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Twice chastised, he gets a new job

Times Staff Writer

The adult son of a top-ranking Los Angeles County executive was twice disciplined for associating with suspected criminals while employed by the Sheriff’s Department but was given a new county job instead of being fired, according to interviews and sheriff’s records.

Christopher A. Bunn Jr. was disciplined in 2004 for inappropriately visiting two friends who were in sheriff’s custody and again this year for riding in a car with a suspected gang member. Some department officials determined that his actions were serious enough that he should be fired, according to sources familiar with the matter.

But instead of dismissing Bunn, sheriff’s and county officials transferred him to the Department of Public Health, where he works as a purchasing assistant at nearly the same pay, a move that allowed the 30-year-old to continue accruing vacation and pension benefits.

Bunn’s mother, Sharon Harper, is top assistant to William T Fujioka, the county’s chief executive, and helps manage the county’s 100,000 employees and $21-billion budget, of which $2.3 billion is devoted to the Sheriff’s Department. Harper’s husband, Jerry Harper, served as the No. 2 executive under former Sheriff Sherman Block in the 1990s.

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Sheriff’s Department executives declined to discuss Bunn’s transfer and would not say whether his mother’s position or his stepfather’s career with the department played a role in the decision to transfer the son.

“That’s a personnel matter. I can’t comment on that,” said Undersheriff Larry Waldie. County officials also declined to comment about whether Bunn was given priority over other applicants for the public health job.

On Friday, Sharon Harper said she played no role in her son’s transfer and insisted she never discussed the matter with anyone from the Sheriff’s Department or the Department of Public Health.

“My son is an adult, and I’m not involved with it,” she said.

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Bunn could not be reached for comment.

Bunn worked nearly 10 years for the Sheriff’s Department, most recently as a law enforcement technician assigned to the Lancaster station. It is a civilian job that pays $45,000 a year. According to a Sheriff’s Department posting, law enforcement technicians answer 911 calls, dispatch deputies to crime scenes and handle such clerical duties as maintaining vehicle maintenance logs.

The first trouble for Bunn came in 2004, when he was investigated after visiting two friends who were in custody at the Lancaster station, according to department records. He was suspended three days for “general behavior” violations and was ordered to no longer associate with suspected gang members.

The department’s Office of Independent Review, which monitors internal affairs investigations, contended that Bunn should have received a longer suspension, records show. The group also found there was enough evidence to conclude that he had obstructed an investigation by telling his friends not to speak to detectives, according to a summary of the disciplinary investigation. However, department officials listed those allegations as “unresolved.”

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In 2006, Bunn was accused of lying to a law enforcement officer about the identity of a suspected gang member in whose car he had been a passenger. The internal affairs investigation determined that Bunn associated with a gang member, obstructed an investigation, provided false information and committed disorderly conduct.

Sheriff Lee Baca, Waldie and other senior managers in the department had several discussions about what to do with Bunn before deciding to transfer him to the public health job, sheriff’s officials said. Bunn signed a letter of resignation from the Sheriff’s Department before he was given the new job.

Citing confidentiality involved in personnel decisions, Waldie would not say who made the decision to transfer Bunn or whether the Sheriff’s Department told Public Health Department officials about Bunn’s disciplinary record. He said transfers between county departments are common.

“We lose people to other county departments all the time on transfers and promotions, and they come to us all the time from other departments,” Waldie said.

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John D. Barnett, an attorney who has represented dozens of Southern California police officers accused of misconduct, said it appears to him that Bunn was treated better than most law enforcement employees are when they are found to have violated department policies.

“He got a sweet, sweet deal. Police officers get fired for less than that,” said Barnett, a lawyer for 33 years. He said he’d never heard of a misconduct case ending the way Bunn’s did.

“If I was to represent a cop who was going to be fired, I would say, ‘Look, this [Bunn’s] conduct created a much bigger danger than my client allegedly beating his wife or hanging around a prostitute.’ This type of activity -- referees associating with gamblers, police employees associating with crooks -- it creates a bad perception. Of course you’d want to use that as a comparison. Not only was he not prosecuted, he got a lateral transfer.”

Neal Tyler, the Sheriff’s Department chief of field operations, who was also involved in discussions about Bunn’s discipline, said the department tried to reach a decision that would be fair to the public and the employee.

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“We always take appropriate administrative action when we find something has gone wrong,” Tyler said. “A lot of things were considered, and I was not the final voice. It was a combination of a lot of minds with a lot of experience trying to figure out what’s the most fair to the public and the employee and what’s practical with respect to what we’ve done in the past. I weighed in with my input, yes, and I can’t say much more than that or I’d be discussing personnel matters.”

Bunn’s employment with the Sheriff’s Department ended April 30. He started work with Public Health the next day, according to county records. His new job as a procurement assistant pays $41,700, according to county records.

Public Health Department spokeswoman Rachel Tyree confirmed that Bunn joined the department “as a lateral transfer from another county department” but would not discuss details of his transfer. She would not say whether the department recruited candidates for the opening that Bunn filled or whether other applicants were considered.

“Unfortunately we cannot discuss issues of personnel regarding hiring. That’s not public information,” Tyree said. “We don’t discuss how staff are hired or what that process is, just to protect the employees. That’s just not county policy.”

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stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com


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