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Torrance police captain sues city, alleging retaliation for complaint against former chief

Torrance police captain sues city, alleging retaliation for complaint against former chief
A Torrance police captain filed a lawsuit against the city alleging he was retaliated against after he lodged a complaint against former Police Chief Mark Matsuda, seen at right in 2015 with Torrance Mayor Patrick Furey. (Casey Rodgers / Invision for Toyota / AP)

A police captain alleged in a civil lawsuit filed against the city of Torrance on Tuesday that he faced retaliation after he lodged a discrimination and harassment complaint against the city’s former police chief.

Capt. Martin Vukotic, who joined the Torrance police force in 1995, wrote in court papers filed in Los Angeles Superior Court that he was retaliated against and denied a promotion after he filed a complaint alleging former Police Chief Mark Matsuda made inflammatory comments about women, members of the LGBTQ community and Muslims.

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Matsuda was suspended amid the controversy in February 2017 and announced his retirement four months later.

The Torrance city attorney could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

Vukotic asserts in the lawsuit that the Torrance Police Department’s top brass repeatedly discouraged him from filing the complaint against Matsuda.

Vukotic alleges that Deputy Chief Jon Megeff, then a captain, refused to participate in the complaint because it could cause the chief to distrust him in the future. Megeff was promoted to deputy chief in January. Vukotic wrote that he also vied for that position, but alleges he was passed up for the promotion as retaliation for his complaint against Matsuda.

Vukotic alleges Matsuda created a hostile work environment.

Then-interim Chief Michael Browne allegedly told Vukotic that the city manager and city council thought he “was the devil for reporting misconduct against Chief Matsuda.” Browne added that they wanted to “lynch” Vukotic, the lawsuit states.

Vukotic alleges in court filings that Matsuda once told a woman who was applying for a job at the department that she was good looking and then asked her to turn around “in order to get a better look at her.”

When an employee who is a lesbian voiced her concerns about how openly gay employees were being treated, Matsuda said she “looked like a dude,” the lawsuit alleges.

This is not the first time Matsuda has been ensnared in controversy.

Lt. Hector Bermudez, a 22-year member of the Torrance Police Department, accused Matsuda in 2017 of ordering him to halt a probe into possible criminal conduct by other members of the department.

Vukotic is seeking an unspecified amount of money for damages including loss of income, benefits and emotional distress.

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