The former Los Angeles police officer whose letter criticizing Chief Willie L. Williams sparked an investigation of the chief said Friday that he feels threatened by Williams' comments on the matter and has asked the Police Commission to warn him not to retaliate.
Stephen Downing, who retired as a deputy chief in 1980, told the Police Commission in a letter Friday that he is concerned about the "threat" that Williams made at a news conference Thursday to "do everything possible to learn the source" of allegations of improprieties against him and his family. A spokesman for Williams denied that any threat had been made.
"I don't think there has ever been any implication of a threat by the chief or anyone in the organization to Mr. Downing," said Capt. Richard Gonzales, who said that the chief had merely been referring to a desire to find out who had put forth negative information about his wife. Gonzales said the chief did not know who Downing was until he read his name in the newspaper Friday morning.
In a four-page letter to the Police Commission in December, which Downing provided to The Times on Friday, he asked for an investigation into what he described as persistent rumors that Williams and his family had misused city cars, drivers and cellular phones, that Williams improperly solicited perks from private sources and that he accepted free rooms from Las Vegas casino hotels.
He also questioned the wisdom of many of Williams' administrative moves, saying that the chief had made a "mockery" of leadership principles. He cited what he considered to be the ill-advised demotion of Assistant Chief Bernard Parks, an attempted restructuring of the administrative ranks that he said would further isolate the chief from his officers, and the chief's decision to, in Downing's view, erode the department's merit system for promotions. He also cited Williams' remodeling of his own office at "enormous expense."
Commissioners have said they have not found any evidence to substantiate allegations of improprieties.
Downing told the commission Friday that he was disturbed that his name had been leaked to the press as the author of the letter because it "sends a chilling signal to the average citizen that public exposure can be the result of reporting possible misconduct by members of the Police Department."
Downing said he decided to make his letters available to The Times so that Williams and the public can understand the context in which he passed along the allegations. He also asked the commission to furnish a copy of his original letter to the chief.
A commission spokesman, while denying any responsibility for leaks, said Downing's letter was being sent to the chief.
In his December letter, Downing urged the commission to issue a public "report card" on Williams' performance, which Downing found severely wanting.
Charging that the department was rife with cronyism under Williams, Downing also stated that he had heard "persistent rumors of personal misconduct that should be investigated prior to issuing the report card."
Downing, a successful television writer and producer best known for the "McGyver" series, said he had been hearing rumors for a couple of years "from many acquaintances"--some on the police force at various levels and some retirees--about improprieties allegedly committed by Williams and his family.
Downing acknowledged that they were unsubstantiated. But in an interview Friday, he said Police Department rules require that "even when an anonymous source makes serious allegations, we have an obligation to investigate those things."
"I wrote a letter saying this stuff should be investigated and put to bed one way or the other," he said, adding that he had hoped the investigation would have been conducted out of the public eye.
The Police Commission investigation became public this week when anonymous sources leaked information to the media. The disclosure followed publication of other reports, also quoting anonymous sources, that the Police Commission had recently given Williams a critical performance evaluation at the halfway point of his five-year term.
Williams used a 40-minute meeting with his top officers Thursday to deny accusations of improprieties and to vow that he would stay for his full term and beyond.
In his letter, Downing said he had often heard reports that the city vehicles and drivers were frequently being used "for the personal comfort of the chief and his family."
"Has this happened?" he asked the Police Commission. "How frequently?
"Is the cellular telephone allegedly used by his wife a part of the department's inventory? If so, who pays the bills?"
Downing said he had heard "reports that the chief of police routinely solicits perks from individuals all over the city such as getting 23 free tickets for one visit by family and friends to the Universal (Studios) tour."
Of the alleged improprieties, Downing said he was most concerned about reports that the chief is a frequent visitor to Las Vegas.
The chief said he has visited Las Vegas five times in the last four years and that two of those times he was accompanied by 25 other law enforcement officials for the "Baker to Vegas Run," an athletic competition that is popular among Southern California law enforcement agencies.
But Downing wrote: "My information, which is reliable but hearsay, indicates that the visits are frequent and that hotels foot the total bill."
"There is a well-known connection between Las Vegas and organized crime. Those familiar with the history of organized crime understand only too well the mob strategy of using surrogates to ensnare public officials with an indebtedness," he wrote.
Downing's son is also a police officer, a lieutenant serving as adjutant to Deputy Chief Mark Kroeker. Like Parks, Kroeker was an unsuccessful candidate to succeed Daryl F. Gates as chief. But the Police Commission under former Mayor Tom Bradley rated Williams, formerly chief in Philadelphia, higher.
Times staff writer Jim Newton contributed to this article.