Every seasoned gamer knows that the loveable Snorlax is one of the most difficult monsters to hunt and capture in the mobile game Pokémon GO. Two Los Angeles Police Department officers were certainly aware of that when they spotted one on their phones—and actively chose to ignore a robbery-in-progress call to track it down.
Louis Lozano and Eric Mitchell, since fired from the department, caught the Snorlax, as well as an ultra-rare Togetic, a Pokémon ironically said to bring good fortune.
The pair appealed the decision to fire them, arguing that video evidence of the pair shirking the call and driving away to “chase this mythical creature” was inadmissible, as it was made up of “private conversations.” On Friday, an appellate court affirmed their termination, calling Lozano and Mitchell’s behavior “egregious misconduct.”
According to court records, Lozano and Mitchell were working a foot beat on the day of the April 2017 robbery, reported from a shopping mall in the Baldwin Hills neighborhood. A department captain, making his way to the “chaotic” scene at the Macy’s store in Crenshaw Mall, noticed another police vehicle idling in an alley nearby, and then peeling away.
Sergeant Jose Gomez, monitoring the situation from a watch commander’s office, radioed the car and asked the officers inside to respond to assist the captain. He received no response. Radioing them again, he later said, he received a short reply: “‘No,’ and that was it.”
His suspicions raised, Gomez met with the officers—Lozano and Mitchell—in a 7-Eleven parking lot later that evening. Both denied hearing a request for backup at the mall. Gomez lectured the pair, telling them they had to listen to their radios.
Mitchell replied that it had been too noisy in the area to hear their radios, blaming “a lot of music” for their lack of action. Gomez advised them, next time, to move to a quieter spot.
A day later, the still-uneasy sergeant dug into the pair’s in-car video footage. What he found contradicted their story—not only had they heard the call, but they actively discussed whether to assist the captain.
“I don’t want to be his help,” Lozano said in the recording, referring to the captain. After their supervisor made a second attempt to call them, Mitchell said the decision on whether to respond was up to Lozano. “Aw, screw it,” the officer replied.
Five minutes after they decided to “screw it,” Mitchell told Lozano that he had spotted a Snorlax on his phone that had “popped up” at an intersection a short distance away.
For the next 20 minutes, video footage showed the officers chatting about Pokémon as they drove around the area. On the way to the Snorlax, described in court documents as “the Sleeping Pokémon,” Mitchell excitedly updated Lozano, saying that “a Togetic just popped up.” They bagged the Snorlax, then hightailed it to where the Togetic, a fairy-like beast, was waiting.
“Don’t run away,” Mitchell chanted as he attempted to capture it. Lozano caught one first, with Mitchell continuing to express frustration: “Holy crap, man. This thing is fighting the crap out of me.”
He eventually did manage to ensnare the Togetic, though, exclaiming that the “guys are going to be so jealous.”
While being grilled by a detective about the recording later, both officers denied that they were playing Pokémon GO. They said they were merely “having a conversation” about the game, and that Mitchell had been receiving alerts from a players group where others were “bragging about their scores.” The detective, court records noted, determined Mitchell and Lozano “were not being truthful.”
Both were charged with six counts of on-duty misconduct. In their attempts to fight a department panel’s decision to fire them, Mitchell and Lozano acknowledged they left their beat area to chase down the Snorlax, but called it an “extra patrol.” They continued to claim that they hadn’t actively been hunting Pokémon, but rather taking pictures and relaying information on Pokémon in the area to friends. Mitchell complained that he had never considered Pokémon GO to be a game, as it wasn’t “advertised as a game.”
Authorities have previously worried over traffic problems and crime caused by the game’s users, as players began frequently wandering onto private property in their quests to catch the app’s elusive digital monsters. Police departments have also been known to utilize the app themselves, in one memorable, questionable instance using the app to lure people with outstanding warrants to their processing rooms.
Mitchell and Lozano, however, may be the first officers yet fired over “criminal or egregious misconduct” related to the game. Following the decision to fire them, the pair called the ruling “too harsh.” They characterized their behavior as nothing more than a “lack” of good judgment.