LAPD Chief's Critic Voices Reprisal Fears

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The former Los Angeles police officer who wrote a letter that sparked an investigation of Police Chief Willie L. Williams said Friday that he felt compelled to act because persistent rumors about Williams' conduct were swirling through the department but were not being investigated.

"You keep hearing these things and they're never put to bed," said Stephen Downing, who retired as a deputy chief in 1980 to take up a second career in Hollywood, where he is best known as the producer of "MacGyver." "I wrote the letter saying this stuff should be investigated and put to bed one way or the other."

In his letter, which he gave to The Times on Friday, Downing said he believes Williams is a poor administrator who has favored cronies and made a mockery of leadership principles.

"I'm basically sick at heart today with what's become of our department," Downing said in an interview. "I gave a lot of my life to it."

In his four-page letter sent in December to the Police Commission, Downing 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 hotels.

Commissioners have said they have not found any evidence so far to substantiate allegations of improprieties. Williams has denied any wrongdoing and said he has visited Las Vegas five times in the last four years.

A hotel staffer at Caesars Palace said Friday that Williams and his wife, Evelina, have a joint membership under her name in the Caesars Emperors Club, which is the club for slot machine players.

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According to the staffer, hotel records showed that the Williamses visited at least three times in recent years and have gotten no complementary rooms. To get a free room, a gambler would have to play about $6,000 a day through the machines, the source said. The staffer said it is not possible to determine which cardholder is playing at any time but indicated that the Williamses' account showed play of at least $1,500 a day on average.

When told about the Caesars club card, Officer Art Holmes, an LAPD spokesman, said: "I just spoke with Chief Williams and apparently he doesn't belong to any slot club . . . his wife may have a card. . . . He indicated to me that his wife on occasion likes to play slots."

Downing said he was upset to see himself identified Friday in the news media as the author of the letter. He complained in a second letter to the Police Commission on Friday that leaking his name "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."

He also asked the commission to warn Williams not to retaliate against him.

He wrote that he is concerned about comments 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.

He added that the chief had merely been referring to a desire to find out who had put forth negative information about his wife. He said the chief did not know who Downing was until he read his name in the newspaper Friday morning.

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.

In his December letter, Downing urged the commission to issue a public report card on Williams' performance, which Downing sharply criticized.

Downing also stated that he had heard "persistent rumors of personal misconduct that should be investigated prior to issuing the report card."

Downing, who began his second career by writing scripts for Jack Webb's "Dragnet," said in an interview that 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.

He 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."

The Police Commission investigation became public this week when unidentified sources leaked information to the media. The disclosure followed publication of other reports, also quoting unidentified sources, that the Police Commission had recently given Williams a critical performance evaluation at the halfway point of his five-year term.

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?"

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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.

Downing wrote: "My information, which is reliable but hearsay, indicates that the visits are frequent and that hotels foot the total bill."

Times staff writer Jim Newton and correspondent Michael J. Goodman contributed to this story.

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