A second Torrance police officer involved in the fatal shooting at the Del Amo Mall last year is claiming that impaired judgment caused by untreated psychic trauma caused by that shooting led to his subsequent ouster from the department.
The former officer, Henry Fricke, 36, recently filed a claim for worker's compensation against the city of Torrance, alleging that he still suffers psychological damage from the Sept. 9 shooting.
In an interview, Fricke alleged that trauma from the shooting caused him to seek out prostitutes--the reason cited by city records for forcing him out--and suggested that a lawsuit filed as a result of the mall shooting may have been a factor in the department's decision to get rid of him.
"There is a bigger ballgame going on. There is a $10.5-million lawsuit against the city," Fricke said.
Suit Filed by Mother
A week before Fricke was ousted, the city was notified that it and the three officers involved in the mall shooting of a theft suspect--Fricke, John Maley, who also was fired, and Mark Hein--would be sued for wrongful death. Since then, a $10.5-million suit has been filed by the victim's mother.
Police officials declined to comment on Fricke's case.
Fricke, of Granada Hills, showed up at a hearing Monday before the Torrance Civil Service Commission on Maley's appeal of his firing.
Maley was the first Torrance officer to claim publicly that stress from the shooting affected his judgment, particularly in an incident that took place three months later.
In the extended hearing on Maley's case, the officer's actions and career have been examined in detail. The hearing has also become a forum for airing allegations of misconduct by Torrance police that the traditionally tight-lipped Police Department had previously kept from the public eye.
Fired in March
Maley was fired in March after the department discovered that he had pulled a knife on Officer Edward LaLonde during a heated dispute on police tactics three months after the September mall shooting.
In the mall shooting, Maley, Fricke and Hein emptied their .38-caliber pistols at Bryant John Leadbeater, a theft suspect who lunged at Maley with a 10-inch boning knife. Leadbeater, 32, of Redondo Beach, died after being struck by 24 bullets.
Maley's attorney, Richard Shinee, contends that LaLonde disliked Maley and spread rumors attacking his judgment in the mall shooting at a time when Maley, suffering from stress from the shooting, was particularly vulnerable to criticism.
Police officials portray Maley as an officer subject to episodes of abusive behavior who crossed all bounds of acceptability when he took out the knife during his dispute with LaLonde in the police station parking lot.
Maley Gets Boost
In the Civil Service hearing this week, Maley received a boost when four police officers, three from Torrance, challenged LaLonde's testimony and another Torrance officer testified that he had witnessed a fist fight between on-duty officers that had gone unpunished and that he himself had been knifed 10 years ago by a fellow officer who remains on the force.
LaLonde testified earlier that he had not criticized Maley.
At the hearing Monday, John Knapp, an Inglewood policeman, said that LaLonde had called Maley a vulgar name about a month after the mall shooting.
The three Torrance policemen each testified that they heard LaLonde, who is a departmental instructor in the use of the police night stick, refer to Maley in disparaging terms several times. They said LaLonde asserted in locker room discussions and at a training session that Maley could have disarmed the assailant in the mall using a night stick and without gunplay.
In cross examination, Tom Reeves, attorney for the city, questioned the officers on the dates of LaLonde's remarks in an attempt to show that whatever LaLonde said took place after his parking-lot confrontation with Maley.
Testimony from one of the officers, Charles White, surprised Reeves as well as Maley's attorney.
White, a 17-year veteran of the Torrance department, had said in direct testimony that he had once seen a fist fight between officers observed by a sergeant that had not resulted in any discipline.
In cross-examination, Reeves asked if White knew of any other incident in which a Torrance police officer drew a knife on another.
"Yes," White replied, causing a stir in the hearing room. "I still have the scar on my right hand to prove it." And he showed the scar to the commissioners.
The incident took place 10 years ago when an unsanctioned on-duty martial arts duel got out of hand, White said. His antagonist remains a Torrance policeman, White testified.
Never Told Superiors
White testified that he never told superiors about the incident, informing only the medics who bandaged him. "It bled rather messily," he said later.
White declined to provide the name of the officer. He said he believed there were similarities between the Maley confrontation with LaLonde and the incident in which he had been involved.
