The long and bumpy road to naming a new chief for the troubled Los Angeles Police Department took a sharp detour two weeks ago when the Police Commission ordered a probe of alleged misconduct by three finalists who hope to succeed Daryl F. Gates.
A Latino business and community group, called NEWS for America, alleged that the finalists engaged in such misconduct as obstruction of justice, favoritism toward family members and an improper romantic relationship.
Demanding an investigation, the group cited internal police reports and information from LAPD officers, whose names it has refused to disclose. The group also has not named the candidates, but sources and records show that the allegations centered on Assistant Chief David D. Dotson and Deputy Chiefs Bernard C. Parks and Matthew V. Hunt.
Police Commission President Stanley K. Sheinbaum has promised a "careful and painstaking" probe because of the intense public interest in choosing Gates' successor.
In a series of recent interviews, police officials involved in the cases have denied any improprieties, saying the allegations are based on misinformation and rumors. Here is closer look at the key allegations by NEWS for America and the most detailed responses to date from the candidates themselves.
* Dotson, who oversees the administrative side of the department, allegedly engaged in an improper on-duty relationships with a subordinate female officer. It also has been alleged that the female officer's estranged husband--an LAPD sergeant--has been retaliated against.
Dotson acknowledges that after he and LAPD Officer Leticia Martinez separated from their spouses last November, they developed a romantic relationship. He said they both complied with LAPD rules requiring the disclosure of relationships between superiors and subordinates, rules aimed at avoiding appearances of favoritism and conflicts of interest.
The relationship began when Martinez, who declined to comment, worked in the department's training section under Dotson's command, according to interviews.
Dotson said that while he and Martinez had become good friends before their separations, they were not having an extramarital affair. It was only in November, he said, that they made a "commitment" to each other and notified the department. They have never, he said, flaunted their relationship.
"I do not deny and will never deny we were friends and very good friends, and I assisted her and supplied her with materials, and self-help to get ahead in the job," Dotson said. "But I've done that for a lot officers in my career."
But he said there is "no substance to the allegations . . . because there was no extramarital affair, certainly none of the blatant activity reported."
Martinez's estranged husband, Sgt. Gus Martinez of the Northeast Division, alleged in an interview with The Times that his career has been ruined as a result of Dotson's relationship with his wife.
"I can't go anywhere," he said. "I'm trying to promote and no one will touch me because they're all afraid of David Dotson."
But he added that he does not believe Dotson directed any efforts to stymie his career.
Dotson suggested that the investigation, initially based on anonymous letters, began just days after it was disclosed that he had sharply criticized Gates' leadership in testimony to the Christopher Commission.
* Hunt, who oversees operations in South Los Angeles, allegedly discouraged subordinates from freeing a suspected rapist they believed may have been innocent, a fact later confirmed by DNA tests.
Late last year, Southwest Division detectives arrested Richard Lee Nichols in connection with a series of rapes that occurred last September and October near the USC and El Camino College campuses. A vehicle allegedly used in the attacks was traced to Nichols, 25. Three victims identified him as their assailant from photographs and in lineups, according to investigators and the prosecutors.
Authorities acknowledge that questions were raised internally about whether Nichols was the right man. Among other things, there were discrepancies in the victims' descriptions of the suspect, who had proclaimed his innocence. Moreover, additional rapes occurred in the same area after the arrest.
Despite their concerns, authorities say, the arrest was justified--as was keeping a possible serial rapist in custody until the questions were resolved. Nichols was freed in February after DNA tests established his innocence. He spent four months in jail.
Deputy Chief Hunt strongly disputes the allegation that he played a role in ordering Nichol's arrest and his subsequent detention.
"No one came and said, 'We got this guy in custody and (there is) some concern (he is innocent),' " Hunt said. "Never."
"I never entered into this case . . . to any significant degree," he said. "And specifically never entered into any discussion on whether (Nichols) should be incarcerated." Although Hunt initially told The Times he had not been briefed on the case, he later acknowledged that he may have received some information. He confirmed that he commended detectives on the case in a report that noted there was "a conflict" in whether Nichols was "the perpetrator" and that indicated efforts were under way to ensure justice was done.
Key detectives and prosecutors on the case agreed with Hunt's denial of involvement.
"I made all of the decisions (regarding the arrest and the filing of charges) in consultation with my . . . supervisors," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Marc Debbauldt, who attended the lineups. "I did not know Hunt existed on this planet" until news reports surfaced about Hunt's alleged intervention.
