A former LAPD bloodhound handler became emotional Monday as he told a jury weighing his retaliation claims that work conditions became so intolerable that he was forced to resign in 2017, several years before he had planned to retire, because his health was at stake.
"I was slowly dying and I was killing myself," 54-year-old Elliot Zibli told the Los Angeles Superior Court panel hearing trial of the consolidated retaliation lawsuit that he and a former colleague filed against the city.
Both Zibli and Officer David Dooros, who remains on the force, allege they suffered a backlash for reporting the alleged sexual harassment of Officer Karolin Clarke, who also worked in their unit, by their boss, Sgt. Joe Danny Garcia.
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Zibli first began working with police dogs in 1998 and became a bloodhound handler in 2015 in the Los Angeles Police Department's gang and narcotics division, according to the suit, which says Garcia was put in charge of the unit the same year. Soon thereafter, Garcia began to harass Clarke by making inappropriate comments, massaging her shoulders and pressing his body up against hers, the suit alleges.
In January 2016, Zibli told another lieutenant that Garcia was harassing Clarke, but instead of taking corrective action, the K-9 unit supervisors "undertook a pattern of retaliation" against Zibli and his fellow officers, the suit alleges.
Zibli alleges he was denied additional training, not given adequate weapons and backup officer support during searches, and given assignments far from his home.
"The department's retaliatory actions toward (Zibli) increasingly placed his safety, as well as the safety of the other bloodhound handlers, at risk," the suit alleges.
Zibli testified that a supervisor told him he would be put under surveillance and the promised action came true, telling jurors that he detected himself being followed three times. During one such incident, Zibli said, he quickly moved across three freeway lanes and got off at an exit of the 5 Freeway, only to see a black LAPD Dodge Durango cut across the same lanes and follow him.
Zibli said he eventually foiled the surveillance near his home by getting behind the LAPD vehicle, whose driver found himself in an unfamiliar area and took an evasive turn that showed an unfamiliarity with the area.
"That's the behavior you show when you're burned," Zibli said, adding that he was well familiar with police surveillance techniques because of his LAPD training.
Zibli testified his July 2017 resignation was necessary, but nonetheless a difficult choice.
"That was my life," Zibli said. "My career was not over yet, I still had some time left."
Zibli said he thought that if he stayed, he might be able to bring about changes in the unit, but that by leaving he could take the pressure off others in the unit.
Zibli and Dooros, 52, embraced during a recess in Zibli's testimony.
Though Dooros is still with the LAPD, he says that conditions became so bad for him that he entered a program in July 2016 in which he also will retire earlier than he otherwise would have.
The 47-year-old Clarke also sued the city, but reached a settlement.
She stated in a sworn declaration that her safety was unnecessarily endangered while on the hunt with her bloodhound for Vinh Dao, who was convicted in April of the stabbing of two men at a Chinatown social club in January 2017.
She explained that she was holding the leash on her dog with both hands and that the two officers providing cover for her were about 20 feet behind her, far more than they should have been, as the bloodhound led her into an alcove.
"If the homicide suspect whom we were searching for had been in that alcove, I could easily have been stabbed or killed as I went around that blind comer," Clarke said.