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The LAPD's watchdog group is being investigated over a claim that it broke city ethics rules

The LAPD's watchdog group is being investigated over a claim that it broke city ethics rules
Alexander Bustamante, left, conducts investigations and reviews on behalf of the civilian board tasked with overseeing the 9,850-officer Los Angeles Police Department. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles ethics officials are investigating an allegation that the Police Department's watchdog broke city ethics rules by showing a reporter a confidential document outlining the movements of a high-profile inmate who was in special protection.

A lawyer representing Inspector General Alex Bustamante said he met with ethics investigators in recent weeks and had tried to resolve the case, which he said is ongoing.

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Attorney David Willingham said his client showed a television producer a jail log for the inmate but did nothing wrong, saying the document did not contain information that could have jeopardized the security of the inmate or his law enforcement handlers and should not be considered confidential.

It is unclear what led the commission to investigate, but Willingham said he believed the inquiry was an attempt by the LAPD to undermine Bustamante because of his oversight work.

"When you have an active oversight officer who is seeking to make the department more transparent, it's not uncommon to find a huge backlash from the department," Willingham said. "What you see, in this case, is an extreme overreaction to the activities of the inspector general."

When asked about the allegations, Josh Rubenstein, the Police Department's chief spokesman, said in a statement that it would be "inappropriate to make any comments regarding a possible ethics inquiry" involving the inspector general. Rubenstein said the department was "steadfastly committed to civilian oversight."

"The public's trust in the LAPD and its oversight institutions are critical components in maintaining the legitimacy and accountability that the public expects and deserves," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Ethics Commission declined to comment, saying confidentiality rules prohibited her from confirming or denying the existence of an investigation.

The inquiry marks an unusual move by the board, which enforces city rules and can hand down fines related to campaign finance, lobbying, conflicts of interest and governmental ethics. Most of the violations handled by the Ethics Commission involve campaign finance rules.

The latest inquiry mirrors another case that ethics investigators took on last year, also involving a Los Angeles police official. Investigators launched a case against a now-retired LAPD sergeant who leaked to reporters an audio recording of his controversial stop of an actress. Commissioners are expected to give a final decision Tuesday on whether Jim Parker broke ethics rules by releasing confidential information and creating a personal advantage for himself.

But the inspector general and his attorney argue that he had the authority to share the jail log and that the information on the document — the names of officers and operations and court case numbers — could be found publicly elsewhere.

In a statement, Bustamante said he showed the log to the reporter "to prevent the airing of a false and misleading story about the Los Angeles Police Department and other law enforcement agencies." He said that the city attorney's office had told him he was allowed to show the document, which was "disclosable under state law."

"I'm confident there was no confidential information that was released or shared by my actions," Bustamante said. "The incorrect story was never reported. Neither the document nor the underlying information ever became publicly available."

As inspector general, Bustamante reports to the Police Commission, conducting investigations and reviews on behalf of the civilian board tasked with overseeing the 9,850-officer LAPD. Bustamante, a former federal prosecutor, was appointed to the position in 2011.

The events leading to the investigation unfolded in January 2015, when Los Angeles police escorted a jailed, convicted killer to a private event in downtown L.A. There, the inmate — a former shot-caller for the Mexican Mafia named Rene "Boxer" Enriquez — spoke to a group of business executives.

News of the event quickly drew headlines, along with criticism from city officials questioning why public resources were used for a private event involving a convicted killer. Steve Soboroff, then the president of the Police Commission, directed Bustamante to investigate the Police Department's involvement.

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Later, Willingham said, a producer from ABC7 reached out to Bustamante trying to confirm a rumor that the LAPD had also taken Enriquez to Disneyland.

Bustamante told her that the information wasn't true, Willingham said, and agreed to show her the jail log, outlining where authorities had taken Enriquez.

Disneyland wasn't on the list, Willingham said. The story never aired.

At some point, however, someone lodged a complaint with the Police Commission, saying Bustamante acted inappropriately by showing the reporter the document, Willingham said.

Matt Johnson, the board's president, confirmed Monday that the board reviewed the matter, but noted that closed-door discussions are confidential under state law. He declined to comment further. "As far as the commission is concerned, this matter closed," he said.

Willingham also declined to discuss what action, if any, the panel took.

Less than a month later, an LAPD deputy chief who oversaw detectives at the time sent a letter to the Sheriff's Department, saying information about its employees — including their names, contacts with Enriquez and case information — was shared with a reporter. The letter, which was obtained by The Times, noted that the reporter had indicated she wouldn't use the information in a story. It's unclear whether other agencies were sent the same letter.

"I am providing you this information so you may take whatever steps you deem necessary to ensure the security of your investigations and personnel associated with this matter," according to the letter signed by Kirk Albanese, who has since retired. "Be advised that the LAPD did not authorize the release of this information to the media."

Albanese declined to comment.

Complaints topolice and ethics commissions can be made anonymously, but Willingham said he believes the LAPD instigated the allegations against Bustamante. He pointed to statements made by Jasmyne Cannick, a political consultant who often writes critically about the department on her website, who said she was approached by a department source about the inmate and the inspector general.

In a letter written to Willingham, Cannick said her source told her that Bustamante had allowed a reporter to see the jail log concerning Enriquez's movements and that "the 10th floor" — long synonymous with the upper echelons of the LAPD — "was not pleased with the Los Angeles Police Commission's decision in the case."

"My source also told me that the 10th Floor was tired of dealing with the Inspector General and wanted him fired," Cannick wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Times.

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The source then gave Cannick a copy of the jail log, she wrote, "with the understanding that I would use it to implicate Inspector General Alex Bustamante as the source of the information when in fact the source of the information was someone in the department itself."

Cannick's letter said she would not discuss who the source was. She confirmed to The Times that she wrote the letter for the inspector general.

In October, Willingham said he and a colleague met with ethics investigators to discuss the case. They soon learned, however, that reporters had called the mayor's office, the LAPD and Bustamante directly, asking about details that were supposed to be private.

Denying the leak came from his team, Willingham wrote a letter to the Ethics Commission, accusing the board's investigators of sharing confidential information.

Then he filed an ethics complaint.

Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.

Follow me on Twitter: @katemather

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