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LAPD officer loses lawsuit after being on medical leave for 2 years because of “stress”

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Brittny Mejia and Libor Jany
Los Angeles Times
(TNS)

LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles police officer turned gun rights influencer alleged in a lawsuit last year that she was retaliated against after refusing the former chief‘s orders to delete her social media accounts, which showed her firing guns at shooting competitions and on training ranges.

On Thursday, after a two-and-a-half day trial, a jury responded to the question of whether Officer Toni McBride had been treated unfairly with a one-word response: “No.”

McBride claimed that former LAPD Chief Michel Moore blocked her promotions after she refused to remove certain social media videos. She alleged that Moore, who retired at the end of February, summoned her to a meeting in his office during which he demanded she delete her social media accounts or “he would destroy my career.”

Gregory Smith, McBride‘s attorney, said he was “disappointed” with the verdict and argued that McBride’s free speech rights were violated. He said his client won’t appeal the decision but plans to file a separate gender discrimination lawsuit in state court over allegations that male officers were treated with more leniency for similar conduct.

McBride’s father, Jamie McBride, is one of nine directors of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the powerful union that represents the city’s rank-and-file officers.

During the trial, jurors heard testimony from Jamie and other several high-ranking LAPD officials and were shown blown-up images of McBride in suggestive clothing, firing high-powered weapons.

The photos and video splashed on a large screen for jurors came from McBride’s Instagram, where she has amassed around 120,000 followers.

One post showed McBride, a hand on her head, wearing a tank top that read “FEMINIS9MM.” She held a gun in her right hand that she described in her caption as a “sexy glock.” In another post, the officer posed in her dark blue LAPD uniform, a hand on her hip, with the caption: “This will always be the greatest job in the world.”

During the trial, another one of McBride’s attorneys, Beth Corriea, argued the case was “a perfect example of a disagreement over the content of free speech.”

Aneta Freeman, an assistant L.A. city attorney, denied Moore ever told McBride to delete her account. Instead, she cast McBride as a disgruntled employee “seeking to use her position and her badge to make money and to become famous and to become an influencer.”

“Yes, she has a right to post on her social media,” Freeman said. “But with that right comes a responsibility, and she has not met that responsibility.”

Freeman noted that McBride had fatally shot someone while on duty, a case that drew litigation in part because she continued firing after the person was wounded and on the ground. A federal appeals court ruled last month that McBride was protected in federal claims by the legal doctrine of qualified immunity, regardless of whether she used excessive force.

Freeman questioned whether McBride had suffered “emotional distress” over the social media dispute, a claim the officer argued entitled her to $100,000 in damages.

“She shot and killed a man,” Freeman said. “But the emotional distress that she is suffering and that she is asking you to award money for is because she is told to take down her Instagram.”

Freeman referred to McBride as a “gun influencer” and a “social media influencer” and talked at length about the money McBride has earned for sponsored posts on Instagram, along with free items she has received, including a ballistic vest, facials, ammo and hair extensions. She also brought up McBride’s wedding party, which was photographed posing with weapons.

“I believe it’s my right to talk about whatever I want to on Instagram, especially topics that involve the 2nd Amendment,” McBride testified.

McBride has been on medical leave since November 2022 due to “severe physical symptoms caused by and exacerbated by the stress” of the lawsuit, according to one court filing. She went back to work for a short time, only to take another leave. She has since temporarily relocated to Northern California to seek treatment for ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease.

Looming over the trial was McBride’s fatal shooting in April 2020 of a man named Daniel Hernandez as he walked toward her and her police partner while holding a box cutter. After Hernandez ignored repeated commands to drop the weapon, McBride opened fire in three volleys of two shots — the last of which struck Hernandez as he rolled on the ground.

The LAPD Police Commission concluded that McBride’s last two shots were out of policy, overruling both Moore and an internal review board.

The case drew significant criticism at the time, with critics citing McBride’s past gun-toting social media posts as proof of a propensity toward violence. McBride argued in her lawsuit that most of those images predated the Hernandez shooting.

Hernandez’s family later filed a wrongful-death suit that is now being pursued in state court after the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the family’s federal claims last month.

California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta’s office, which took over the investigation of the shooting, later cleared McBride of wrongdoing based in part on the “expert opinion” of a controversial police use-of-force consultant.

After the Hernandez shooting, a department committee recommended that she be placed on short-term restricted duty, effectively taking her out of the field.

The trial focused in large part on a half-hour long meeting that McBride had with Moore on Sept. 30, 2022. McBride testified that that’s when Moore raised the issue of her social media.

“He told me that as long as I was on social media that my career here at LAPD is over,” McBride testified. “He said, ‘It is one or the other, it is your career here at the LAPD or it’s your social media, but you will not have both.’ ”

McBride said she did not delete her account and didn’t stop posting. She testified that before the meeting she’d been in remission from ulcerative colitis for about a year, but afterward “started to get very sick again.”

Moore, who flew in from Tennessee, where he moved after his retirement, denied ever giving such an ultimatum.

“I did caution her that the nature of her posts were reflecting poorly on the department,” Moore said. “I wanted her to be mindful of that, that that has impacts on the department, that that has impacts on her, in regards to her standing.”

Moore later testified that McBride’s social media “has impacted her credibility.”

He acknowledged overruling a recommendation to take McBride off of desk duty. He said he based his decision on the fact that there was a pending investigation tied to the Hernandez shooting and on McBride’s use of the city’s intellectual property on social media.

Freeman, the assistant city attorney, told jurors in her closing remarks that McBride was “reveling” in the attention she received while appearing in her LAPD uniform on Instagram.

“She’s getting money, she’s got contracts with companies, she’s getting free gifts, she met Keanu Reeves,” Freeman said. “That would not have happened if the plaintiff was not an LAPD officer. She would just be another young lady with a gun.”

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