A California appeals court has affirmed a ruling against two Los Angeles police officers who challenged their firing for professional misconduct charges after the officers were found playing the mobile game "Pokémon Go" on duty.

The opinion filed in the California Second District Court of Appeals supports a ruling in Los Angeles Superior Court dismissing a petition for a writ of administrative mandate brought by former LAPD officers Louis Lozano and Eric Mitchell.

What You Need To Know

  • A California appeals court has ruled against two Los Angeles police officers who challenged their firing for playing "Pokémon Go" on duty

  • An LAPD disciplinary board found both officers guilty on five of six counts of misconduct for a 2017 incident where the officers ignored a call for backup and instead went to other locations to play the game

  • A sergeant later found dashcam video had inadvertently captured audio of the officers dismissing the call for backup and talking instead about chasing video game characters

  • The officers challenged the disciplinary board ruling, arguing that their rights were violated and that evidence was inadmissible; both trial and appeals courts ruled against the officers

According to court filings, Lozano and Mitchell were working a patrol beat as partners in South Los Angeles. During a “chaotic” day in April 2017, commanding officers in their unit called out for backup to a robbery at a mall in their district, but Lozano and Mitchell didn’t respond.

When asked by a superior sergeant what had happened, the officers said they didn’t hear any requests for backup over music and noise from a park area they said they were covering.

The next day, the sergeant checked their car’s dashcam footage. He found it inadvertently captured an audio conversation in which the officers ignored the backup request, saying “ah, screw it,” before deciding instead to chase down video game characters.

In the filing (which goes into great detail describing the nature of “Pokémon Go,” a location-based, creature-collecting mobile game that swept the country when it launched in summer 2016), the officers are described as alerting one another that a “Snorlax“ had popped up, talked about the game for about 20 minutes while driving to catch various digital monsters.

When confronted by a detective, the officers denied playing the game, later doubling down on their denials during disciplinary hearings.

“Lozano said they were not engaged in a game; rather, it was a ’social media event.’ Mitchell said he did not consider the application a game because it was not ‘advertised as a game,’” according to the court filing. “Petitioners admitted leaving their foot beat area in search of Snorlax, but they insisted they did so ’both’ as part of an ‘extra patrol’ and to ’chase this mythical creature.’”

The officers were each found guilty on five of six counts of misconduct, and additionally found to be “disingenuous and deceitful” by LAPD’s disciplinary appeal Board of Rights. The officers were soon terminated by the department.

In January 2019, the officers filed to challenge the board’s ruling. They would later argue that the evidence for their firings was inadmissible, as the officers were unaware they were being recorded, that their procedural rights were violated during the investigation and that their termination was “too harsh” a penalty.

Both the trial court, and eventually the appeals court, denied their challenges.

A representative for the officers has said they are looking at their options, including potential further challenges.

"The officers are disappointed by the ruling," said attorney Gregory Yacoubian. "The legal challenge really pertains to two issues. One, is the department going to be held accountable to adhere to its own policies and rules regarding using inadvertent (dashcam) recordings, which is what we’re looking at. The other issue is, is the department going to be held accountable to government code and related issues when it's ruing its own investigations?"