The city of Ontario, California spent almost $134,000 in legal fees in an attempt to fire a civilian police records specialist accused of stealing a $2.99 energy bar from a convenience store in 2018, according to reports.
The manager of the AM/PM market was adamant that a surveillance video showed 30-year-old Gricelda Perez slipping the RXBar into her pocket, and a police detective who watched the video backed up that assertion. But the first officer who investigated the case and a video expert who examined the film frame-by-frame said the images were inconclusive.
Yet even after an independent arbitrator found that there was no cause to fire Perez and ordered the city to reinstate her with back pay, the City Council, after listening to testimony in a three-day hearing in 2020, voted in a closed session in 2020 to uphold Perez’s dismissal.
In December, however, a San Bernardino County Superior Court judge found that the theft had not been proved and ordered the City Council to reinstate Perez, who denied stealing the energy bar.
Perez returned to her job on January 31, said Romualdo Sanchez, a spokesman for Teamsters Local 1932, which represented Perez during the dispute.
“I’m grateful that this day came after so long,” Perez said in a statement issued through the union on February 3.
City records obtained through the California Public Records Act showed that the city and the union each paid $11,025 to the arbitrator, Edna E.J. Francis. And the city paid multiple invoices totaling about $122,841.09 to the law firm Liebert Cassidy Whitmore.
“Local 1932 affirms that Perez’s firing should’ve never occurred,” Randy Korgan, the union’s secretary-treasurer, said in a written statement.
“What’s worse, for years, the city then committed vast amounts of public resources in order to keep a hardworking mother and proud public employee away from her job. It’s tough to watch a more than well-resourced entity like the city of Ontario try and crush a family like this.”