Co-workers say MTA employee crossed the line

May 12, 2011 8:16:26 PM PDT
In San Francisco, parking is all out war, but one parking cop is taking it to a new level. There are accusations that a parking control supervisor has crossed the line and broke the law and now his coworkers are talking to the I-Team.

There are restraining orders, lawsuits and allegations of assaults, sexual harassment, ticket fixing and pepper spraying drivers. Those are some of the complaints from the public and people inside the Municipal Transportation Agency. The reports stack up, but nothing ever happens and now some are wondering how far things have to go for the city to take action.

Parking Control Supervisor Elias Georgopoulos does not want to talk to the ABC7 I-Team.

Dan Noyes: "Elias we are doing a story on Channel 7, want to make sure you have the right to comment."

But plenty of people are going on the record about him.

"He will explode and then it's going to be too late," Marcus Tjon said.

"I was afraid a couple times. Afraid that he would catch me by myself and try to physically harm me," Bertha Lathrop said.

"I'm scared for my life, I got to watch my back," Brian Tanabe said.

Their list of complaints is long. But MTA employees say management refuses to take action, even after several run-ins that have wound up in court.

Surveillance video shows Georgopolous waiting outside the police tow lot February 2008. A tow truck driver who was dating his ex-wife arrives. Out of the camera's view, the driver says Georgopolous attacked, hitting him with pepper spray, throwing him to the ground, breaking his wrist. Georgopolous claims it was self-defense.

The tow driver sued the city and Georgopolous; both cases are making their way through the court system.

Parking Control Officer Marcus Tjon says he has never used his pepper spray in his 15 years with the department.

"We're told by protocol to walk away from any situation that can become violent," Tjon said.

Just three months later, a limo driver called police, accusing Georgopolous of road rage. They made no arrest, but a short time later, the two men were captured on surveillance video at a Taco Bell. Georgopolous can be seen reaching for his city-issued pepper spray. The driver says Georgopolous sprayed him in the face and punched him in the head.

Again, Georgopolous claimed self defense, but in court documents, a witness says the limo driver was continuously "backing away" from Georgopolous. The case is still in court.

"We don't deserve these kinds of people in control, parking control," delivery driver Miguel Moran said.

It is a familiar story for Moran, a beer truck driver. He was unloading in the Marina District in 2009 when Georgopolous told him to move his truck. Moran says he asked Georgopolous to just write the ticket, but the parking supervisor flew into a rage.

"And I tell the guy, 'I don't have no problems with you, I don't want to lose my job,' and then I get closer and he throw his jacket on the floor and he start acting like he's gonna fight with me," Moran said.

"This is serious stuff, not Mickey Mouse stuff," Tjon said.

Tjon says he and his coworkers have been warning the MTA about Georgopoulus in personnel complaints for years.

"They fell on deaf ears, this has been treated like toilet paper," Tjon said.

Tjon has testified that he became a target after Georgopolous asked him to fix a ticket for a friend.

"I told him I will not do it because it's illegal," Tjon said. "He re-approached me 10 minutes later and threatened me, saying because I didn't void the citation for him I'm gonna be dealt with by him and he's gonna take me outside our office and beat me up."

Officer Brian Tanabe's job is to enforce the proper use of disabled placards. His problems with Georgopolous began when he ran a citizen complaint and realized Georgopolous and his wife, who is also a parking control officer, were using a disabled permit illegally.

"We find out who it is about and it's like, do we really want to go there because we know Elias will be coming after us," Tanabe said.

Tanabe says a supervisor told him to let it go.

"He says, 'Well, we'll let him take care of it this time,'" Tanabe said.

But shortly after, Georgopoulus filed a complaint with management, alleging Tanabe harassed Monica Georgopoulus by investigating the placard.

"He threatened me, he said, 'I'll get you, you'd better watch your back,'" Tanabe said.

Tanabe says eventually Georgopoulus assaulted him in front of the office. He got a restraining order against Georgopoulus in March and even with that in place, documents show senior managers still allowed Georgopoulus to supervise him.

"I never know when he can show up, you know, the city needs to do something before somebody really gets hurt," Tanabe said.

Another parking control officer has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Georgopolous. Bertha Lathrop says he followed her on her ticket route.

Dan Noyes: "It's a solo beat, you're on your own."

Bertha Lathrop: "Yes."

Dan Noyes: "And he keeps showing up."

Bertha Lathrop: "Right, when nobody's around, when nobody can see, that's when he pulls his moves."

As a supervisor, Georgopolous had access to all of bertha's information.

Bertha Lathrop: "He would call me at night, 11:45, 1 in the morning, 2 in the morning and he called me intoxicated saying that he had a dream of me and he was dreaming of me so he thought he could call me to tell me about it."

Dan Noyes: "And that's your boss."

Bertha Lathrop: "And that's my boss."

Lathrop says Georgopoulos inappropriately touched her at an office Christmas party several times.

"He would put his hand down and touch the small of my back and he would touch my buttock as well," Lathrop said.

The harassment was no secret around the office. At one point, a sympathetic supervisor sent an appeal to the city's whistleblower unit saying, "It is terrifying.... He actually threatened to write up the new officer if she would not be his friend, go out with him or give him a kiss. We are all scared, scared of what could happen.... Please help us."

Lathrop filed complaints with the Equal Opportunity Commission. As a result, MTA Deputy Director Joy Houlihan sent Lathrop a memo saying Georgopoulus will have to keep his distance, that a "stayaway order is being given, prohibiting any verbal or physical contact with you."

But Lathrop says the department did not honor that order and allowed Georgopoulus to continue supervising her anyway. Georgopoulus denies the allegations and the case is still pending.

"He could do whatever he wanted and nobody would say anything to him, he was protected," Lathrop said.

Finally, the I-Team found a complaint from superior court Judge Linda Colfax in 2000; she was deputy public defender at the time. She called Georgopolous a "rogue officer." Colfax wrote after she criticized his erratic driving in a city vehicle, he tailed her for over a mile, sometimes swerving and accelerating to yell obscenities into her window.

Dan Noyes: "Is any employee untouchable?"

Nat Ford: "No, not at all. Not in my organization, that's not the case, here we really hold people accountable."

The I-Team took all the accounts to the MTA Executive Director Nat Ford.

"What you've presented is disturbing and we will get to the bottom of it and make sure that our employees are treating each other with respect and treating each other with dignity," Ford said.

The city attorney, paid by tax dollars, is defending Georgopolous in all of the cases.


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