Revelations about L.A. County sheriff’s air unit shock board

New allegations of misconduct within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s air division emerged Tuesday, with the unit’s captain accusing a supervisor there of flying with his relatives in a county helicopter.

Capt. Louis Duran’s public revelation at a Board of Supervisors meeting stunned many in attendance and was interrupted by the county’s attorney, who suggested that the captain’s disclosure touched on pending litigation and should be discussed in private.

Duran’s outburst comes amid allegations that his division intentionally missed emergency calls for help to bolster the case for more funding and overpaid a private contractor almost $11 million for unneeded work and equipment.

Earlier this week, The Times reported on an internal memo by Sgt. Richard Gurr that detailed the questionable payments, and called on Aero Bureau supervisors to be investigated for conflicts of interest and violations of county purchasing rules. The Times has also reported that two other deputies assigned to Aero Bureau had alleged improprieties — one made his claims in a department memo, the other — a lieutenant — leveled his accusations in a lawsuit.

Addressing the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Duran referred to “three people” all with “a common denominator.”

“They were all removed from Aero Bureau. They were all removed — two of them have been affirmed for fraud,” the captain said.

He then singled Gurr out.

“He flew two family members on a helicopter a few years back, picking up family members all the way from North County to LAX. That is Mr. Gurr that today was mentioned in the paper,” Duran said. “He is very disgruntled because he got removed and he got disciplined for that.”

Asked afterward if his statements violated a state law prohibiting the public disclosure of officer discipline, Duran declined comment.

Gregory W. Smith, an attorney who represents both Gurr and Edison Cook, the retired lieutenant suing the department, acknowledged that Gurr did use a county helicopter to fly relatives. But he said Gurr had been given permission to do so by an Aero Bureau supervisor.

A sheriff’s spokesman has maintained that the allegations involving the Aero Bureau are being thoroughly investigated. The department had previously probed allegations of improper relationships with contractors but found no wrongdoing. Sheriff’s officials sent their findings to the district attorney for review.

Additionally, the county’s auditor-controller looked into alleged financial irregularities and found no problems, said sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore.

On Tuesday, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said he requested that audit after it was reported in The Times this month. He warned Sheriff Lee Baca that the scope of the audit was very narrow and did not address all allegations of financial impropriety within the air division.

“I wouldn’t hang my hat that the auditor-controller has found no wrongdoing on anything,” the supervisor told Baca.

Baca disagreed that the audit was narrow. Nonetheless, Yaroslavsky called for another, wider analysis by the auditor-controller’s office.

Yaroslavsky also expressed disappointment that Gurr’s memo had not been shared with supervisors.

Whitmore said the Sheriff’s Department welcomed the new audit. He said the department is evaluating whether Duran’s public comments violated laws prohibiting law enforcement officials from disclosing officer disciplinary records.

“When anybody is accused of being dishonest, they want to be able to defend themselves,” he said. “The difficulty in the Sheriff’s Department is … we’re confined by very strict boundaries when it comes to personnel issues.”

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