Federal Judge Rejects Fired Newport Beach Police Officer’s Lawsuit

Officer Eric Peterson in happier times

A terminated Newport Beach Police Department (NBPD) sergeant this week lost his due process lawsuit challenging his five-year-old firing for, among other things, dishonesty, accepting gratuities and engaging in improper personal contacts with a confidential informant who was a convicted drug dealer and identity thief. 

Peterson’s 2106 complaint asserted that he’d been fired by a conspiracy involving high-ranking police officials, including chief Jay R. Johnson, city officials and a personnel board because he knew too much about NBPD corruption, but U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford decided on July 10 that his claims were “unpersuasive.”

In an 18-page ruling, Guilford added that Peterson, a onetime narcotics officer who’d been assigned to a U.S. Secret Service task force, failed to “meet the burden of identifying facts and evidence that show there is a genuine issue” requiring a public trial.

Inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, Peterson had sued the Seal Beach Police Department as well because they shared with Johnson information that incarcerated informant Douglas Scott Frey possessed a note in his cell that read “Eric? and “2k.”

A NBPD internal affairs investigation documented four years of secret associations between Frey and Peterson, who was quietly working to help the convicted felon’s wife create a post 9-11 charity and had posed for a photograph for the operation.

It also determined that Peterson violated confidential informant regulations by sharing Frey’s identity with Leslie Conliffe, a former intern for actor Steven Seagal and, at the time of the disclosure, a Los Angeles literary agent who represented screenwriters, authors and directors.

In 2014, the Newport Beach Civil Service Board rejected Peterson claims of innocence after the sergeant had erased all of his emails during the period he was in personal contact with Frey.

The board upheld Johnson’s view that Peterson, a onetime member of the Los Angeles Police Department, was ethically fit to serve as a police officer.

Peterson has the right to appeal Guilford’s decision to the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. 

Chief Johnson left his office in 2016 after a tumultuous six-year era and was replaced by Jon T. Lewis, who began his career at NBPD in 1991.

R. Scott Moxley’s award-winning investigative journalism has touched nerves for two decades. An angry congressman threatened to break Moxley’s knee caps. A dirty sheriff promised his critical reporting was irrelevant and then landed in prison. The U.S. House of Representatives debated his work. Federal prosecutors credited his stories for the arrest of a doctor who sold fake medicine to dying patients. Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.

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