Three city police officers, one a medal of valor winner, have been disciplined for their involvement in a shooting incident in April at the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base in San Diego County.
The three officers were charged with violations of department regulations stemming from the incident that involved "the unauthorized discharge of a weapon, acts detrimental to the department and unbecoming conduct," Hermosa Beach Police Chief Frank Beeson said in a written statement. The officers were ordered off the base after the incident.
"They fired a gun and they weren't authorized to do that," Beeson said in an interview Tuesday.
The officers were attending a SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) training session for police officers from cities throughout the state. The incident occurred after the officers had completed their training exercises for the day, Beeson said.
Beeson declined to discuss the disturbance in detail.
Officer James Chizmar, 41, who won a South Bay Police and Fire Medal of Valor in 1981 for saving the life of a shooting victim, has been placed on a "probationary program" for one year "to allow him to restore confidence with his fellow officers and the chief of police," Beeson said in the statement.
Chizmar, a six-year veteran of the department, may still face suspension without pay for 30 days or termination once he has completed the probation period, the statement said. Beeson said that Chizmar was suspended for 30 days with pay last month while the department investigated the incident.
"I am trying to save a vested interest in an employee," Beeson said. "The easy way to handle these things is to fire him. If he can be salvaged, I want to save him." Beeson would not disclose the conditions of the probation, nor would he discuss what role Chizmar or the others played in the shooting incident.
Sgt. Mark Wright, 29, a five-year veteran of the department, and Officer John Hoge, 30, who joined the department last year, received less severe punishment, according to the statement. Wright was suspended for four days without pay and his probationary period as a sergeant was extended from 12 months to 18 months. Hoge was suspended for two days without pay. Both officers served the suspensions last month, Beeson said.
"Wright and Hoge had lesser and equal involvement," the statement said. " . . . However, the sergeant received twice the punishment because he is a supervisor and failed to control the situation."
A fourth Hermosa officer, Tom Eckert, attended the SWAT exercises but was not involved in the disturbance, Beeson said.
Gunnery Sgt. Kathy Cabot, a spokeswoman for Camp Pendleton, described the incident as "an altercation between members of the Hermosa Beach Police Department." Several officers from the Military Police were called to the April 9 disturbance near a parking lot shortly before midnight, she said.
Ordered Off Base
All four Hermosa Beach officers were asked to leave the base the following day, she said. Beeson said he ordered the officers to return to Hermosa.
The incident did not involve Marines or personnel from other police agencies, Cabot said. She declined to give further details of the disturbance, saying it was a Hermosa Beach internal matter.
Chizmar was honored along with five other area police officers at a 1982 banquet sponsored by several South Bay chambers of commerce, which award medals each year for heroic acts.
Chizmar, answering a radio call at midnight on July 3, 1981, found a shotgun victim with a hole in his chest and his heart and lung exposed. The officer wrapped his fist in his undershirt and pushed it into the hole to stop the bleeding and restore the man's breathing while the assailant, shotgun in hand, watched. He was later arrested. The victim survived.