He testified that he had resolved his difficulties with his assailant long ago and considers him a good officer. He said he believes the officer would not have been fired if the incident had been reported to superiors.
But Monday's hearing was not all good news for Maley.
In a disputed portion of testimony, commissioners heard an allegation that Maley had used his knife improperly at another time. The report came from Kathy Keane, assistant to the city manager, who testified that a police investigator, Sgt. Michael Dersham, had told her during the administrative hearing before Maley's firing that the officer once held a knife at a suspect's throat.
Shinee objected that the charge was never proven and never became part of an official admonition Maley received for showing bad judgment during that episode. The department criticized Maley for failing to provide immediate medical attention for three injured suspects he had arrested.
The Maley hearing will continue at 6:30 p.m. Monday in City Council chambers.
Fricke, who is not at this time appealing his ouster but has filed the worker's compensation claim, said he raised another incident of improper weapons display by an officer before he left the department.
Pointed Gun at Officer
Discussion of the incident arose Oct. 24 when Fricke was questioning why he was being forced out for using prostitutes, while an off-duty Torrance police officer who had pointed a gun at an off-duty Los Angeles policeman received only a five-day suspension, Fricke said.
The discussion took place, Fricke said, during his termination interview with Lt. Larry Robinson. The lieutenant declined to comment.
Fricke refused to give the name of the Torrance policeman who pointed the gun. Sgt. Michael Dersham, head of the Torrance police internal affairs unit, said he was prevented by law from revealing personnel investigations.
But Los Angeles Police Officer Steve Smith was not reluctant to talk.
Although he said he did not recall the name of the Torrance policeman, Smith said in an interview that he filed a complaint against the Torrance police officer after the man pointed a gun at him sometime in early 1984.
The two were driving side-by-side on Del Amo Boulevard near Madrona Avenue one evening, Smith said.
"I saw him pointing what appeared to be a two-inch stainless. . . . It was definitely a gun. . . . It looked like a snub-nose. I hit my brakes, jotted down his license number as I observed him turn north on Del Amo at Hawthorne," Smith said.
"When he pointed the gun at me, he mouthed the words, 'Pow! Pow!' I saw his mouth moving."
The Los Angeles police officer said he had been told by Torrance internal affairs investigators that the officer had said Smith had made an obscene gesture. Smith said he had not made any hostile gesture or expression.
The Torrance Police Department sent him a letter stating that appropriate action had been taken, Smith said. He was surprised to hear that the officer received only a five-day suspension.
"Only five days off? In the 17 years I have been on, if I had pointed a gun at someone in a car, I would be history. Five days suspension is minimal," he said.
Smith said that pointing a gun at someone could be grounds for a felony charge of assault with a deadly weapon or a misdemeanor charge of brandishing a weapon.
'Grounds for Arrest'
His comment paralleled that of city official Keane, who wrote Maley on March 27 that he was fired. Keane's letter said his actions Dec. 6 when he pulled the knife on LaLonde "are a violation of . . . California Penal Code and would be grounds for arrest."
Maley's explanation for pulling the knife is that he wanted LaLonde to demonstrate how he would use his baton to take away the knife.
Another parallel between the Fricke and Maley cases lies in assertions by the two former officers that the department, which offered the two officers counseling after the shooting, did so in a manner that made it clear "good cops" would not need it.
"The funny thing," Fricke said, "is everybody thought I was handling the shooting the best, which was just a facade."
The shooting constantly came up in conversation, he said.
"The day of the shooting, there were people who wouldn't even say hello to me (before), who walked up to me and saluted," Fricke said.
"We always wanted to do this," a policeman told Fricke.
After hours, he said, he sought solace from prostitutes in Hollywood. He said it was the first time since 1977 that he had used a prostitute.
About a month and a half after the mall shooting, Fricke was picked up by undercover Los Angeles policemen as he approached a suspected house of prostitution in Hollywood, according to police and city records on his case.
Records show that the department gave Fricke the choice of resignation or an internal investigation and possible firing. The department says he resigned.
An administrative law judge ruling on Fricke's unemployment claim upheld the former officer's contention that he had been discharged. The official also ruled that the Police Department had not proved its allegation of misconduct.