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Maywood PD filled with cops fired by other departments

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  • Michael Novick
    A TIMES INVESTIGATION Maywood hires police with past troubles By Matt Lait and Scott Glover, Times Staff Writers April 1, 2007 THE Maywood Police Department
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2007
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      A TIMES INVESTIGATION
      Maywood hires police with past troubles
      By Matt Lait and Scott Glover, Times Staff Writers
      April 1, 2007

      THE Maywood Police Department — a 37-man force
      that patrols a gritty square-mile city south of
      downtown Los Angeles — has become a haven for
      misfit cops who have been pushed out of other law
      enforcement agencies for crimes or serious misconduct.

      Among those on the job: A former Los Angeles
      County sheriff's deputy terminated for abusing
      jail inmates; a onetime Los Angeles Police
      Department officer fired for intimidating a
      witness; and an ex-Huntington Park officer
      charged with negligently shooting a handgun and driving drunk.

      Other officers were hired by Maywood after
      flunking out of training programs elsewhere, a Times investigation has found.

      In all, at least a third of the officers on the
      force have either left other police jobs under a
      cloud or have had brushes with the law while
      working for Maywood. Several officers in recent
      years have left Maywood after being convicted of crimes.

      Even the newly appointed police chief has a
      checkered past: He was convicted of beating his
      girlfriend and resigned from the El Monte Police
      Department before he could be fired. His
      conviction was later overturned on appeal because
      the defense was not allowed to exclude a juror
      who had previously worked with domestic violence
      victims. He was ultimately convicted of a lesser
      charge of making a verbal threat.

      Known among law enforcement circles as a
      department of "second chances," Maywood's police
      department is one of nearly 50 independent police
      agencies in Los Angeles County. The department,
      whose officers are mainly white and Latino,
      serves a densely populated city of roughly 30,000
      that is 96% Latino. There are no women or African
      Americans on the force, which also patrols the nearby town of Cudahy.

      "Are there things that are bad in our department?
      I would venture to say that there are," said
      Maywood City Councilman Samuel Peña. "But I think
      you would find bad things in other departments if
      you looked closely at them…. There are bad apples in every department."

      Although Maywood's police department has rarely
      been in the news, in part because it is dwarfed
      by the nearby LAPD and county sheriff's
      department, allegations of corruption and
      brutality have thrust it and city officials into
      the spotlight in recent months.

      The brewing scandal has included accusations that
      police and city leaders were on the take from the
      owner of a local tow company; that a longtime
      officer was extorting sex from relatives of a
      criminal fugitive; that a police officer tried to
      run over the president of the Maywood Police
      Commission in the parking lot of City Hall; that
      an officer impregnated a teenage police explorer;
      and that officers had covered up the truth
      surrounding a fatal police shooting that resulted
      in a $2.3-million legal settlement.

      The Los Angeles County district attorney, the
      California attorney general and the Federal
      Bureau of Investigation have active probes into the Maywood department.

      Amid the chaos, Bruce Leflar, still listed on the
      department's website as chief, abruptly stopped showing up for work last fall.

      And the officer whom he'd appointed to clean up
      the department, Al Hutchings, agreed to resign
      his post after being told a videotape had been
      made of him allegedly having an on-duty liaison
      with the female owner of a local doughnut store.

      Hutchings, who has been a vocal critic of the
      Maywood police and casts himself as a whistle
      blower, said the allegation that he was involved
      in an improper relationship was fabricated "to
      blackmail me into stopping the work that I was doing."

      As is the case with many of his fellow officers,
      it was not the first time Hutchings had been
      accused of misconduct. As an LAPD officer he was
      convicted of bilking the department for bogus overtime pay.

      In an interview, Hutchings said he disclosed the
      conviction on his application to the Maywood
      department. Though he contends that a supervisor
      had approved all of the overtime he worked, he
      said he entered the plea so as to quickly dispose
      of the case, which he alleges was filed in
      retaliation for his having reported misconduct by a high-ranking LAPD official.

      In addition to hiring officers shunned by other
      agencies, Maywood has been slow to adopt policing
      practices in place at bigger departments, which
      are aimed at ensuring professional conduct and
      increasing public trust. For example, Maywood
      officers accept free meals from local
      restaurants, a perk that even the past chief acknowledged partaking in.

      And supervisors at the department don't always
      see the need for documenting citizens'
      complaints, a practice mandated at other
      agencies. In a recent deposition, the lieutenant
      in charge of internal affairs said complaints
      were often "resolved casually" in the lobby of the police station.

      Officers are also permitted to carry a
      leather-encased, lead-filled hand weapon, known
      as a sap, which many agencies have outlawed
      because of the brutal injuries they can inflict.

