A judge just denied the appeals of two Los Angeles Police Department officers fired from their patrol jobs in 2017 after reportedly playing Pokémon Go while on duty.
On Friday, Judge Mary H. Strobel of the California Court of Appeals upheld the claim that former LAPD officers Louis Lozano and Eric Mitchell were legitimately fired for playing Pokémon Go while on duty and ignoring dispatch requests to backup a robbery call.
The incident in question took place on Saturday, April 15, 2017. Lozano and Mitchell had been assigned to a patrol beat in LAPD’s Southwest Division. While an LAPD Captain was en route to investigate a homicide that had taken place in the area earlier that day, he received a call for an active robbery in progress at a department store at a nearby mall.
When the Captain came up to the mall, he viewed a police car parked in a side alley “just a few feet away,” though he could not determine if the car was part of his unit or from another division. He sent out a call for backup from all nearby units, and continued on to the scene of the alleged robbery.
Later in the night, a Sergeant reviewing communications from earlier realized Lozano and Mitchell’s patrol unit was the same one that failed to respond to the robbery near their location. When asked, the two officers reportedly told the Sergeant they had been in a loud area of nearby Leimert Park, and had not definitively heard the Captain call for backup regarding the robbery.
The Sergeant counseled the officers to listen to the radio and left it at that. However, the Sergeant found himself still thinking about the situation the next day, and decided to check Lozano and Mitchell’s squad car video camera to confirm the story they told him about being at the park.
The video camera system confirmed Lozano and Mitchell had been the ones in the previously-unidentified patrol car that didn’t respond to the robbery backup call. Worse, the recording also showed the pair had discussed the Captain’s backup request, with one of the officers laughing and saying:
“I don’t want to be his help.”
Immediately, the Sergeant opened a formal investigation, and discovered that Lozano and Mitchell had spent their time ignoring the backup call apparently in favor of playing Pokémon Go.
Per court docs in the recently-denied appeal, Mitchell and Lozano could be heard on camera discussing how a Snorlax character had appeared nearby through the game’s virtual landscape. They were discussing the best way to drive their car to go catch the make-believe character when the Captain’s call came over the radio.
Here it is, straight from the court docs:
“Officers Lozano and Mitchell told Detective McClanahan they did not respond to the robbery in progress call because Captain Davenport did not request backup and because they were instructed to stay in their assigned area of the Crenshaw Corridor. Commander Woodyard said he did not give petitioners that instruction and insisted they should have responded to the call. Based on the interviews and the DICVS recording, Detective McClanahan concluded petitioners willfully failed to respond to the robbery call and attempted to conceal the fact by ‘placing themselves Code 6 somewhere else.’”
And there’s more.
The car’s video recording system seemed to confirm that the pair spent a great deal of time discussing how to get to that virtual Snorlax instead of helping out their fellow officer on the robbery call at the department store:
“After carefully listening to the DICVS recording a number of times, Detective McClanahan also became concerned that petitioners were playing ‘the Pokémon Go video game’ while on duty the day of the robbery. The recording showed that at approximately 6:09 p.m. (just five minutes after Officer Lozano said ‘screw it’ to checking in with communications about the robbery call), Officer Mitchell alerted Lozano that ‘Snorlax just popped up’ at ’46th and Leimert.’ After noting that ‘Leimert doesn’t go all the way to 46th,’ Lozano responded, ‘oh, you what I can do? I’ll down 11th and swing up on Crenshaw. I know that way I can get to it.’ Mitchell suggested a different route, then told Lozano, ‘We got four minutes.’”
When the offices were confronted, they denied they had been playing Pokémon Go, saying they were just having a conversation about the game. Nevertheless, both officers were taken off duty, and later fired.
Friday’s appeal decision was a major blow to their hopes for the reinstatement of their jobs. Lozano and Mitchell’s lawyers tried the appeal by claiming that the in-vehicle recording devices used to investigate the Pokémon Go allegations were not meant to monitor officers’ “private conversations.” Uh-huh.
Judge Strobel didn’t buy that claim, though, and ruled the lawyers’ premise was “flawed.” With it, she denied the former officers’ appeals for their jobs back. You can read the full court filing on the case HERE.
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