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Murray Writes Formal Apology to Police Officers

Times Staff Writer

Embattled San Diego City Manager Sylvester Murray, moving to eclipse the controversy that threatens his job, has written an apology to police officers for saying that he has an “orgasm” over being their boss.

Murray also clarified for police his statement that he was “surprised” the black community was not more outraged over allegations of police brutality stemming from the Sagon Penn trial.

Meanwhile, Murray, who also said he will enforce a vigorous affirmative action program at City Hall, has taken another step to prevent any damage to city employee morale by releasing a list showing the majority of his managerial selections have been white males.

The apology and appointment list were contained in memoranda Murray wrote and issued Thursday and Friday while City Council members sounded each other out to see whether and when they should fire the city manager, who took office nine months ago.

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Council members are scheduled to meet Tuesday with the city manager in closed session to review his performance. If Murray is not asked to leave, he will be chastised by council members for his use of language and his perception of his role in city government, council sources said.

The furor over Murray began spreading after The Times published an extensive interview with him in its June 1 edition. During the interview, Murray used the term “orgasm” to describe how he feels being the “boss of police” after having grown up in a ghetto of Miami, where he ran from police. He also commented on what he said was the lack of outrage over the Penn trial.

Numerous witnesses in the trial say Penn, a black youth from Southeast San Diego, shot two white police officers and a civilian ride-along after the officers stopped the pickup truck Penn was driving and began beating him.

Murray also told The Times that he “consciously” chose a black fire chief because he was “very concerned” about the absence of minorities in high-ranking city positions. He said that if city department heads do not recommend deputies for openings who are black, Latino or female, they are asked, “Why? What happened?”

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The comments shocked council members, who were swamped with telephone calls demanding Murray’s ouster. The remarks brought to the surface a clash of styles between the council and the 44-year-old Murray.

The 1,500-member San Diego Police Officers Assn. has accused the city manager of “inciting violence in the streets.”

In a memo dated Thursday but posted and read to police officers Friday at the start of their shifts, Murray offered an apology. He said he was “embarrassed” over his choice of words.

“The men and women of the San Diego Police Department do not deserve this type of language, and I apologize.”

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Murray said he was “reflecting on differences between cities back East and San Diego” when he made his observation about the Penn trial, a sensitive subject in the department. Murray said he was “extremely impressed” by the restraint of both the department and the black community.

“In many areas of this country, neither the police nor the community would have handled such a volatile issue with the sensitivity that our police and community have shown,” Murray wrote.

The city manager also wrote: “Although I was quoted accurately, the article was written in a way that gave a meaning different than what I intended. I am not being critical of The Times, but any of you who have had occasion to be quoted in print know that often your entire message does not come across in a brief article.”

On Saturday, Police Chief Bill Kolender said he believes that Murray’s apology, which he termed “unusual,” will help solve problems in the department stemming from the remarks.

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“There are some (problems), but I think his explanation will probably ease the tension,” Kolender said.

A. L. (Skip) DiCerchio, president of the police association, said he does not know whether Murray’s comments in the interview have caused an irreparable breach between rank-and-file officers and the city manager.

“This isn’t the kind of issue you can walk out the door and smell the air and say which way the breeze is blowing,” DiCerchio said Friday. “Our main concern is that depending on Mr. Murray’s attitude, if one of our police officers were to make those kind of mistakes, if a police officer were to be interviewed by you and make the same comments about his powers as a police officer in the community, his enforcement powers . . . would he be forgiven?

“Would Murray call the chief of police and say, ‘Give the guy a break. He was talking to a reporter. Give the guy a little slack?’ Or are we looking at a case of termination?”

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Murray also has tried to address concerns raised by council members that his aggressive affirmative action stance means he would unfairly favor minorities. In an apology and clarification sent to council members Wednesday, Murray said his belief “means simply that decision makers must be consciously aware and directly committed to hiring qualified minorities and women.”

He followed that with a second memorandum on affirmative action Thursday. Addressed to Councilwoman Gloria McColl, Murray submitted a list of the 14 managerial appointments he has approved since he was hired Sept. 4.

The list shows that Murray has hired nine white men, two black men, two white women and one Latino woman.

“A thought was made that city employees’ morale may be low because of their feelings about my affirmative action stance,” Murray wrote to McColl. “It is important to me that city employees’ morale be high. I think that these facts may allay their fears. I will be happy to publish a list of my appointments each six months.”

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Murray declined to return numerous telephone calls from The Times.


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