LAPD’s Fuhrman Inquiry Calls for Sweeping Changes
A Los Angeles Police Department report on former Det. Mark Fuhrman’s taped allegations of police brutality and criminal misconduct recommends sweeping changes in the way the department handles personnel complaints, disciplines rogue cops, maintains internal records and holds command officers responsible for the actions of their subordinates.
According to a 69-page executive summary of the inquiry into Fuhrman’s comments, investigators determined that in almost every instance, the now-retired detective was exaggerating or lying about episodes of police brutality, but telling the truth when he spoke of institutional harassment of women on the force.
Released Monday, the report contains uncharacteristically candid and critical language for a department document. It concludes that Fuhrman and a number of other male officers were part of an informal clan that, over a 10-year period, created a “hostile work environment” at the West Los Angeles police station, refusing to have women as partners, back them up on calls or even acknowledge their presence in the department.
“Obviously, this is a serious concern and any thinking person must ask why! How could this go on so long?” asked the in-house report, which has been forwarded to the Police Commission. “Our disciplinary system was created to deal with corruption and more traditional allegations of police misconduct such as brutality. But in a complex cultural world, it fails miserably at changing attitudes about co-workers.”
Fuhrman’s allegations of police misconduct came to light after his testimony in the murder trial of O.J. Simpson when an aspiring screenwriter produced tapes and transcripts of 14 conversations she had with him from 1985 to 1994. On those tapes, Fuhrman, a key witness in the Simpson case, bragged of beating suspects, fabricating evidence and duping Internal Affairs officers. He also implicated other officers in wrongdoing, such as allowing a wounded suspect to die.
As a result of the LAPD’s subsequent 17-month investigation, the report makes 15 recommendations to improve the department, including:
* A more comprehensive approach to personnel complaints so patterns of an officer’s misbehavior can be identified sooner. “Presently, our investigations focus much too narrowly on the specific issue alleged rather than taking a broader look at the [entire] incident,” the report stated. An officer’s past conduct must also be considered in context of any allegation, the report added.
* Holding command officers accountable “when egregious or systemic misconduct is found within a command” such as at the West Los Angeles station. The current manual does not “spell out a command officer’s responsibility to deal with systemic misconduct.” Additionally, the command officers need to be given greater authority to hand out discipline and should be required when they leave or get transferred to another position to fully brief their replacements on the issues and problems of the command.
* Reviewing the department’s handling of use-of-force incidents. Past changes in the way such incidents are reported need to be reviewed to “ensure that the problems they were designed to correct are, in fact, being corrected,” according to the report. During the Fuhrman inquiry, investigators found that the victims frequently were not interviewed during internal investigations of use-of-force incidents.
Chief Willie L. Williams said the report showed that serious issues need to be and will be addressed at the department.
“We’re not perfect yet and probably never will be,” Williams said.
Police Commission President Raymond C. Fisher called the report a “blueprint for corrective action” within the LAPD. He said the commission will ask the department for a detailed plan on how it will implement the recommendations. A majority of commission members support the recommendations.
“I personally believe that the only good thing about Fuhrman is that his twisted mind forced the department to take a hard look at its practice and procedures, particularly with how it treats its women officers,” Commissioner Edith Perez said.
The investigation of Fuhrman’s comments, which cost about $800,000, identified 29 allegations of police misconduct. Investigators were able to link 12 of those allegations to actual events, but could not find evidence that the other 17 occurred. The U.S. Justice Department requested and has received a copy of the report, authorities said.
“While [Fuhrman’s] statements often contained exaggerations and pure fabrications, the truth was also interwoven in the stories. Sometimes it is impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins,” the report said.
As many as 20 department investigators reviewed about 250,000 documents and interviewed more than 220 people. But the investigation was hampered because of the passage of time because some of the incidents occurred in the 1970s and because records have been destroyed or lost. Record keeping at the LAPD is so poor, the author of the Fuhrman report concluded, that it should be revamped.
In cases that were linked to actual events, investigators concluded that Fuhrman was either embellishing the facts or outright lying to the screenwriter. None of Fuhrman’s allegations of brutality, racism and excessive force were sustained.
Fuhrman, who last year pleaded no contest to perjury charges related to his testimony in the Simpson trial, has also contended that his tape-recorded comments were merely intended to be fictionalized accounts of police work, not an accurate portrayal of his actions.
The screenwriter’s tapes were used by Simpson’s defense team to prove that Fuhrman lied on the witness stand when he testified that he had never used the racial slur “nigger” in the previous decade.
The report was the department’s third attempt at addressing Fuhrman’s taped allegations. In October, the Police Commission rejected the department’s report as inadequate, with some members concerned that the investigation was akin to a whitewash.
Monday’s report, written by Capt. Dan Koenig, commanding officer of the detective support division, is a far more comprehensive look at the accusations of police misconduct made by Fuhrman. Unlike the early versions, the latest report contains full descriptions of the incidents that matched Fuhrman’s comments. In some cases, witnesses who were not interviewed at the time of the police encounter were located and questioned about Fuhrman’s account.
“My problem with the earlier drafts was that they were greatly lacking in candor, self-criticism and were poorly organized as a report,” said Katherine Mader, the department’s inspector general, who wrote an eight-page analysis addressing shortcomings in the department’s October report. “This new report should set the standard for the department. They did an amazing job of going through thousands and thousands of documents and finding independent witnesses.”
