La Verne Firefighters Sue City Over Secret Recordings, Retaliation

Firefighters in La Verne are suing the city after they say a fire battalion chief retaliated against members of the La Verne Firefighters Association.

The lawsuit names La Verne Fire Department Chief Peter Jankowski and claims he not only lied about the department having "outmoded, inadequate, and failing equipment," but retaliated when firefighters complained. Furthermore, union members claim they were secretly recorded when they gave the chief a vote of no confidence and threw their support behind the city's mayor during the 2017 mayoral race.

"We found out we were being secretly videotaped, recorded and secret notes taken of us over a 10-month period," said LVFD Capt. Danny Montoya. "Through discovery we've found over 250 videos, 2,000 pictures and 232 pages of personal hand written notes regarding us at the station."

This claim against the city alleges the secret recordings were taken by Battalion Chief Michael Thomson and done with the full knowledge of Jankowski.

Jankowski declined to comment on the allegations when contacted by NBC4.

The LVFA says problems between members and Jankowski date back to 2013, when he was appointed as chief and "adopted an arbitrary, abusive, retaliatory, and vindictive management style," ignoring their pleas for updated equipment despite theirs putting them and the public at "physical risk by impairing their ability to fight fires and render emergency medical treatment safely and effectively."

When firefighters complained, the city ignored them and thus encouraged the chief's behaviour, the suit states.

Things escalated in late 2016 and early 2017 when the LVFA backed an opponent to La Verne Mayor Don Kendrick who was "committed to reforming the Fire Department," the lawsuit says.

The backing of Kendrick's opponent led to his demonstrating open hostility toward the LVFA during the course of his campaign, according to the lawsuit.

Jankowski responded to the LVFA's backing of Kendrick's opponent by further retaliating against firefighters and, when Kendrick eventually won re-election - by a mere seven votes - telling LVFA board member John Grapeting, "Looks like you guys are batting a thousand on supporting the wrong candidates," the suit says.

The LVFA says it is willing to settle the suit if the city fires Jankowski and Thompson, who City Manager Robert Russi says was placed on administrative leave when the city found out about the secret recordings.

An attorney for the firefighters, however, says the city knew about the recordings in June but only placed Thompson on leave in August.

If the suit isn't settled, firefighters are seeking more than $1 million in damages for "mental and emotional injuries, distress, anxiety, and humiliation."

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