A Pasadena police officer has filed a claim for damages against the city for its refusal to defend him in a federal lawsuit brought against him by his sister, whom the officer had arrested twice in less than two weeks in relation to a family dispute involving the estate of their aging mother.
Attorneys representing Sgt. Michael Bugh filed the claim with the city on Nov. 21. Bugh is now being represented by the Pasadena-based firm Stone Busailah.
In the federal lawsuit, Bugh is accused of violating the civil rights of his sister Michelle Rodgers and her friend Sélah Chavét under color of law in the scope of his employment. Bugh and Rodgers are co-trustees in their mother’s estate. Rodgers and Chavét are lifelong friends who were visiting with Rodgers’ 85-year-old mother, Verta Bugh. Rodgers was arrested at the home on Feb. 27, accused of elder abuse. Chavét was not present at that time, but was with Rodgers when she visited the home on March 12 and was arrested along with Rodgers for trespassing in that incident.
“After we filed a lawsuit, the city attorney proposed mediation and we agreed,” said attorney Bill Paparian. A former mayor of Pasadena, Paparian and Pasadena civil rights attorney John Burton are representing Rodgers and Chavét in the federal lawsuit.
“We exchanged information with them and got body cam videos” of the arrest, Paparian explained. But, he said, “After mediation, they reversed course and declared a conflict of interest and Bugh had to retain counsel.”
Paparian said he did not know the nature of the conflict.
City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris, who along with assistant City Attorney Frank Rhemrev is named as a respondent in the claim, declined to comment on Monday afternoon.
In their lawsuit filed in June, Rodgers and Chavét accuse the police of violating their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by taking action against Rodgers and Chavét without reasonable suspicion or probable cause.
Soon after the filing of the lawsuit, which also names the Police Department, Chief Phillip Sanchez and officers involved in both incidents, the city sought to reach a resolution by mediation. But after those meetings, the City Attorney’s Office distanced itself from Bugh, the claim states.
According to the claim, Bugh was notified in a letter dated Sept. 26 that he would not be represented by Bagneris’ office. A copy of that letter was not made available with the claim, which is seeking more than $25,000 in damages. A claim is usually the first step in the filing of a lawsuit against a government agency.
A representative at Stone Busailah who answered the phone on Monday declined to talk about the case, saying, “We do not discuss ongoing litigation regarding our clients.”
The claim, signed by Sara L. Benavidis, a representative of the firm, states that Bugh has incurred and will continue to incur attorney fees and other expenses in funding his own defense.
According to the state Government Code, “The city is required to provide a defense to claimant and pay any claim or judgment against him. Claimant has been compelled to fund his own defense,” the claim states.
Rodgers was arrested on Feb. 27 after she cashed a check drawn from her mother’s account to pay for groceries for the home. Her brother said the signature looked like his mother’s, but claimed the check showed signs of forgery. Rodgers was confronted that day at the home by her brother and was arrested by other officers. All charges against Rodgers were later dropped.
The lawsuit claims that Bugh directed the arrest of his sister after he learned she was at a local bank cashing a $1,000 check from their mother’s credit card account. Rodgers claims after she cashed the check her brother improperly used his authority as a supervisor with the Police Department to order four officers to arrest her on felony abuse charges.
According to Rodgers, her brother had her car impounded and turned her dog over to the Pasadena Humane Society while she spent two days in county jail in Lynwood.
Rodgers was arrested again on March 12, this time for trespassing at her own residence, despite paperwork signed by her mother indicating she had the right to be on the property and in the home.
The arrest occurred after Rodgers and Chavét attempted to visit Rodgers’ mother. When they arrived at the home, a caregiver refused to let them inside. Bugh had changed the locks so Rodgers entered through an unlocked window and let in Chavét.
At that point, the caregiver sent a text message to Bugh and police arrived shortly thereafter. In that arrest, the two women allege they were “battered, defamed, falsely arrested, maliciously prosecuted and falsely imprisoned.”
After being taken to the police station in handcuffs, both women were cited and released.
On May 2, the Pasadena City Prosecutor’s Office declined to prosecute that case based on a lack of evidence. By then, charges against Rodgers in relation to the Feb. 27 arrest had already been dismissed.
Two requests for restraining orders filed by Bugh against Rodgers have been denied. One of those denials came on March 1, the day after Rodgers was released from custody on the elder abuse charge.
“The arrest had no ground or basis and was performed entirely under the direction of Michael Bugh via phone as he was off duty,” Chavét wrote in a complaint to the Pasadena Police Department regarding the second incident, alleging trespassing.
“The officers, upon initially entering the home, stated they had no idea why they were at the residence as they could see nothing was wrong,” Chavét wrote.
According to Paparian, footage of the arrest shows an officer turning off his body camera before calling Bugh. When the camera comes back on, the women are handcuffed and under arrest.
Throughout Bugh has denied any wrongdoing.
“She was abusing her privileges living there with Mom and she had to be stopped,” Bugh told the Pasadena Weekly in April.