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Officer: Rumors plague force

Police department politics play critical role in who’s favored and who’s ostracized, a former Newport officer testifies.

February 27, 2009|By Joseph Serna

In the quiet city of Newport Beach, where there isn’t enough criminal drama to go around, officers will create the drama among themselves, a former officer testified Friday during a civil trial against the city.

“It was like being back in high school. You’re either in the ‘in’ crowd or the ‘out’ crowd. The rumor mill is crazy,” testified Steven Fong, a former Newport Beach police officer now working with Huntington Beach. “I want to help people. I didn’t feel like that’s what I would be able to do in Newport … the department got in the way of that.”

Like everyone involved in the lawsuit, Fong said he was reluctant to testify against his former employer and colleagues because, working within the same county, he’s sure to bump into them.

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Newport Beach, its police department and its former Chief Bob McDonell are being sued by Sgt. Neil Harvey, a 27-year veteran who claims that he has been discriminated against and not promoted because of false rumors that he is gay.

Defense attorneys maintain that it’s Harvey’s lack of leadership ability and over-emphasis to minor details that’s holding him back from becoming a lieutenant.

Larry Lennemann, Harvey’s lawyer, sought to convince jurors that the small Newport Beach police department is a place of haves and have-nots, where loyalty trumps the truth over fear of retaliation and where getting ahead relies more on favoritism than performance.

Harvey has never been considered “one of the guys,” and is ridiculed by his superiors and subordinates alike for being too “nitpicky” in editing police reports, his lawyer said.

Fong testified that from the moment he joined the department, he was expected to align against Harvey.

“Based on my contacts, I walked away believing ‘that’s someone I don’t want to associate with,’ ” Fong testified. “The people who I observed didn’t care for Sgt. Harvey. It seemed plain and simple if I was considered one of his friends or associates, then all those bad feelings would come toward me.”

Not until Fong actually worked with Harvey, did he see the hostility was unfounded, he testified.

In fact, he considered Harvey his favorite superior, he told jurors.

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