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West Covina Informs Police Chief He’ll Be Fired

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The city of West Covina has notified embattled Police Chief John T. Distelrath that it is seeking to fire him based on the conclusions of an investigation into misconduct allegations, officials announced Friday.

Distelrath, a 31-year law enforcement veteran, has been on paid leave since last month after City Atty. Elizabeth Martyn began investigating a number of allegations of conflict of interest, including the chief’s hiring of a business partner as a consultant for the Police Department.

Ending speculation over Distelrath’s status, council members and City Manager James Starbird released a joint statement Friday saying Starbird had issued a “notice of intention to terminate” to the chief--the first step in firing a police officer--after reviewing the investigation report. “Mr. Starbird opted to act on the allegations only after a full investigation and final report,” the statement said.

Distelrath said Friday that he was “very saddened that this is taking a toll on City Hall. The truth will come out in court.” He declined to comment further.

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The move to end his four-year tenure as chief came only a few days after the city revealed that he had filed a workers’ compensation claim for stress-related injuries.

Distelrath can respond to the termination notice within 10 days and, if he chooses, seek personnel hearings that could take until the end of next month.

City officials declined to release the investigation report but said parts of it could be made public after further review. Other authorities who could examine Distelrath’s conduct will get copies.

“The city attorney has determined that there is a legal and ethical obligation to refer information contained in the report to other agencies whose jurisdiction differs from the West Covina city attorney’s, including, for example . . . the district attorney, attorney general, Fair Political Practices Commission and federal agencies,” the statement said.

The allegations of misconduct center on Distelrath’s hiring in May 1995 of Sonny Faires, a local businesswoman and president of the West Covina Chamber of Commerce, to market the city’s driving and shooting simulator facility. That month, Distelrath, Faires and a former police officer filed papers to form a training company.

Faires, who has declined to comment, earned more than $40,000 from her work with the city over the next two years, though her employment was never subject to the standard bidding process, city officials said.

Distelrath has maintained that the investigation amounts to a political witch hunt and in an earlier interview said Faires was hired informally at an hourly rate and that he never benefited from the training company financially.

The investigation also reviewed the chief’s handling of an incident involving Mayor Ben Wong, who in November 1996 flashed a city-issued badge and confiscated the driver’s license of a motorist with whom he had a minor traffic incident.

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In a memo, Distelrath said a local deputy district attorney had determined that no serious crime had been committed. But the district attorney’s office said the prosecutor told Distelrath to present the issue to the Los Angeles city attorney, in whose jurisdiction the incident occurred.

Martyn said that issue is not part of the termination notice but may be reviewed elsewhere.


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