The Los Angeles Police Commission is using outside investigators, including a firm headed by a former special agent in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles office, to look into rumors of misconduct by Police Chief Willie L. Williams, it was learned Monday.
The commission decided to use outsiders so that Police Department members are not placed in the awkward position of investigating their boss, sources said.
In the last two weeks, the commission has quietly assembled a team that includes Lawrence G. Lawler and Associates, a management and investigative consulting firm headed by its namesake.
Lawler, who may be best known for leading agents who tracked down and apprehended kidnaped newspaper heiress Patty Hearst in 1975, retired in 1991 after 27 years with the FBI. His firm has been working for the Police Commission for more than a week, sources said.
John H. Brinsley, a partner in the prominent law firm Paul, Hastings, Janofsy & Walker and a past president of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn., also is a member of the team, sources said.
A few days ago, he became the commission's "independent counsel" for its investigation of Williams. Brinsley is familiar with the LAPD. He was one of 22 deputy general counsels to the Webster Commission, appointed in 1992 to investigate the Police Department's poor response to the riots.
Police commissioners--who had been handling the Williams investigation largely by themselves until recently--are expected to announce the appointments of Brinsley and Lawler today, along with those of the other two team members: the law firm of Saltzburg, Ray & Bergman, where Commissioner Deirdre Hill is a senior associate, and LAPD Lt. Charles Beck, who heads the commission's Investigations Division.
Saltzburg, Ray & Bergman has been working free of charge for the Police Commission on the Williams matter for a week or two, sources said.
Beck and his staff have been helping on an ad-hoc basis since the investigation began in response to a letter that the commission received in December.
The Investigations Division, which Beck has headed for a year, does routine chores such as looking into permit applications for businesses regulated by the commission, such as massage parlors and dance halls. But it also engages in special investigations for the commission.
The Williams investigation concerns unsubstantiated rumors that the chief and his family misused cars, drivers and cellular phones paid for by the public; that Williams improperly solicited perks from private sources, and that he accepted free rooms at Las Vegas casino hotels.
Williams has denied wrongdoing, and the Police Commission so far has found none.
The rumors were called to the commission's attention in December by Stephen Downing, a retired LAPD deputy chief who wrote a letter citing widespread reports within the Police Department of misconduct by Williams that "should be investigated and put to bed one way or the other."
Citing standard practice and its obligation to look into all allegations of impropriety brought to its attention, the commission decided to investigate.
Commissioners initially attempted to conduct the probe with the aid of only staff members. But commissioners, who are appointed by the mayor and serve part-time, found the matter too time-consuming.
"The legwork proved too Herculean for those with other jobs," one source said.