Still, NEWS for America Chairman Xavier Hermosillo said the group believes there is substance to the allegations. "We have more than one police officer," he said, "who is willing to swear before a grand jury that these allegations are true."
One of those apparently is Southwest Division Detective Bill Pavelic, who had some early involvement in the case.
In a recent taped interview with KCBS-TV Channel 2, Pavelic said he warned superiors they may have the wrong man because of conflicting physical descriptions. He alleged that Hunt went along with delays in releasing Nichols because the department may have been under pressure from USC to solve the case--an argument rejected by others in the department, who dismiss Pavelic as disgruntled.
* Parks, who oversees police operations in the city's central section, allegedly intervened with subordinates to gain the release of his daughter's boyfriend, who was arrested on attempted murder charges.
In his first detailed comments on the allegations, Parks said he never intervened or sought favorable treatment for his daughter or her boyfriend, Nathan E. Thomas. Parks said he received calls from the Southwest Division station, where the boyfriend was being held, but never placed any.
"All I did," Parks said, "was respond to two phone calls."
The events leading up to those December calls began when his daughter, Trudy Jackson, reported to Southwest Division officers that her estranged husband had stolen her car. After his arrest, the estranged husband told police he had been loaned the car.
He also alleged that as he was driving in the Crenshaw District later that evening, Jackson's boyfriend chased him and fired shots, wounding two bystanders. Investigators later found that there had been a report of two drive-by shooting victims in the same area at about the same time.
Questioned by officers, Parks' daughter acknowledged that she filed a false police report. She also said her boyfriend "admitted the shooting to her," according to a police report obtained by The Times.
The boyfriend learned that officers were looking for him and voluntarily came to the station, where he was briefly arrested for attempted murder and held without bail. Three hours later, he was released and his arrest was downgraded to a detention.
NEWS for America alleged that Parks had intervened on the boyfriend's behalf. LAPD sources interviewed by The Times said a lieutenant at Southwest station indicated that the deputy chief had "vouched" for the boyfriend.
But Parks said he never vouched for Thomas in the two conversations he had with Southwest officers, who initiated the calls.
The first call, he said, was from a detective who said: "We have your daughter's (stolen car) report. We are investigating.' I said, 'Fine.' "
The same detective supervisor called back, Parks said, but this time brought an investigator on the line. According to Parks, they said there were discrepancies in his daughter's story. Although the estranged husband was in custody, the detectives said he insisted Park's daughter had loaned him the car.
Parks said he told the detectives he would have his daughter "come to the station to clear this up" by telling the truth. Parks said that when the detectives began to tell him about possible shots fired in the case, he responded: "Whoa! I'm not interested. I don't need to know anything about this case."
"I told the detective I didn't want to know what (he was) going to do with the boyfriend or the ex-husband."
Parks said his only interest in the matter was knowing whether "there's anything that negatively impacts" his daughter, so he could get her a lawyer, if necessary.
After speaking with the detective, Parks said, he contacted his daughter and told her to return to the station and tell what actually occurred.
His only other contact on the case came about a week later, Parks said, when Capt. Garrett Zimmon called to warn him that there were "personnel in (Southwest) division who will go to any extent to make an assertion that this case is improperly handled."
Zimmon and the detective declined to comment, citing the current investigation of the incident.
Again, Hermosillo said his activist group has spoken to "more than one officer" who claims to have "first-hand knowledge" of intervention by the deputy chief. "Something's fishy here," he said.
Kenneth Hickman, a Cal State Los Angeles professor, said he recently spoke with Lt. Alan Kerstein, who told him that he ordered the boyfriend's release because there was insufficient evidence for the arrest. Kerstein insisted that the deputy chief did not intervene, according to Hickman, a former LAPD commander. Although Kerstein declined to be interviewed for this report, he has been quoted in the Daily News of Los Angeles as saying he ordered Thomas' release because the two reported bystander shooting victims could not be located to identify the suspect.
Thomas' attempted murder case and a possible misdemeanor case against Parks' daughter for filing a false police report were forwarded to prosecutors two weeks ago. Both have been sent back to the LAPD for further investigation.
When contacted by The Times, Thomas said he was falsely arrested but refused to discuss details of the case. Efforts to reach Parks' daughter have been unsuccessful.