Peter Sanders, a civilian employee and chief spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department, will go behind closed doors with a hearing officer in October to face accusations he used a city car to stop and threaten an Uber driver at a Trader Joe’s in Studio City.
The diversion program allows suspects to avoid criminal charges and an arrest record if they don’t commit similar conduct for one year.
“The suspect and the alleged victim will each have the opportunity, on separate dates, to speak about the subject incident with a hearing officer,” Rob Wilcox, spokesman for City Attorney Mike Feuer, wrote in a statement. “The suspect will be admonished and informed that their conduct could constitute a crime and that if there is any similar conduct, charges for the original incident may be filed before the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations.”
This year, the office scheduled 4,420 hearings and held 2,841. Wilcox said the office selected the diversion program based on the circumstances and evidence. He declined to comment on the evidence.
Sanders and Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Capt. Erik Scott, another Fire Department spokesman, said an internal investigation is ongoing and declined to comment.
Lou Shapiro, a defense attorney who is not involved in Sanders’ case, said other than an “outright rejection of the case, it’s the best outcome [Sanders] could get” from city attorneys. He said the hearings are usually reserved for “light stuff” and cases with no injuries. But he said prosecutors likely spotted something in the investigation and evidence to merit a hearing.
“They see a cause for concern that they need to address to prevent this from happening again,” Shapiro said.
Ross Erlich, another defense attorney not involved in the case, said the hearings are used in only about 5% of his misdemeanor cases.
“It’s kind of a slap on the wrist,” he said, adding the hearings are not public. “It’s great for the suspect and a tremendous benefit. It is, in theory, available to anybody. It is not very common.”
The June allegation isn’t the first time Sanders was accused of violating Fire Department policy with his vehicle.
The department reprimanded him in early June after it received a complaint that Sanders illegally parked his department car and had unauthorized passengers in it, Scott told the Times in a June statement.
“Mr. Sanders acknowledged to his chain of command that he violated the department’s policies in those two areas and accepted full responsibility,” the statement said.
The Los Angeles Police Department’s North Hollywood Division investigated the threat allegations.
The incident occurred at a Trader Joe’s in Studio City and spilled onto Ventura Boulevard on a Friday evening.
A summary of the incident report gave the following account:
After Uber driver Harry Michaels and Sanders’ wife got into an argument over his attempt to drive past her car, Michaels said, a black car pulled up behind him with lights and sirens on, the report said.
Michaels stopped, and Sanders and his wife jumped out of their vehicles and swore at him. The wife then allegedly kicked the door of Michaels’ 2015 Mercedes-Benz. Michaels told police he got out to warn the couple not to touch his car. That’s when, Michaels said, Peter Sanders pushed him in the chest, urging Michaels to hit him.
“You don’t talk to my wife that way,” Michaels said Sanders told him. “I’m going to [expletive] you up. Do you know who I am? I’m the Fire Department, and I can have you arrested right now.”
Tensions continued to flare. Michaels claimed that after he got back in his car, Sanders smashed his hand in the door. Michaels drove away but said Sanders pulled behind him again with the lights and sirens on. Michaels said he told Sanders he called police. Sanders drove away. The report did not include statements from him or his wife.
Michaels said late Friday that the city attorney’s office had not notified him of its decision. He said he wanted to review it before commenting. In late June, he told the Times he believed Sanders impersonated an officer when he screamed, “Police, get out of your car!” He also said Sanders activated the lights and sirens on the car for about 50 seconds.
Sanders’ salary is paid by the mayor’s office and the LAFD reimburses the mayor’s office for the salary, the LAFD said. A spokesman for Mayor Eric Garcetti didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Sanders is the son of Barry Sanders, a prominent attorney, who once served as the president of the Board of Commissioners of the Recreation and Parks Department and the chairman of the Los Angeles Parks Foundation. He also served on the the Board of Commissioners for the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Peter Sanders, a former reporter at the Wall Street Journal, served as the deputy mayor for communications in the administration of Antonio Villaraigosa. He joined the LAFD in 2015 and became controversial within the ranks.
Assistant Chief Pat Butler, former president and vice president of the Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Officers Association, said he has complained to the fire chief about Sanders’ use of the car. Sanders should be held to the same standard as firefighters and go through the disciplinary process, Butler said.
“This is a slap on the wrist, straight up. I’m shocked,” Butler said. “Hopefully, the department pursues this as it would any other member of the department.”