Reversal of Tucson police officer’s demotion still an issue

2014-05-24T00:00:00Z 2014-05-24T13:40:21Z Reversal of Tucson police officer’s demotion still an issueBy Darren DaRonco and Carmen Duarte Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Tucson’s Civil Service Commission unanimously approved asking a court judge to review his ruling that reversed the demotion of a Tucson police officer.

The commission held a special session Friday to consider Superior Court Judge Charles Harrington’s ruling in the case of Sgt. Diana Lopez.

Lopez was demoted from lieutenant to sergeant in November 2012 after she took sexually explicit videos, and a provocative photo of herself wearing her police uniform shirt, and sent them on her personal cellphone to a subordinate officer with whom she was in a relationship, a Tucson Police Department internal affairs investigation found.

That officer then showed and shared them with other officers, according to a departmental report.

Lopez violated several department regulations, professional standards and a code of ethics, the police documents said.

Lopez appealed the demotion to the city’s Civil Service Commission, which upheld the decision at a hearing in January 2013. Lopez then filed a lawsuit.

Harrington ruled that Lopez be restored to the rank of lieutenant because the Police Department does not have a policy warning staff members against making and sharing sexually explicit materials with someone they are in an exclusive relationship with.

The judge wrote it was “reasonable” that Lopez didn’t expect her boyfriend to share the images and, according to testimony, TPD has not previously disciplined others for similar conduct.

The City Council voted earlier in the week not to appeal the judge’s ruling.

City Attorney Mike Rankin said he can’t recall “a comparable example with regards to the Civil Service Commission’s” decision Friday.

Rankin said since the city argues before the commission, it retains a separate attorney under contract to handle its legal affairs.

Unlike an appeal, the commission is merely asking the judge to take another look at the case. Depending on the outcome, the commission could eventually decide to appeal the judge’s ruling.

If the judge does reverse himself, attorney Michael Piccarreta, who is representing Lopez, would appeal.

Piccarreta considers the commission’s vote illegal. He said the commission doesn’t have standing to interject itself into a court case. “They are supposed to decide and not become participants,” Piccarretta said. “At least they abandoned the pretext of being impartial.”

He said the commission subverted the will of the council and its actions could cost the city thousands of dollars to continue the case.

Councilman Steve Kozachik said he agreed with the judge’s ruling. “She was involved in a private relationship, and it was the guy who outed it (passed the photos),” said Kozachik.

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at ddaronco@azstarnet.com or 573-4243.

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