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SF supes OK $100K for lesbian ex-cop

by Seth Hemmelgarn

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved settling a lawsuit by a lesbian former police officer for $100,000.

Patricia Burley filed her complaint against the city and former police Chief Greg Suhr in 2016, claiming that Suhr had forced her to retire after she alleged publicly that another officer had embezzled money from the LGBT police officers Pride Alliance.

Burley was an officer with the San Francisco Police Department for about 22 years. Around the time she'd filed a pre-lawsuit claim against the city, she told the Bay Area Reporter, "Having to do the right thing isn't easy," and she felt "betrayed."

"My career ended before I would have chosen it to, all for doing what I was sworn to do - report crimes and have a high moral compass," said Burley, who was 54 at the time. "It makes me sad."

Former Officer Michael Evans, a gay man, was accused of stealing more than $16,000 from the alliance when he was the group's treasurer. He eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor grand theft, and a judge sentenced him in 2016 to serve 160 hours of community service and three years probation.

In a September 2014 memo she wrote to a sergeant, who apparently was in the SFPD's Internal Affairs Division, Burley, who was then the alliance's vice president, said an audit of the group's finances had revealed "discrepancies" from the time Evans was the group's treasurer. Her memo says the review covered 2012 and 2013, but it's not clear from the document if Evans was the treasurer for that entire period.

According to the memo, there were "indications that funds were used for hotels, clubs, and car rentals in Las Vegas as well as online tuition payments that were in no way connected with Pride Alliance business or activities."

Additionally, the audit showed that money had been taken out through "unauthorized ATM withdrawals" and spent on "Starbucks charges [and] miscellaneous webpage fees" that weren't connected to official alliance business.

One member suggested referring the discrepancies to Internal Affairs, Burley wrote, but gay former Lieutenant Chuck Limbert, who was then board president, responded that "this will not be followed up by any division of SFPD. ... I ask that this remain confidential."

At one point, Limbert told a member that Evans had said he could "account for all expenditures and that no financial irregularities had occurred," but soon after that, he said, "Evans had admitted taking money from the account," according to Burley.

At one meeting, she wrote, "Lieutenant Limbert told the board that Officer Evans admitted to taking the money, that he was sorry and very remorseful, knew it was wrong and wanted to pay it back."

He added that Evans "was experiencing health and addiction problems and that the board should try to help him."

However, Limbert allegedly asked that Evans be allowed to make repayments as "gifts," which at least one other member was "very uncomfortable with," because she didn't want to lie, Burley wrote in her memo. (An attorney for Burley provided the B.A.R. with a copy of the document at the paper's request.)

Then, Burley said, "Lieutenant Limbert and I engaged in a heated discussion regarding how the board should handle Officer Evans' alleged misconduct. I felt that Officer Evans' conduct constituted fraud and embezzlement and should be investigated by the department and that criminal charges might be considered. Lieutenant Limbert responded that he was concerned that Officer Evans would lose his job and that his life would be ruined if the financial discrepancies were reported, or worse would kill himself, then how would Pride get the money back. I felt like I was being intimidated by Lieutenant Limbert to not pursue an investigation."

'Duty' to report
In the claim against the city, Burley said she was uncomfortable "with handling the matter internally because she had a duty as a police officer to report suspected crimes."

In September 2014, she said, she met with Internal Affairs staff and provided them with "emails and documentary evidence" supporting the allegations against Evans.

Three months later, in December, she discovered that Evans "had been allowed to resign with 'satisfactory' service," meaning he could become a cop someplace else.

"She was told that the Internal Affairs investigation of the officer was closed," Burley's claim says. She "was outraged" that the department "allowed an officer who had committed a crime in breach of public trust to resign and seek employment elsewhere."

In February 2015, Burley appeared on KTVU "voicing her frustration," the document says. Her face was blacked out and her voice was distorted "because she feared retaliation from Greg Suhr" and other department members.

A few days after she went to the media, she got a letter from Internal Affairs informing her that she was being investigated for "misconduct."

"This investigation was retaliation for Ms. Burley exercising her First Amendment rights and launched at the direction of Chief Suhr," her claim says.

Internal Affairs interviewed her in April 2015. "Fearing further retaliation" and being terminated from her job, Burley denied being the person who'd appeared on KTVU.

In February 2016, according to Burley, Paul Chignell, of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, called her and told her that Suhr "wanted to terminate her because he knew she was the one" who'd gone to the TV station and that she'd been "dishonest in the Internal Affairs investigation."

Chignell told her that if she retired she'd get to keep her pension and benefits.

"Rather than be terminated and face losing her pension benefits," her claim says, Burley "was forced to retire."

In April, Deputy Chief Hector Sainez, who chairs the police department's Brady committee, wrote in a letter to Burley that "it appears that the department is required to notify the district attorney's office that your personnel file may contain potential Brady information" related to "dishonesty."

Brady refers to Brady v. Maryland, the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case that requires prosecutors in criminal cases to "disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense," Sainez noted.

Burley's claim says that Sainez's letter "is further retaliation" against her for a complaint she made to the city's Ethics Commission "and for engaging in protected whistleblowing and exercising her First Amendment rights."

Limbert, who's retired, has previously denied the allegations against him and hasn't been charged by the DA's office.

Suhr was forced to resign in May 2016 after several scandals, including fatal officer-involved shootings.

Burley filed her lawsuit based on her claims that the city had violated the state labor code and her First Amendment rights.

In court documents, the city responded to Burley's allegations by saying, "Any actions taken with respect to the plaintiff were not based on any retaliatory motive or other illegal consideration, but rather were based on one or more legitimate, sufficient, non-retaliatory reasons," among other arguments.

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