      "Everything that could go wrong seems to have
      gone wrong at Maywood," said lawyer Merrick Bobb,
      a law enforcement expert who has consulted with
      the U.S. Department of Justice on policing
      practices. "This department needs to be put into receivership."

      Bobb, who also is special counsel to the Board of
      Supervisors on matters about the Los Angeles
      County Sheriff's Department, said he was
      particularly concerned that officers expelled
      from other agencies could find employment at
      Maywood without any public accountability.

      "The phenomenon of misfit cops going from agency
      to agency is a terribly serious one," Bobb said.
      "It makes for one of the strongest arguments for
      public access to discipline records of police misconduct."

      A state Supreme Court ruling last summer has had
      the effect of greatly restricting public access
      to police discipline records. The state's
      Commission on Peace Officer Standards and
      Training compiles information about terminated
      officers from departments throughout California
      but refuses to publicly disclose the data.

      But a Times review of court and police records
      suggests that, compared with other agencies,
      Maywood officials are far less discriminating in whom they employ.

      Maywood Officer Brent Talmo was hired in 1998
      after being terminated from the county sheriff's
      department in 1986 for displaying a pattern of
      "bizarre behavior and unprofessional conduct," records show:

      Talmo poured dirt into the gas tank of a county
      vehicle; placed a dead gopher in a prisoner's
      pocket as an apparent prank, then lied about it
      and tried to get another deputy to lie on his
      behalf; tipped over the bed of a sleeping
      prisoner, causing him to fall face first onto the
      floor and bloodying his nose; and telephoned a
      fellow jail guard and referred to him as a snitch and used a racial slur.

      When Talmo was fired, then-Sheriff Sherman Block
      publicly singled him out as "the primary culprit"
      in a campaign of harassment aimed at prisoners.

      Talmo, still an officer on the Maywood force, did
      not respond to requests for comment.

      Frank Garcia is another officer given a second chance by Maywood police.

      In March of 2003, Garcia was charged with drunk
      driving and the felony offense of discharging a
      firearm in a grossly negligent manner. As a
      result, he was required to resign from his job as
      an officer with the police department in nearby Huntington Park.

      He later entered into a plea bargain in which he
      agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of
      firing a gun from a public roadway. He was
      sentenced to 90 days in jail and three years' probation.

      According to court papers, disclosing the
      conviction on job applications made it difficult
      for Garcia to find work — until he applied with
      Maywood. He was hired there just one year after committing the offense.

      Garcia's lawyer called the crime a "boneheaded
      mistake" that his client deeply regrets.

      Other recent Maywood hires include: an officer
      who was rejected by 25 other police departments
      because he admitted on his applications that he
      pilfered money from a previous employer; an
      ex-LAPD officer who was hired even though he was
      under criminal investigation for — and later
      convicted of — beating a gang member as part of
      the notorious corruption scandal centered in the
      Rampart Division; and an officer who has a
      juvenile record for malicious mischief, vehicle
      tampering and carrying a concealed weapon.

      Richard Lyons, the acting police chief with his
      own criminal past, said there is nothing wrong
      with giving somebody a fresh start.

      "It's OK to give a person a second chance if you
      learn from your mistake," said Lyons, who
      recently was catapulted from the rank of officer to chief.

      Nonetheless, Lyons said he was not pleased with
      the background checks that were done on some of
      the current officers on the force. As a result,
      he said, he wants to bring in outside consultants
      to help vet future candidates.

      "A couple of people have slipped through the
      cracks that shouldn't have slipped through the cracks," he said.

      Maywood's starting pay of $52,600 is among the
      lowest for police officers in Southern
      California, city officials said. That might
      explain why better qualified candidates apply
      elsewhere. It also might be the reason the
      turnover rate is extremely high. Most of the
      officers there have been hired since 2000,
      records show. Although many officers have left
      for other agencies, some have been forced to leave after breaking the law.

      Officer Sergio Fernandez, for example, resigned
      after a federal grand jury indicted him for
      participating in a sophisticated real estate
      scheme that bilked $3.5 million from a federal home loan program.

      He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to serve a
      year in federal prison and pay about $250,000 in restitution.

      Two months ago, Officer Timothy O'Keefe was
      forced to leave the department after an off-duty
      shooting at an Orange County bar. He was
      convicted of negligently discharging his weapon.

      Maywood City Atty. Francisco Leal said the
      department needs to reorganize and embrace
      reforms to bring the agency in line with modern policing practices.

      "There's definitely a problem with the police
      department," he said. "There's no getting away from that."

      matt.lait@...

      scott.glover@...

      Times staff writer Hector Becerra contributed to this report.
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