The city has begun an investigation to determine whether Police Chief Samuel L. Buntyn issued police badges and identification cards to citizens who were not adequately trained to be reserve officers.
Acting Police Chief William Reese said he initiated the inquiry last week after he discovered that local newspaper publisher Bill Erickson had been issued a badge and a department identification card, apparently without proper qualifications. Erickson had not received the training required by the police department and no personnel records could be found showing that he worked for the department, Reese said.
Buntyn said he appointed the 41-year-old publisher of the South Pasadena Review as a public information officer with reserve status and that he had received sufficient training under state guidelines for limited duty.
Could Prove Embarrassing
The controversy could prove embarrassing to Buntyn, whose job already is in jeopardy. Last month City Manager John Bernardi notified Buntyn that he intended to fire him, citing 10 charges, including allegations that the chief tried to tamper with an oral review board and sexually harassed a female subordinate. Buntyn, 41, on medical leave since June, has requested a hearing on the city’s allegations, but the city would not say when the hearing is scheduled. Reese, a commander and 23-year veteran, has been named acting chief.
Reese said on Monday that he did not know how many people without the proper training had been issued badges and identification during Buntyn’s eight years as chief.
Buntyn gave at least two other civilians police badges and identification, Reese said. One of them is a retired police officer from Alhambra and the other is a prominent South Pasadena resident, said Reese, who would not identify either man.
“There may be other people with badges and I.D. that I don’t know about,” he said. “I’ll find out.”
Reese said he has suspended Erickson’s badge and I.D. card pending the outcome of the investigation. Erickson had a badge with the words “South Pasadena Police” printed below the title “Public Information Officer.” The identification card carries Erickson’s picture and describes him as a member of the Technical Assistance Group. Reese said Erickson has a valid gun permit, which he was allowed to keep.
Buntyn acknowledged in an interview that he provided several people with badges and identification cards for limited duties such as conducting Neighborhood Watch programs. He said that he had appointed Erickson--who acknowledged that he had never been graduated from a police academy--to the post of public information officer on what Buntyn called a “technical reserve staff.” He refused, however, to identify the others in that category.
“Professionally, I’ve done my responsibility,” he said. “In case of emergency situations I would be able to use those kinds of people for different things.”
City Council members said they were reluctant to discuss the investigation because of Buntyn’s status. “This is all information that may be related to the personnel hearing (requested by Buntyn) and I’m not going to make any comment,” Mayor Sam Knowles said.
“Everything is being handled efficiently now,” said Councilman Lee Prentiss, who is a Los Angeles police detective. “It does add to the personnel matter we’re already embroiled in with the chief, so it’s difficult to comment.”
Drew His Pistol
The latest controversy stems from a July 8 incident in Pasadena in which Erickson said he drew his pistol and pointed it at an Arcadia man. Erickson said that he and his wife were driving on Foothill Boulevard near Rosemead Boulevard at about 7 p.m. when a man in a pickup truck pulled out of a restaurant parking lot and nearly hit their car. Erickson said he pulled his gun and pointed it at the man in self-defense when the man screamed profanities and backed up his truck and tried to ram their car.
Erickson said that when the man followed him into a gas station, he identified himself as a police officer and flashed his badge. “I badged him and yelled ‘Police officer! stop!’ ” Erickson said he then flagged down a motorcycle officer and told him of the incident, but filed no report in Pasadena.
The other motorist, 23-year-old Steven Curley, said in an interview that after a near collision with Erickson’s car, the two exchanged unpleasantries and Erickson pointed a gun at him.
Drove to Gas Station
Curley said Erickson followed him when he drove to a gas station to phone police. While he was talking to a police dispatcher, Curley said, Erickson confronted him and identified himself as a policeman. Curley said he did not believe Erickson was a policeman and left without waiting for police to arrive, because he knew Erickson had a gun.
Neither man filed a complaint with police, but Erickson filed a request for police surveillance at his South Pasadena residence about 8:30 that evening. He said he was afraid that Curley might find out where he lived.
Reese said that he knew that Buntyn had named Erickson as a public information officer and had issued him a gun permit, but at the time did not know that Erickson had police credentials. Erickson told him about the incident, but he did not investigate because it took place in another city and no complaint had been filed, Reese said.
But the event has raised questions as to whether Erickson actually is a sworn police officer, Reese said.
No Record on Log
Marjorie Friendt, the city official who normally swears in police officers, said she does not remember administering the oath to Erickson and has no record of it in her log.
Erickson insists that he was sworn in by Buntyn and that the event was witnessed by a police officer. Retired Lt. Lee Hatfield said in a telephone interview from his home in Virginia that he was present when Buntyn gave the oath to Erickson.
“I am a sworn police officer,” Erickson said. “I went through all the required courses for my job. I was appointed for specific limited duty, public information officer and crime prevention.”
Buntyn said in an earlier interview that he never intended for Erickson to perform regular police duty and that Erickson was “not a sworn officer.”
‘Not a Police Officer’
“He is not a police officer,” Buntyn said. “He is not what you’d call a full-time reserve. He was a member of the technical reserve staff, of which I had a number. He was authorized to carry a concealed weapon, but he doesn’t have any police powers.”
But later after being told of Hatfield’s statement, Buntyn said:
“If Hatfield said that (I swore him in), then you know maybe I did. I still don’t recall (doing it). I don’t recall swearing in anyone, really. It was not something I would do as a rule of thumb.”
Reese said he has not talked with Hatfield. But, he added, even if Erickson had taken the oath of office, there is no documentation and he lacked the proper training to be a reserve officer. “He may very well have labored under the misconception that he was a police officer,” Reese said.
Reese said that in 1983 Erickson completed the minimum 32 hours of training the department required at the time for a gun permit. Buntyn and Erickson asserted that the course qualified Erickson for limited duty reserve status under state guidelines.
But Thomas W. Bent, commander of the South Pasadena Police Department’s reserve force, said his organization is independent of the regular city force and it has higher eligibility requirements for membership. All candidates must file a formal application and undergo an oral interview, background checks and psychological testing, graduate from an academy and complete at least 200 hours of field training before being accepted in the program, Bent said. He added that the reserve program has no limited-duty category.
Erickson said that since his 1983 training he has taken additional courses at Rio Hondo College, but admitted he is not a police academy graduate.
“To my knowledge, Mr. Erickson has never been a reserve police officer with this city in any way shape or form,” said Bent, a reserve officer for 16 years. “He was never a sworn officer, at least to my knowledge. He would have to apply to our organization, not to the police chief.”