Among the allegations that investigators determined were untrue:
* Fuhrman and other officers tortured and beat four suspects’ faces to “just mush” after a 1978 officer-involved shooting in East Los Angeles.
* Fuhrman and his partner rammed a suspect’s vehicle during a pursuit April 24, 1986, and then struck and kicked him after he was apprehended.
* Police officers refused to let paramedics treat a wounded suspect because they wanted him to die after a April 9, 1977, shootout with police. Investigators, however, did find evidence that an officer blocked paramedics from treating the suspect, identified as Lee Roy Dean, for several minutes because of misunderstanding over preserving the crime scene. The delay did not appear to contribute to Dean’s death, investigators concluded. Fuhrman was never at the scene, they said.
* Fuhrman’s partner named “Tom” tore up driver’s licenses and used racist slurs. Police investigators identified the officer but found that the statements about him were unfounded.
Investigators found that the department’s handling of some of those incidents dating back 10 to 20 years does not hold up to the LAPD’s current standards. In fact, investigators found the handling of some cases to be “grossly deficient.”
“Hindsight is almost always 20/20 and it is unfair to look at a 1985 incident with 1997 eyes,” the report stated.
The one area where Fuhrman’s comments rang true, the report said, dealt with the harassment of women on the force, particularly at the West Los Angeles police station, where Fuhrman was part of a notorious group known as Men Against Women.
According to the report, members of the group believed there was no place for women in the LAPD. Members would act aloof to female officers, ignore them and try to get them into trouble during their probationary periods after joining the department.
“In some cases, the actions of the group inhibited some women from safely and effectively performing their duties and created fear in many women that these male officers would not provide backup if they requested it in the field,” the report said. “Further, there was evidence that the Men Against Women officers would ostracize male officers who did not support their boycott against female officers.”
Even though the group was exposed during an internal LAPD investigation in 1986, the discrimination and harassment against women continued for nearly 10 more years, the report said. A big part of the problem, investigators said, was that many supervisors did not perceive the harassment of women as an issue or took part in the misconduct.
There was a “perception, if not a reality, that a ‘good old boys’ network existed in management,” according to the report, which said the actions and lack of actions by the supervisors was “unconscionable.”
Supervisors had such close relationships with the officers who were harassing the women that it made it difficult for the women to lodge complaints, the report said. In some cases, the supervisors worked with or for subordinate male officers on off-duty business ventures.
Fuhrman’s supervisors “not only allowed him to act out his prejudices, but they accommodated him by allowing him to select his partners and other separatist working conditions,” the report said.
“The type of sexual harassment used in West Los Angeles was about power, pure and simple. . . . In short order, [Fuhrman] exerted that power over the younger, less experienced and, therefore, more vulnerable female officers,” the report stated. “Fuhrman’s power grew every time he made an unchallenged sexist comment in roll call, every time he blatantly ignored a female officer, every time he resolved a field situation for a female officer and every time his behavior was reinforced by his supervisors such as deploying him with only male partners.
“As his power rose, his ability to influence the peer group grew until it was Fuhrman who set the tone for the watch, not the supervisors.”
Recent “environmental audits” at other command areas within the LAPD have uncovered gender bias issues similar to those that occurred in West Los Angeles. Police, however, declined to disclose which locations were audited.
“Widespread sexual harassment, intimidation and threats against women on the force remain a serious problem on the LAPD--a problem made worse by the apparent complicity of the top command,” Penny Harrington, director of the National Center for Women and Policing, said after the report was released Monday.
Harrington has called for an independent “blue-ribbon commission” to investigate gender bias and sexual harassment issues at the LAPD.
Because Fuhrman has retired from the department, there is little LAPD authorities could do to him. They could issue a reprimand, but that would have no effect on his pension.
Fuhrman, who now lives in Idaho and has been promoting his book “Murder in Brentwood,” was not available for comment. In interviews, he has said that his statements to screenwriter Laura Hart McKinny were intended to be fictionalized accounts of police work.
“I let my imagination run wild,” he explained in his book. “Throughout the interviews, I was creating fictional situations, sometimes based loosely on the true incidents. . . . I can see the misguided, get-rich-quick mentality I had then. . . . Hearing my ugly words and not knowing the context, the public was understandably outraged.”
In his book, Fuhrman turns the tables and criticizes the LAPD investigation of the Simpson case, accusing the two lead detectives of shoddy, incompetent work.
Ironically, the department’s investigators praised Fuhrman for his talents as a detective.
“By all accounts . . . Fuhrman did a good job in his detective assignment,” the report stated. “Perhaps he matured, perhaps he finally received the supervision he needed and perhaps in detectives he didn’t have the opportunity to misbehave as he did in patrol. . . . Perhaps the [financial] incentives available to a good detective finally turned him around.”
The report concluded that the department must also make a turn for the better.
“Over the past decade, there has been an erosion of integrity throughout our great nation and the Los Angeles Police Department is no exception,” the report said. “If there is one tragedy in this entire Fuhrman matter which rises above the rest it is that the [department] let two homicide victims and their families down. . . . That simply must not happen again.”