Councilman Asks City to Probe Police Chief

Times Staff Writer

Four months after an unsuccessful effort to fire Police Chief Geano Contessotto, City Councilman Herbert A. Hennes Jr. has called for a city investigation into his allegations that the police chief is trying to discredit him.

The City Council is to consider the request Monday night, City Administrator Donald Jeffers said.

Hennes has written a report detailing Contessotto's alleged effort to discredit him, but City Atty. Elwayne Smith declined to release the document, saying it could be involved in litigation.

In an interview, Hennes said, "The charges are that he made statements to four officers inside the station and he alluded to the fact that if they knew of anything, or they could get anything that would discredit me, he would welcome that."

No Further Details

The alleged request occurred in the last week of April, Hennes said. He would not provide further details of his allegations against Contessotto, which he first aired during a City Council meeting earlier this month.

Contessotto declined to comment on the allegations.

"I've never had a fair shake from you guys (The Times) yet, and I don't think it will change," Contessotto said.

If undertaken, the city investigation would be the first in memory involving a Huntington Park department head, Jeffers said. And because of that, no one is sure who would conduct it.

"I'm waiting on direction from the City Council--on who and how they would want the investigation to proceed, if they want the investigation to proceed," Jeffers said. "I am a possibility (to head) such an investigation."

The widening rift between Hennes and Contessotto was made public shortly after 1 a.m. Feb. 12.

No Support From Others

During a closed City Council meeting that lasted more than 5 1/2 hours, Hennes argued that Contessotto was incompetent and should be fired. But none of the other four council members supported him, various city officials said.

Hennes complained that for months he had to publicly defend Contessotto and the Police Department, which is the target of a district attorney's investigation and has been the subject of lawsuits alleging brutality.

The councilman resigned his ceremonial position as mayor in February, saying he could no longer be a spokesman for "inadequate performance."

A month before his resignation, Hennes personally contacted Sheriff Sherman A. Block, requesting an investigation into reports that a Huntington Park officer solicited a former officer to commit a robbery, Hennes said. According to those reports, the former officer was asked to stick up a man who was to make a $100,000 loan payment in cash, and if necessary, kill him, Hennes said.

The former officer refused the solicitation, according to Hennes. Hennes had been told on Jan. 7 of the alleged incident by Huntington Park captains Martin Simonoff and Charles Plum.

Allegations Unsubstantiated

After a 2 1/2-day investigation, two Sheriff's Department investigators concluded that the allegations were "unsubstantiated," said Oliver Taylor, chief of the sheriff's detective bureau.

Unsubstantiated means "we are unable to establish . . . the existence of criminal culpability on anyone's part," yet unable to discredit the allegations, Taylor said.

On April 1, Contessotto fired the two captains.

Contessotto accused the captains of insubordination for not telling him about the alleged plot, and for taking the information to Hennes. The police chief also accused the captains of not properly carrying out past assignments and of being dishonest when questioned about the sheriff's investigation.

The captains sought a Civil Service Commission hearing, which began June 3. Testimony was discontinued the next day when a settlement was announced.

All but One Charge Dropped

Under terms of the settlement, Simonoff and Plum were reinstated to their jobs effective June 8. All charges except insubordination were dropped, said Samuel J. Wells, Simonoff's lawyer, and William R. Remery, attorney for Plum. They were given a 20-day suspension without pay, which began the day they were fired--April 1.

The captains also agreed to apologize in writing to Contessotto for not informing the chief of the alleged solicitation.

"Both captains had contended that it was the general perception that there was a very close relationship between the chief of police and the person about whom the complaint was made," Wells said. "What they decided to do was to discuss the matter with the mayor and seek his advice."

Contessotto said the settlement prevents him from commenting on the firings.

Hennes defended the captains. He said Thursday that the reason Contessotto and the city settled was to silence negative testimony that would have surfaced during the open Civil Service hearing. The captains had requested that the hearing be open.

"I'm the one who made the decision to go to the sheriff's office," Hennes said. "I used my best judgment. I thought an outside agency had to investigate the matter because of the seriousness."

Captains Glad to Be Back

The attorneys representing Simonoff and Plum said their clients are happy to be back on the job.

"There's really no other circumstance in which the city could maintain its working relationship with both the chief and the captains without this arrangement," Remery said. "(Other) officers didn't have to choose whether to testify on behalf of the captains or the chief, and to that extent, (Simonoff and Plum) were satisfied."

Contessotto has been the subject of intense public scrutiny since December, when Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner charged two former officers with using a stun gun to torture a juvenile they had arrested. Based on evidence in that case, Reiner said he would investigate the practices of the entire Police Department, which he called "embarrassing to all of law enforcement."

As yet, no charges or report has been made on the investigation.

The department, according to a Times survey last July, had the highest frequency of brutality claims in Southeast Los Angeles County during 1984 and 1985.

Hennes has been on the council since 1970, and has been chosen mayor five times. The mayor's main duties are to chair council meetings and represent the city at official events.

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