Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials hired several problematic cops from the disbanded Maywood police force last year, including one who drunkenly fired his gun while driving and another who was let go from another police agency for dishonesty, according to a report released Thursday.
The Sheriff’s Department has been criticized before for less than thorough hirings, a practice some critics say has contributed to recent problems in the jails with deputies allegedly abusing inmates and smuggling contraband into the lockups.
The troubled Maywood police force was disbanded and replaced by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in 2010, as the city faced financial trouble and laid off nearly all of its employees. Maywood officials said they had no choice because the city could not obtain insurance, the consequence of too many lawsuits in the past, many involving the Police Department, which had a reputation for employing heavy-handed and under-qualified officers.
A Times investigation in 2007 found that the Maywood Police Department had become a haven for misfit cops who had been pushed out of other law enforcement agencies for crimes or serious misconduct. At least a third of the then-37 member force had left other police jobs under a cloud or had brushes with the law while working for Maywood.
When the Sheriff’s Department was commissioned to take over, officials agreed to consider hiring some of the disbanded force’s cops. Many were rejected.
But according to the report by the Office of Independent Review, four “questionable” applicants made it through.
One of the applicants had admitted getting drunk at a friend’s house, then later leaving in his car and firing his duty weapon toward the home. But when stopped at the time by police who heard shots fired, the officer said he wasn’t responsible and had no knowledge of the incident. He was eventually convicted of a misdemeanor of discharging a firearm.
Another applicant was being investigated by the Maywood Police Department for perjury, a probe that was never concluded because the agency had disbanded. A court had found that the officer had “deliberately and calculatedly” testified on the stand about information that had been suppressed, according to the report. In another instance, that officer was accused of trying to hit a police commissioner with his car, then threatening several others involved with the commission. According to the report, the investigation into the incident was not thorough.
A third hire had been fired from another law enforcement agency for dishonesty, after he lied to his supervisor, according to the report. The applicant had been dinged for dishonesty at least once before, when years earlier he was applying to be a deputy, and admitted to reading “how to beat a polygraph exam” on the Internet before his interview.
Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore pointed out that the decision to hire the Maywood cops was made by the previous undersheriff, and that as deputies, “they’ve all done pretty well.”
He said that such reports from the department’s watchdog are what Sheriff Lee Baca had hoped for when he proposed creating the oversight agency.
“That’s exactly what the sheriff wants the OIR to do, to bring up these issues and bring them to the light of day,” Whitmore said.
The report also included details about sheriff employee misconduct, which recently concluded in significant suspensions, terminations or resignations.
A dozen deputies were discharged after being arrested on suspicion of committing crimes, including one who was convicted of having unlawful sexual conduct with an inmate and four others convicted of driving under the influence. Another deputy was found guilty of violating a domestic violence protective order and one more admitted committing insurance fraud.
Michael Gennaco, who heads up the OIR, credited the department with taking swift action against sheriff’s employees accused of wrongdoing. Last year, he noted, marked the highest number of resolved cases in which the department attempted to fire civilian or deputy employees: 60.
“The department has got the resolve to remove deputies who … shouldn’t be wearing a badge,” he said.