Despite repeated claims by Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck that he played no role in the LAPD’s decision to purchase a horse from his daughter, Beck signed a document approving the deal, according to records obtained by The Times.
In March, the commanding officer who oversees the LAPD’s mounted platoon sent a formal memo to Beck making the case for purchasing George, a 10-year-old quarter horse. In the memo, he said the animal was well qualified to work as a police horse and said the sale price of $6,000 was a bargain.
The money to buy the horse, the officer explained, would come from a private donor who had visited the platoon and then written a check to the Police Foundation, which raises funds used by the department to purchase equipment and services not covered in the official budget.
And, the officer wrote, “The seller of this horse is a department employee assigned to the Mounted Platoon."
The employee was Brandi Pearson, Beck’s daughter and an eight-year veteran of the department.
In two places at the bottom of the memo next to the word “approved,” Beck signed his name alongside other high-ranking officials. Within weeks, foundation officials had cut a check to Pearson, according to internal documents and interviews.
When news of the horse deal surfaced earlier this week, the chief defended the purchase by saying through a spokesman he had deliberately recused himself from all aspects of the decision to acquire his daughter’s horse. Beck reiterated that stance during a news conference Tuesday. The internal deliberations over the horse between members of the mounted platoon and senior command staff had been “steered completely around me,” the chief insisted.
On Wednesday, Beck's spokesman referred inquiries on the matter to Assistant Chief Michel Moore, who oversees the mounted platoon.
Moore said Beck had no involvement in the evaluation of the horse’s qualifications or value. He said the chief told him that he “views his signature as a formality. He did not see his role as, in any way, tipping the scale” regarding the decision to buy the horse.
Members of the Police Commission, which oversees the department and serves as Beck’s boss, want Beck to account for the apparent discrepancies.
“The documents that have come to light make it important that we hear an explanation from the chief and the people around the chief on how they could say something that seems to be contradicted by the documents," said Steve Soboroff, the commission president. "I look forward to that explanation."
Soboroff stressed that he does not believe there was anything wrong with buying the horse, since the price appears to have been fair and members of the mounted platoon have said it is performing well in the field. He expressed frustration, however, that Beck and other top officials failed to avoid the public backlash by simply disclosing the horse belonged to his daughter at the time of the deal.
And, although the commission must sign off on all donations to the department, other documents obtained by The Times through the public records request make clear more than three months passed after the sale of the horse before department officials asked the commission for its approval. Moore said he and other officials were looking into why the delay occurred.
When the deal was eventually brought to the commission in July, the department did not inform commissioners the horse had been purchased from an officer or a relative of the chief.
The turmoil comes at a delicate time for Beck as he seeks a second five-year term as chief. While Beck has generally won praise for his performance over his first term, he has come under fire over the last several months for his handling of a string of controversies.
In February, he opted not to punish a group of officers involved in a flawed shooting, which drew a public challenge from Soboroff. A few weeks later, members of the oversight board criticized the chief for not firing Shaun Hillmann, an officer who was caught making racist comments and later denied doing so to investigators. The chief’s decision to spare Hillmann, whose father was an LAPD officer and uncle was a deputy chief in the department, has become a rallying cry for many officers who believe Beck is unfair in how he metes out discipline.
Those controversies were followed by revelations that officers in South L.A. had been tampering with recording equipment in patrol cars to avoid being monitored. Commissioners demanded to know why Beck had left them in the dark about the matter.
The questions surrounding the horse purchase, along with other recent cases, have reignited doubts among commissioners over whether the chief is committed to working with his civilian bosses and keeping them apprised of potential controversies.
Robert Saltzman, a commissioner who has been particularly critical of Beck, said he was “surprised and troubled” by the memo Beck signed. Saltzman said he would withhold judgment until the commission’s inspector general completes an ongoing investigation into the purchase of the horse. In light of the memo, Saltzman said he had “strongly urged the inspector general to report back to us, if possible, before we vote on the chief's reappointment.”
The commission is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to reappoint Beck.