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Cop Fired After Questionable Psych Evaluation, Can’t Appeal Ridiculous Findings

Former Atlanta Police Officer Larry LoBianco is unable to appeal Dr. Ifetayo Ojelade's findings due to a city ordinance.

Atlanta, GA – An Atlanta police officer with an exemplary record was fired after an outside psychologist hired by the police department said he was unfit to be a cop.

Now-former Atlanta Police Officer Larry LoBianco had a history of impressive annual reviews, a high number of arrests, and a slew of complimentary remarks from supervisors before his career was derailed by an evaluation that has since been debunked by multiple other doctors, WXIA reported.

Officer LoBianco was also stripped of his Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) credentials, which were later reinstated after two other psychologists refuted the conclusions of the initial evaluation.

But Officer LoBianco wasn’t the only officer whose career with the Atlanta Police Department was cut short after completing an evaluation of his fitness for duty with Dr. Ifetayo Ojelade, according to WXIA.

Two other officers were also ruled unfit by Ojelade, even though she was unable to officially diagnose them or Officer LoBianco.

Ojelade concluded that all three officers suffered from “maladaptive personality functioning,” and that they were “unable to function effectively in a law enforcement capacity,” according to WXIA.

The psychologist’s findings were in stark contrast with evaluations and positive feedback Officer LoBianco received during his short career.

One year after he graduated from the police academy, the rookie officer rescued a kidnapping victim by shooting one of the captors in the leg, WXIA reported.

He then used his radio cord as a tourniquet and saved the kidnapper’s life.

An APD sergeant recommended that Officer LoBianco and his partner be awarded for their actions, and praised them for their “quick response, bravery, and professionalism,” WXIA reported.

Another APD sergeant noted that Officer LoBianco exhibited an “outstanding work ethic” and said that he was an especially skilled at investigations.

“He puts in more effort in solving complex cases than those with similar experience,” the sergeant noted.

Officer LoBianco continued to receive positive feedback from supervisors over the months that followed, and was eventually promoted to the department’s elite anti-gang unit, WXIA reported.

While serving in that unit, however, he sometimes clashed with other members of the team, and was transferred several times.

“[Officer LoBianco is] a handful, but… a loyal and hard worker,” a supervisor noted in one of his evaluations.

His commanders even received a letter of praise from a civilian who witnessed him subduing a violent suspect during rush-hour traffic.

“People were honking continuously, a crowd of people were gathering to watch, and the suspect would not relent,” the citizen wrote. “In my view, all of these factors created a tense situation that could have escalated, but the officer maintained control of the situation.”

The citizen’s letter impressed Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields, who made it a point to notify her command staff that the positive feedback “says a lot about the officer,” WXIA reported.

But everything changed dramatically a month later when Officer LoBianco’s supervisors accused him of lying in a report about a burglary investigation.

The officer had written that the victim of the burglary had provided him with a description of one of the suspects, but an APD detective said that the same victim denied having ever done so, WXIA reported.

Due to the conflicting information, Officer LoBianco’s supervisors referred the matter to the department’s Office of Professional Standards, and requested an internal investigation.

They made the request while the officer was away on Thanksgiving vacation.

The investigators were never able to locate the victim to obtain a statement regarding the alleged lie, so the allegations against Officer LoBianco were not upheld.

But the internal investigators did recommend that he be given a written reprimand for failing to start his bodycam before he searched the burglary victim’s residence, WXIA reported.

Although the Office of Professional Standards was unable to sustain the allegations that he had been untruthful, commanders still used those unsubstantiated accusations as a basis for referring him for a psychological evaluation with Ojelade.

Five days after the internal investigation concluded, APD Lieutenant Robert Petersen sent a memo to the city’s Psychological Services unit alleging that Officer LoBianco had sexually harassed a male sergeant and had a “hit list” of people who he perceived had “crossed” him, WXIA reported.

Lt. Petersen did not identify the sources of those allegations.

“I was told by others who have worked with Officer LoBianco that if he likes someone, they’re on his ‘good list,’ but if he feels like someone had crossed and/or betrayed him, and/or he doesn’t like someone, they are on his ‘bad list,’” Lt. Petersen wrote in the memo. “It is alleged that he has a list of people on some sort of ‘hit’ or ‘bad’ list, but I have not seen any evidence to support such a claim.”

The alleged “sexual harassment” complaint stemmed, in part, from a quote from a rap song about genitalia that Officer LoBianco sent to a coworker in a text.

He said that he and other officers had been joking about the song earlier in the day, WXIA reported.

Officer LoBianco had also given his sergeant a gift – a meter to check window tint – which was also alleged to be “sexual harassment.”

But in his memo, Lt. Petersen admitted that the sergeant didn’t believe “there [was] any sexual intent behind it” and said he didn’t feel “harassed” by Officer LoBianco, WXIA reported.

“I don’t think that there was any sexual intent behind it either, but more of his way of trying to connect,” Lt. Petersen wrote in the memo.

“While I cannot deny that Officer LoBianco is very committed to the job and does go above and beyond the call of duty, he does get too involved and allows his emotions to get the best of him often, and it seems like this job is truly all he has,” the lieutenant added.

Shortly thereafter, Officer LoBianco was stripped of his badge and gun.

