$11.56M Verdict Obtained in Retaliation Lawsuit Against City of L.A. and LAPD on Behalf of K9 Trainer – Los Angeles Times, LA Daily News, MyNewsLA, KNX News and More Report on Lawsuit

Partner Matthew McNicholas and Senior Lawyer Douglas Winter’s $11.56 million jury verdict for a former Los Angeles Police Department Bomb Detection K9 Trainer was featured in Los Angeles Daily News, MyNewsLA, KNX News, Daily Journal and additional media outlets. Plaintiff Mark Sauvao suffered retaliation and discrimination for coming forward about alleged violations of law within the LAPD Bomb Detection K9 Unit. He also maintained that he was stripped of his duties and removed from his position following his reports, which were met with a campaign of false criminal accusations and retaliatory actions by LAPD supervisors.

Read more about the lawsuit below:

Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Daily News


KNX News


Daily Journal


LOS ANGELES (March 27, 2024) – Plaintiff trial law firm McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP obtained a $11.56 million verdict on behalf of Mark Sauvao, a former Bomb K9 Trainer in the Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) elite Bomb Detection K9 Unit (stationed at LAX), who was retaliated and discriminated against for reporting violations of law. Despite his exemplary record, Sauvao was stripped of his duties and removed from his position following his reports, which were met with a campaign of false criminal accusations and retaliatory actions by LAPD supervisors.

“Officer Sauvao epitomizes dedication and resilience, standing firm against false accusations and egregious retaliation from his superiors,” stated lead counsel Matthew McNicholas of McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP. “This verdict exposes LAPD’s failure to uphold their own oath of integrity, rewarding misconduct by Captains and Command while driving away invaluable officers like Sauvao, who bravely defended his rights and faced unwarranted consequences.”

Case Background

Mark Sauvao began his career with the Los Angeles Police Department in 1993 as a Police Officer. In 2005, he was selected for a coveted position as a K9 handler for the LAPD Bomb Detection K9 Unit, an elite unit within the Emergency Services Division. In 2014, Sauvao was promoted to Bomb K9 trainer, a job with additional pay, benefits, and prestige. From 2005 to April 2017, Sauvao was a dedicated and commended member of the Bomb Detection K9 Unit with consistently positive evaluations. He became known throughout the country as the Dog Whisperer for his training ability.

In May 2016, Lt. Garvin, Officer in Charge of the Bomb Detection K9 Unit, told Sauvao that other Bomb K9 supervisors were saying that Sauvao was engaging in blackmail and extortion by refusing to train other K9 handlers unless they surrendered their overtime hours to him. Sauvao demanded this stop and that the supervisors at issue be investigated for accusing him of a crime.  No investigation was started.  Lt. Garvin continued his statements in the ensuing months, as did other supervisors.  This lieutenant also accussed Sauvao of being in a Mafia, which a separate supervisor testified was “meant to tell everyone in the unit that Mark was a criminal engaged in a criminal enterprise.”

Thereafter, in May 2016, Sauvao reported to Capt. Meek, Commanding Officer of the Emergency Services Division, that he believed Garvin and Stark were making and repeating untrue, unsubstantiated criminal allegations about him. Additionally, Sauvao reported that he witnessed another supervisor, Sgt. Goens, make derogatory comments about Latino officers, an Asian K9 handler, and a pregnant K9 handler. He also reported that Goens made derogatory remarks about Sauvao’s Samoan ethnicity, calling him a “cannibal,” a “barefoot coconut tree-climber,” and a “Tongan,” among other comments. Meek ignored Sauvao’s reports and failed to investigate any of the allegations.

In Oct. 2016, Sauvao was blindsided when the Criminal Investigation Division of IA showed up to search his locker, his desk, and his private bags.  At this time, Sauvao had no idea he was the object of an investigation as, even during the search, his supervisor told him, “oh, this must be a mistake.”  Sauvao requested that he be permitted to contact the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL) and have a representative present during the search. That was refused.

Immediately following the search, Sauvao reported what he believed to be a violation of law to the LAPPL. The League representative confirmed that plaintiff’s POBRA rights had been violated.

The campaign against Sauvao included:

  • POBRA violations;
  • False claims that Sauvao interfered with a K9 handler’s annual TSA certification evaluation to cause the handler to fail;
  • Interference and harassment during Sauvao’s own TSA certification evaluation – which if he failed would put him out of the unit;
  • When he complained about the interfernce, the supervisors that started the false claims Sauvao was extorting OT issued a disciplinary Notice to Correct Deficiencies that contained false statements about Sauvao; and
  • removing him from the unit because he complained too much.

In Jan. 2017, Garvin, Stark and Goens ordered Sauvao to undergo involuntary, mandatory psychiatric evaluation and treatment at Behavioral Sciences Services. telling him that “you need to be rehabilitated.”

Shortly after, the false NTC, multiple K9 handlers supervision and said the factual basis for the NTC was wrong.  Supervision did not change course.

In April 2017, Sauvao was involuntarily stripped of his duties as a Bomb K9 Trainer and transferred out of the Bomb Detection K9 Unit. The Bomb K9 Unit also removed his K9 partner, Pistol. Sauvao was initially told he would be given a “great career opportunity” as the head of the new MTA Metro Rail K9 Program—a program that is still years away from being operational. He was ultimately transferred to the Metro Bomb Facility Office, where he was given no duties and forced to sit at a desk outside of Meek’s office all day.

Even after Sauvao was transferred out of the Bomb K9 Unit, supervisors continued to violate POBRA by publicly discussing Sauvao’s open personnel matter in squad meetings. Sauvao suffered and continues to suffer damage to his reputation, loss of income and important benefits, and anxiety and mental suffering.

Sauvao initially filed his lawsuit in May 2018, alleging Discrimination in Violation of FEHA; Retaliation in Violation of FEHA; and Retaliation in Violation of Labor Code Section 1102.5.


McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP

McNicholas & McNicholas is a Los Angeles-based plaintiff-trial law firm representing clients in the areas of catastrophic personal injury, employment law, class actions, sexual abuse, and other consumer-oriented matters such as civil rights, aviation disasters, and product liability.


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