CHP Officers Face Discipline in King Beating
A California Highway Patrol lieutenant has been recommended for demotion, and a captain and sergeant who work with him face suspensions without pay for failing to investigate the Rodney G. King beating quickly enough, The Times has learned.
In addition, the husband-and-wife team of CHP officers who spotted King on the Foothill Freeway and initiated his pursuit have been told they can expect written reprimands for not reporting the March 3 incident in enough detail, a high-ranking CHP official said Monday.
The officers, all of whom work out of the CHP’s Verdugo Hills bureau in Altadena, were told of the recommended discipline Friday, the CHP executive said. They have until Wednesday to file rebuttals with Highway Patrol Commissioner Maury Hannigan, who will make the final decision.
On Saturday, Lt. John Kielbasa was admitted to a hospital with chest pains after learning that he had been recommended for a demotion to sergeant. Kielbasa, a 21-year CHP veteran, was in fair condition Monday.
Kielbasa, who received the harshest disciplinary recommendation, “dropped the ball” after being notified of the incident by Sgt. Roman Vondriska, and failed to take the necessary actions to initiate follow-up investigations, according to the CHP official, who asked not to be identified.
“It is our belief that once the sergeant called him, the lieutenant dropped all his responsibilities,” the CHP official said, adding, “He tried to downplay the thing.”
The other recommended disciplinary measures include a 20-day suspension for Capt. Truman Dennis, a 33-year CHP veteran who is in charge of the Verdugo Hills office; a 10-day suspension for Vondriska, a 12-year CHP veteran; and written reprimands for Officers Timothy J. Singer and Melanie Singer, who have 12 and three years’ CHP experience respectively, the CHP official said.
The officers could not be reached or would not comment Monday.
“We feel strongly that we expect our managers and supervisors to earn the confidence that the public has given them,” the CHP official said. “I expect the commanders, when there is an illegal action, to jump on it and investigate it very honestly and let the chips fall where they will.”
The CHP’s recommended discipline of its officers followed a six-week investigation into their role before, during and after the arrest of King, a 25-year-old Altadena resident. Four Los Angeles police officers, all of them white, have been indicted on criminal assault and excessive-force charges for the beating of King, who is black.
John Markey, labor representative for the California Assn. of Highway Patrolmen, said some disciplinary action against the CHP officers had been anticipated and that he expects some to request a review by the state personnel board.
It was the Singers, riding together, who first noticed King as he and two passengers drove west on the Foothill Freeway, and allegedly clocked his Hyundai at speeds up to 115 m.p.h., although authorities now dispute that the car was going that fast.
Melanie Singer told the Los Angeles County Grand Jury that King refused to stop, even after her husband advised him over their car bullhorn: “Pull over to the right. We won’t hurt you.”
Although she told investigators she was “shocked” by the level of force used by the Los Angeles Police Department officers, Melanie Singer has also corroborated police accounts of the arrest by describing King as smelling of alcohol and acting “very strange” when the pursuit ended in Lake View Terrace--grabbing his buttocks, dancing and laughing as he exited his car.
After the arrest, the Singers called their supervisor from the hospital where King was taken and made it clear that he had been beaten, the CHP source said Monday, in reference to the findings of the Highway Patrol’s internal investigation.
But the Singers failed to “complete in a timely fashion” a CHP pursuit report or a form that must be filled out when there is any possibility of legal action against the state.
“They’ve been honest about the matter,” the CHP official said of the Singers. “They didn’t try to hide anything. It’s all absolutely procedural stuff” that led to their recommended reprimand.
“This is the equivalent of spanking your kids if they need it. It’s not a career-stopper,” the official added.
Vondriska, who was their supervisor on duty that day, “did most things correctly,” the official said. Although the Singers told Vondriska that morning what happened to King, the sergeant waited to inform his superior, Kielbasa, until the afternoon, the source said.
“We just don’t think he (Vondriska) took it seriously enough at the time,” the source said.
The bureau’s commanding officer, Dennis, should have paid closer attention to a follow-up, the source said.
“He is a manager and the commander of that office,” the CHP official said. “We are concerned that he did not step in and initiate all the command things that are expected to be done. He didn’t ensure that it was properly investigated.”
As the CHP wrapped up its investigation of the King incident, officials at Los Angeles City Hall worked behind closed doors Monday in an attempt to settle litigation concerning the attempt to put Police Chief Daryl F. Gates on forced leave.
Under the proposed settlement, the Police Commission would drop its April 4 attempt to place Gates on a forced 60-day paid leave. In return, the City Council would approve the hiring of an outside law firm to assist the commission in its ongoing investigation of the chief, said City Hall sources familiar with the talks.
“It behooves the city and its various (departments) to work together to settle this issue rather than to continue to look foolish fighting with one another,” said Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky. “Whether that will happen is anybody’s guess.”
Yaroslavsky, Council President John Ferraro and Councilman Richard Alatorre have participated in talks with Commission President Daniel P. Garcia, the sources said.
The commission and the City Council have been at odds for weeks over who ultimately will control the Police Department.
The proposed settlement, which requires the approval of the council and commission, would signal another victory for Gates, who was allowed to return to work April 9 when a Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order that blocked the commission’s decision to put him on leave.
Police Commissioner Melanie Lomax acknowledged that the Gates case has bogged the commission down in litigation “when our primary goal is to investigate the (Police) Department and bring about reform.” She also said that the “primary benefit” of a settlement would be to allow the Police Commission to refocus on that goal.
Lomax said she would not approve a settlement if it took away the commission’s authority to oversee the department.
“I’m not convinced that we’re not better off attempting to complete the judicial process that has been undertaken,” she said.
Times staff writer Glenn F. Bunting contributed to this story.
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