Torrance Upholds Officer's Dismissal

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Torrance City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to approve firing the last of three police officers accused of lying to cover up a 1988 accidental shooting.

The decision to uphold the dismissal of former Police Officer Mark Holden was announced by Mayor Katy Geissert without elaboration after a one-hour closed hearing.

Holden and two colleagues were fired in December, 1988, after a Police Department investigation into the shooting of construction worker Patrick Coyle, who was partially paralyzed as a result of the May 9, 1988, incident.

Holden and the other two officers--Timothy Thornton and Timothy Pappas--had previously appealed their dismissals to the city's Civil Service Commission. The commission unanimously upheld the department's decision in all three cases.

Attorney Scott Furstman said Holden likely will file suit against the city as a result of Tuesday night's decision.

In addition to his dismissal from the department, Holden also faces a criminal trial next month on one count of conspiracy to falsely charge another with a crime and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Pappas pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor counts late last year. Thornton was granted immunity in return for his agreement to testify.

The investigation into the shooting initially was closed shortly after the incident when the three officers told investigators that Coyle was shot as he made a sudden motion toward a wrench tucked into his waistband.

Investigators reopened the case several months later when Thornton told his superiors that Pappas fired the shot into Coyle's face accidentally--several moments after Coyle had placed the wrench on the sidewalk.

Furstman said that Holden, who arrived on the scene after Pappas had ordered Coyle to place the wrench on the sidewalk, never knew that the wrench already was on the ground when Coyle was shot.

"He thought that (the wrench) was on Coyle's person and that Coyle was reaching for it" when Pappas pulled the trigger, Furstman said. "It was an absolutely reasonable assumption to make. . . . At no time did Thornton and Pappas ever tell Holden that the wrench was on the ground before the shooting. At no time did Holden lie."

City Atty. Kenneth Nelson declined to discuss the case.

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