July 18, 2024
Riverside Police Department motorcycle officer Shawn Casteel said in a lawsuit that the department retaliated against him for speaking out.

A jury on Thursday, Sept. 7, awarded $2.8 million to a former Riverside Police Department motorcycle officer who sued after he said supervisors retaliated against him because he spoke out against what he alleged were ticket quotas, his attorney said.

The lawsuit was filed in 2019. Shawn Casteel retired from the department in 2022, said his attorney, Matthew McNicholas.

Casteel said supervisors prevented him from being promoted, caused him to lose overtime opportunities and pay and wrote negative evaluations after he protested. Casteel also said his health suffered as a result.

Section 41600 of the state Vehicle Code says law enforcement agencies may not require officers to make a specific number of arrests or write a specific number of traffic or parking tickets. Also, agencies may not compare the number of arrests or citations by one officer against the totals of another in evaluations.

“It’s a complete vindication for Shawn,” McNicholas said. “He stood up for motorists and he’s the one who suffered the harm. It’s a victory for motorists of Riverside, and hopefully, they will no longer be subjected to ticket quotas.”

The city, in its written response to the lawsuit, said Casteel failed to go through internal complaint and grievance procedures.

“I respect the jury’s decision, but I’m disappointed,” Police Chief Larry Gonzalez said Thursday. “I really stand by what I testified to in court: This department does not engage in quotas or retaliation and everything we do is lawful and appropriate.”

The trial lasted a little over two weeks at the Historic Courthouse downtown.

Jurors heard testimony from Riverside police officers who supported Casteel. Among them was motor Officer Cameron Ferrand, who in a sworn statement filed with the court recalled a meeting one day in 2013 with officers who were beginning their shifts.

“Lt. Eric Charrette was the traffic bureau commander. During a roll call briefing session, he told everyone in attendance that the traffic bureau wrote 18,000 tickets the previous year and that he expected us to reach the 20,000 mark this year.

“I heard Shawn Casteel speak up during that roll call and state that those comments sounded like a quota. Shortly after, stats sheets were passed out which showed the ticket writing and report writing statistics for each individual officer. I believe he did this to shame officers into writing more tickets,” Farrand said.

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Farrand also described another roll call where he said Capt. Bruce Blomdahl “told the motor squad that he expects us to write more than 10 tickets per shift.”

In another sworn statement, motor Officer Giovanni D. Ili Jr. said he saw numerous instances of retaliation against Casteel, including being denied additional training and being given merely “satisfactory” evaluations. Also, Casteel was required to account for every minute of his shift as part of a performance improvement plan.

This came despite, in Ili’s opinion, Casteel being the “poster child” of the traffic division. He said Casteel was assigned to events at elementary schools and churches, parades and discussing traffic safety with the public. Casteel also had teaching positions in the department.

Because of those assignments, Casteel wrote fewer tickets than other officers “And this is how command staff judged us,” Illi said.

“The failure to meet standards would have been the basis to kick him out of the motor unit,” a coveted assignment, McNicholas said. “That is what they were trying to do.”