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Detectives in Simpson Case Weigh Possible Libel Action

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles police detectives in the O.J. Simpson murder investigation--whose credibility has been assailed by defense attorneys, tabloids and a national magazine--are striking back, asking lawyers to investigate libel or defamation action on their behalf and demanding a public apology from Simpson’s lead attorney.

Lawyers for the Los Angeles Police Protective League and a private attorney are investigating filing lawsuits against members of the defense team and against publications who published statements suggesting that the detectives had lied. Several tabloids and the New Yorker magazine are among the possible defendants, lawyers for the officers said.

“We were asked by members of the league, who are investigating officers in the O.J. Simpson case, to represent their legal interests,” said Hank Hernandez, general counsel to the league, the union that represents rank-and-file police officers. “We are in the process of investigating defamatory statements made in some of these tabloids and magazines.”

Hernandez said the league’s board of directors authorized the move and that he was preparing to “take aggressive action to exonerate the reputations of these outstanding detectives.”

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The most assertive action has come from Detective Mark Fuhrman, a veteran detective in the LAPD’s West Los Angeles division, whose actions in the Simpson case were attacked by unnamed defense attorneys in a New Yorker piece published July 25. In that article, lawyers for Simpson were quoted as calling Fuhrman a “bad cop” and a racist who might have planted a key piece of evidence against their client.

“Without question, these defamatory statements have been republished more times, through numerous forms of media, to more people than any prior defamatory statements in the history of mankind,” said Robert H. Tourtelot, a lawyer representing Fuhrman, said in a letter sent Monday to Simpson’s lead attorney, Robert L. Shapiro. “The statements are not only false and libelous, they are simply outrageous and despicable.”

In an interview, Tourtelot said he expects to sue the New Yorker as well.

Maurie Perl, vice president in charge of public relations at the New Yorker, declined to comment on Tourtelot’s letter or statements. “At this point, I would have nothing to say on that,” Perl said.

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Shapiro said he had not accused Fuhrman of racism and did not intend to make the detective’s racial views an issue in the case. “I’ve always said that race is not and will not be an issue,” Shapiro said.

No lawsuit has yet been filed, Tourtelot said, explaining that he did not want to do anything that might compromise the investigation into the June 12 murders of and Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman. Tourtelot added that he expects to name Simpson as a defendant in his lawsuit.

In the meantime, however, he urged Shapiro to publicly retract the accusations against Fuhrman and asked members of the defense team to make a public apology to the detective.

“Although a retraction and apology certainly cannot erase the pain and anguish which our client and his family have suffered, you can help ease the humiliation and hurt they continue to experience arising from the hatred and contempt which your statements have engendered,” Tourtelot wrote.

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