According to department records, he was never told about the allegations against him, WXIA reported.

Over the course of the next four months, the officer was placed in several different civilian positions within the APD.

During that timeframe, supervisors submitted negative feedback about his work performance, although it was unclear if they submitted those statements of their own accord or at the request of other city officials, WXIA reported.

One such example of negative feedback involved Officer LoBianco using binoculars to watch drug deals that were taking place outside the building he was working in.

In March, Officer LoBianco was ordered to complete a Fitness For Duty Evaluation (FFDE) with Ojelade.

“Given Mr. LoBianco’s guarded response style and overt efforts at impression management, the evaluator was unable to obtain an accurate diagnosis at this time,” Ojelade’s report read. “When considering the examinee’s family history, pattern of interpersonal difficulties, low frustration tolerance, difficulty understanding social cues, and inability to appropriately receive and incorporate feedback, there is an overall suggestion of maladaptive personality and behavior functioning.”

“Officer LoBianco’s clinical presentation, personality profile, and scores on self-report measures indicate that his personality and behavioral functioning render him unable to function effectively in a law enforcement capacity,” she concluded.

On April 30, he was fired by the APD for failing to pass the FFDE administered by Ojelade, WXIA reported.

But a week later, Officer LoBianco was reinstated without any explanation.

City ordinances required Atlanta to offer him civilian positions, such as a job as a custodian, WXIA reported.

“The original dismissal paperwork provided you is null and void and will not be processed,” the city’s Human Resources Department told him on May 8.

The city subsequently refused to turn over a copy of the FFDE to Officer LoBianco or his attorney, WXIA reported.

“EAP will not release a copy of the report to Officer LoBianco because of concerns that the report may be harmful to [his] mental health,” the city attorney said, according to the news outlet. “It is not EAP’s practice to share the report with anyone, including the officer.”

He was only able to obtain the report after his psychologist requested it as a medical record directly from Ojelade.

Officer LoBianco has since completed two more evaluations with other psychologists, both of whom determined that there was no reason he could not serve as a law enforcement officer.

But the city refused to accept the more recent evaluations and noted that employees “shall not be entitled to a second opinion” for fitness for duty under city code, WXIA reported.

The code was amended by the Atlanta City Council in 2017.

Prior to that time, officers who were deemed to be unfit had the option to appeal the findings, and a panel of psychologists would ultimately make the final recommendation regarding their fitness, according to WXIA.

The city also holds the sole power of selecting which outside psychologist officers must complete their examinations with.

Officer LoBianco’s psychologist, Dr. David Raque, blasted Ojelade for her conclusions and the methods she used to complete the FFDE, WXIA reported.

“Her report and findings were primarily based by the information the APD provided her because none of the tests she administered to Officer LoBianco offer a psychological explanation as to why he is not fit for duty,” Raque wrote in his own FFDE.

He noted that Ojelade’s report included information from her office staff, who alleged that the officer was eyeing other patients as possible criminals while he was sitting in the waiting room, WXIA reported.

“These interpretive comments do not make Officer LoBianco unfit for duty,” Raque wrote. “As a professional, using statements from office staff do not stand as scientific, factually based conclusions to decided fitness for duty.”

Raque diagnosed Officer LoBianco with dyslexia, and said he is suffering from anxiety and depression caused by the city and the APD.

“When I read Dr. Ojelade’s report closely, I see none of the tests she administered support Officer LoBianco’s being fired,” Raque reiterated. “Based on my results, I recommend Officer LoBianco be immediately reinstated as an active police officer.”

Officer LoBianco took matters a step further, and sought out a third opinion for good measure.

“The initial fitness for duty done by APD’s psychologist is one of the worst I have ever seen,” Dr. John Azar-Dickens said in an email to the officer’s attorney, according to WXIA. “Her interpretation of testing was bizarre… it’s as if she doesn’t even understand the test itself.”

Azar-Dickens is both a psychologist and a sworn law enforcement officer, WXIA reported.

His FFDE also determined that Officer LoBianco is “fit for duty.”

“No specific concerns are identified related to his functioning in the role of an officer at this time,” Azar-Dickens concluded.

Due to the city ordinance that stripped Officer LoBianco of his right to appeal Ojelade’s FFDE, it is highly unlikely that he will ever be allowed to return to the APD as an officer, WXIA reported.

The former officer is now working for Atlanta’s zoning code enforcement office, which pays far less than his former position.

But because the Georgia POST accepted the last two FFDEs LoBianco voluntarily obtained, he is still eligible to apply for other law enforcement positions within the state of Georgia, WXIA reported.

One of the other former APD officers who was fired after completing an FFDE with Ojelade has since joined another police department.

Ojelade, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and Chief Shields refused to comment on issues involving LoBianco, WXIA reported.

APD Public Affairs Director Carlos Campos said that the news outlet’s coverage of LoBianco’s firing was a “grossly inaccurate mischaracterization of APD standards and procedures.”

“This attack on a medical professional’s objectivity is shameful and we stand behind the process and the professionals who perform evaluations,” Campos said.

Ojelade has since deleted her Facebook and Twitter accounts, WXIA reported.

Holly Matkin - October Thu, 2019


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