By BILL HETHERMAN
City News Service
A veteran Los Angeles police sergeant is joining his LAPD officer wife in suing the city, alleging he was also discriminated against because of his Wiccan religion and experienced a backlash when he complained to management.
Sgt. A.J. DeBellis, like his wife, Officer Victoria DeBellis, alleges discrimination, harassment and retaliation and seeks unspecified damages.
An LAPD spokesman declined to comment on the latest complaint, which was filed Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court.
A.J. DeBellis, who joined the LAPD in 1990, alleges the retaliation began after he complained about having to attend a mandatory training session and holiday gathering in December 2012 at the main chapel of The Church at Rocky Peak, a Christian church in Chatsworth.
The chapel displayed "religious iconography" and religious music was played "during a significant portion of the event," according to his lawsuit. DeBellis, who was assigned to the Devonshire Division at the time, says he also was required to sit through a recital of a Christian prayer.
"As a practicing Wiccan, (DeBellis) was deeply offended by the department's decision to conduct the training session and holiday gathering at a religious facility and reasonably believed that the event violated the Establishment Clause and separation of church and state," the complaint states.
He says that after hes complained to a captain and a lieutenant, the two supervisors "verbally berated (DeBellis) and issued him three negative comment cards in retaliation for what he reasonably believe to be religious-based harassment and retaliation."
According to his lawsuit, DeBellis was also unexpectedly given a shift change and was stripped of the chance to fill in as watch commander when the regular officer was unavailable.
DeBellis says he sent an email to Chief Charlie Beck, who said he would refer the complaint to his chief of staff.
'To date, plaintiff has not been contacted by Chief Beck or by his chief of staff," according to the suit, which also alleges DeBellis was coerced into attending a departmental meeting about his complaints without having his lawyer present.
During the meeting, a supervisor gave him another comment card reminding him of "the core expectations the department has of you as a department supervisor," according to the lawsuit.
In April 2013, someone put a flier in his department mailbox noting an upcoming day of prayer for fallen Devonshire Division officers under the heading, "One Nation Under God," according to the plaintiff.
"The flier was yet another act of retaliation for plaintiff reporting his opposition to the department's religious-based misconduct," the suit alleges.
DeBellis claims he continues to be subjected to retaliation, including being denied necessary disability insurance when he returned from back surgery in December.
In her suit, filed March 26, Victoria DeBellis says she found a "Blues Brothers" movie poster placed near her desk that read, "We're on a Mission from God."
The officer, who joined the LAPD in 1996, alleges a colleague at the West Valley Division harassed her because of her gender and her Wiccan religion. She also claims that LAPD management did not take sufficient steps to correct the problems.
In retaliation for coming forward, other officers in her division began to ostracize her and "treated her like an outcast" for coming forward with her complaints, according to her lawsuit, which says the alleged internal backlash against the policewoman continues. Last month another officer advised a male colleague of the plaintiff, "You have to watch Victoria DeBellis," according to her complaint.