The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into a black Alhambra police officer's claims that there is a continuing pattern of racism in the city's Police Department.
Stephen Steinhauser, an FBI supervisory special agent in West Covina, described the inquiry as preliminary and routine and said officials still have not determined whether a full-scale investigation is warranted.
If the bureau finds evidence of criminal wrongdoing, he said, it will forward the case to the Justice Department.
The FBI's interest in Alhambra, Steinhauser said, was prompted by a June article in The Times about a black officer's discrimination lawsuit against the city.
In his suit, Brad Sheffield accused fellow officers of calling him by racial epithets, threatening to revive the Ku Klux Klan, spray-painting his locker black and giving him watermelons.
Alhambra Police Chief Russell Siverling and other officials have denied Sheffield's allegations. Last week, Siverling said he has been contacted by the FBI but believed the inquiry was nothing more than a routine follow-up to a 1990 Justice Department suit alleging racism in the Alhambra Police and Fire departments.
That suit was settled earlier this year when the city, although denying any discrimination, agreed to retest black and Asian applicants who were turned down for jobs as police officers or firefighters.
The city also set aside $180,000 to settle discrimination claims by applicants.
Shortly before he filed his civil suit, Sheffield was forced by the Police Department to undergo a psychological evaluation and then was placed on unpaid leave of absence. He refused to comment on the FBI investigation.