, we also cannot find any support in the LEOBR or the case law interpreting it for Cruz’s contention that LEOBR protections are triggered by the circumstances present here. The March 26 meeting was not part of any investigation into Cruz’s conduct, none of the participants in the meeting were involved in any investigation into Cruz’s conduct, the questions about the GPS device during the meeting related directly to Cruz’s request for a reassignment, and the participants did not intend those questions to advance any investigation into Cruz’s conduct.

“Cruz asks us in effect to extend the protections of the LEOBR beyond interrogations for a reason that may lead to disciplinary action to questions asked for other reasons if the questioner has cause to believe that the responses might potentially have relevance to concerns that may ripen into an in­vestigation. We decline to do so. The LEOBR’s protections are broad, but they are not that broad.”

Cruz v. Maryland State Police, 2021 WL 424204 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2021).

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