Los Angeles Police Department officials are debating whether to find Officer Kelly Chrisman guilty of internal charges that he misused department computers for six years to look up celebrities.
In proceedings similar to a courtroom trial, a three-member police Board of Rights heard closing statements last week on the department’s allegations against Chrisman, which could result in his firing.
LAPD investigators said the patrol officer used a law enforcement computer network to access police databases hundreds of times from 1994 to 2000 and improperly viewed files on such famous people as Sean Penn, Halle Berry, Courteney Cox Arquette, Kobe Bryant and Sharon Stone.
“Officer Chrisman’s actions have damaged the department’s reputation,” Sgt. Andrea Grossman, the LAPD’s in-house prosecutor, told the board. “You don’t have the right to run [a computer check on] someone because you want to.”
Chrisman’s defense representative, Lt. Richard Mossler, said the officer was carrying out orders to map residences of movie stars, corporate executives, politicians and others on the Westside.
“You don’t question your lieutenant; you don’t question your captain,” he said.
LAPD officials have said no celebrity mapping project was ordered or authorized. Chrisman, 35, testified during the hearings that he looked up celebrity addresses to help anticipate problems, such as stalking, on his Pacific Palisades patrol beat.
Chairman James Rubert said the Board of Rights hopes to issue a decision on the computer misuse charges Oct. 17. If Chrisman is found guilty, the board will recommend to Police Chief William J. Bratton punishment ranging from a reprimand to termination.
“I think the purpose of the board is to get to the bottom of this, and I hope they do,” said Gary Casselman, one of Chrisman’s defense attorneys.
In 2001, the LAPD sought criminal prosecution on the alleged computer misuse, but the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office declined to file charges, saying a one-year statute of limitations had expired.
The district and U.S. attorney’s offices are conducting new criminal probes, after information emerged this summer that Chrisman may have sold confidential police data to tabloids.
“I know of no evidence to support that,” Casselman said. “It’s untrue.”
Authorities are investigating because such activity could have violated federal and state laws covering wire fraud, conspiracy or bribery, which have statutes of limitations of up to five years.
The department discovered the alleged misuse of police computers in March 2000, when Chrisman’s former girlfriend, Cyndy Truhan filed a domestic-violence complaint that sparked an investigation of the officer’s on- and off-duty activities.
An internal investigation led to 55 disciplinary charges alleging Chrisman conducted personal business while on duty, committed acts of domestic violence against Truhan and used police computers to view law enforcement data on celebrities as well as friends and co-workers.
This month, the LAPD dropped the internal charges related to domestic violence, leaving the board to focus on the alleged misuse of department computers. Police databases, which are maintained by the state and federal departments of justice, contain such information as criminal histories -- including arrests that did not result in prosecution -- addresses, birth dates, driving records, vehicle ownership, physical descriptions, Social Security numbers and, in some cases, unlisted phone numbers.
A civil rights lawsuit against the LAPD by Truhan, a former talk show host who was once married to baseball player Steve Garvey, alleged that Chrisman had sold information about her and others to the National Enquirer tabloid. In March, the city settled the lawsuit, which also accused Chrisman of stalking Truhan, for $387,500.
The LAPD dropped the 33 internal domestic-violence charges after Chrisman obtained a Los Angeles County Superior Court order stating he was factually innocent. The ruling expunges all public records of his arrest in March 2000 on suspicion of assault. He was never criminally charged.
Of the remaining charges, five relate to the alleged computer misuse and others involve alleged insubordination and theft of Truhan’s dog.
Truhan said she did not object to the Board of Rights’ abandoning of the assault-related allegations. “By dropping the domestic-violence charges, the Police Department can deal with the issues that affect all citizens,” she said. “In this case, I believe that the invasion of privacy is the biggest issue.”
Chrisman filed a false-arrest lawsuit against the LAPD and the city of Los Angeles after Truhan accused him of domestic violence. The federal suit, which seeks unspecified damages, is scheduled to go to trial Dec. 2.