The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) employed Shiekh Iqbal (real party in interest) as a Parole Agent assigned to Alameda County. Iqbal developed a working relationship with the Union City Police Department (UCPD or Department) and would contact the Department with work-related inquiries for criminal history information through the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS).
On October 29, 2007, Iqbal contacted a UCPD dispatcher and asked her to check the criminal history information regarding a third party who was a personal acquaintance of Iqbal. The dispatcher accessed CLETS and relayed the results to Iqbal.
In early 2008, CDCR's Office of Internal Affairs (OIA) became aware of allegations that Iqbal had accessed CLETS for personal purposes. OIA requested and obtained information from UCPD. OIA then assigned an employee to conduct a criminal investigation. Shortly after the OIA assigned the employee for the criminal investigation, the Department of Justice (DOJ) requested information from UCPD regarding the possible misuse of CLETS. UCPD provided the requested information. When OIA interviewed Iqbal for the criminal investigation, the investigator read him his Miranda rights. The investigator also informed Iqbal that the investigation could result in criminal liability. Iqbal chose to remain silent. The investigation report determined there were chargeable misdemeanor offenses, but the District Attorney declined to prosecute. The criminal investigation was closed and an administrative investigation was opened.
During the administrative interview, Iqbal was informed he did not have the right to refuse to answer questions and that a refusal to answer could result in discipline. Iqbal admitted signing the form acknowledging the CDCR policy on accessing criminal justice information and admitted that he had the dispatcher run the inquiry on a third party. He claimed he did not think it was wrong at the time.
CDCR determined discipline was warranted and served Iqbal with a Notice of Adverse Action to reduce his salary by five percent for one year pursuant to Government Code section 19574 for failure of good behavior and other grounds, including violation of Penal Code sections 502 and 13304 (causing unauthorized access of computer network and unauthorized receipt of information obtained from a record), Government Code section 19990 (engaging in activity inconsistent with job duties), and the regulatory Code of Conduct and Code of Ethics.
Iqbal appealed to the State Personnel Board (SPB), which revoked the discipline on statute of limitations grounds under the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act ("POBR"). Government Code section 3304 provides that employers cannot take punitive action if the investigation of the allegations is not completed within one year of the employer's discovery of the allegation. Section 3304 tolls the one year statute of limitations during a pending criminal investigation or criminal prosecution. SPB ruled that tolling of the limitations period during a "criminal investigation" of misconduct did not apply because CDCR conducted the criminal investigation itself, rather than have it done by an independent agency. Therefore, the SPB ruled that CDCR missed the one-year deadline to issue discipline by three days.
CDCR then filed a petition for writ of administrative mandamus. The trial court rejected the SPB's decision that the statute of limitations was not tolled and granted CDCR's writ petition. The court directed the SPB to vacate its decision that the limitations period had expired, reinstate the Notice of Adverse Action, and conduct further proceedings on the merits of Iqbal's administrative appeal. Iqbal then appealed.
The Court of Appeal first declined to defer to SPB's interpretation of section 3304 since courts have the ultimate responsibility for statutory construction. The Court examined the plain language of section 3304 and determined that it does not impose any restrictions on who conducts the criminal investigation in order to toll the statute of limitations.
The Court analyzed the 2000 decision in California Correctional Peace Officers Association v. California (2000) 82 Cal.App.4th 294 (CCPOA) in which the court held that the criminal investigations referred to in sections 3303 and 3304 must be those conducted primarily by outside agencies without significant active involvement or assistance by the employer. The Court noted that the CCPOA court had clarified in a footnote that it was not obstructing a police department's ability to conduct a criminal investigation of its own peace officer.
The Court then analyzed a 2005 SPB decision in Andrew Ruiz (2005) SPB Dec. No. 05-03. The Court determined Andrew Ruiz applied CCPOA incorrectly. In Andrew Ruiz, SPB held that a criminal investigation tolls the statute of limitations period only where the criminal investigation is conducted by an outside, independent investigative entity, because otherwise any agency employing peace officers could avoid the one-year limitations period simply by designating any investigation it conducts as a criminal investigation. The Court disagreed with the reasoning in Andrew Ruiz. The CCPOA court was concerned about employers avoiding POBR protections because POBR protective conditions on interrogations do not apply to investigations that are solely criminal. Tolling applies where the officer's alleged misconduct is also the subject of a criminal investigation. Here, CDCR asserted that it first conducted a "criminal" investigation and closed that investigation before opening an "administrative" investigation. However, CDCR did not claim it was exempt from POBR nor did Iqbal claim CDCR violated the POBR. The Court held that the limitations period was tolled for the entire duration of CDCR's criminal investigation and that the Notice of Adverse Action was therefore timely.
This case clarifies that both internal and external criminal investigation toll the POBR statute of limitations period for discipline.
Dep't of Corrections and Rehab. v. State Personnel Bd. (Igbal) (2016) ___Cal.App.4th ___.