A veteran Los Angeles police detective has been placed on leave pending an investigation into allegations that he made racially charged comments during a training lecture given to other officers, authorities said Thursday.
Frank Lyga, 57, was placed on paid leave after new information came to the attention of LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, said Cmdr. Andrew Smith, a department spokesman. He declined to provide additional details.
An internal affairs investigation was launched after another officer filed a complaint about Lyga's alleged comments. As part of the inquiry, investigators are examining a recording of the comments attributed to Lyga. Smith has previously declined to confirm whether the voice heard on the recording is Lyga, but a department source who requested anonymity said last week that investigators believe Lyga is speaking.
Lyga's attorney, Ira Salzman, said that Lyga's history as an officer should be taken into account.
"Frank Lyga has been an outstanding officer," Salzman said. He is a well-respected expert in the field. Seventeen years ago he was correctly cleared of any wrongdoing as he reacted appropriately and correctly. I would simply ask that his outstanding background be considered before conclusions are reached."
Jasmyne Cannick, a political consultant and writer who publicly released the recording, told The Times last week that the recording was made by an African American officer who attended Lyga's class in November. On the recording, a man is heard giving a rambling, expletive-laden talk centering mostly on Lyga's fatal 1997 shooting of Kevin Gaines, an off-duty police officer.
According to police accounts, Lyga was working in an undercover narcotics operation when he became involved in a traffic dispute with Gaines. Neither man was aware the other was a police officer.
Gaines reportedly pulled a gun on Lyga, threatening him. Lyga, who said he feared for his life, fired twice at Gaines, killing him. The shooting sparked racial tensions within the department because Gaines was black and Lyga is white.
The man in the recording recalled a confrontation with an attorney who represented Gaines' family in their lawsuit. The attorney, the man recalled, asked if he regretted shooting Gaines.
"I said, 'No, I regret he was alone in the truck at the time,'" the man in the recording recalled. "I could have killed a whole truckload of them and I would have been happy doing so."
The recording also included slurs directed at a female LAPD captain, a lieutenant, and others, including Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., the late attorney who also represented Gaines' family.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League declined to elaborate on Lyga's being placed on leave, directing The Times to a previous statement.
"When one listens to the tape in context, it is clear that Detective Lyga was not celebrating the killing of anybody," the league said. "Although we do not support the denigration of any person, or group of persons, if there is a news interest here, it is far larger than improper remarks by a detective who 17 years later is still being asked about an experience he lived through that would deeply affect any of us."