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LAPD commander under investigation was allowed to join controversial retirement plan

A Los Angeles police commander assigned to home duty after his unmarked car was found crashed and abandoned enrolled days later in a controversial retirement program that allows him to collect essentially twice his usual pay.

By joining the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, the commander will begin receiving early pension checks in addition to his regular salary while at home during the investigation into the crash.

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Officials with Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions estimate Cmdr. Jeff Nolte’s monthly pension checks will be $13,872 — or about $166,000 a year. Los Angeles Police Department officials would not divulge Nolte’s current salary, but public records show he was paid $200,000 in 2017, the last year for which complete data are available.

LAPD Chief Michel Moore had previously confirmed that Nolte is the subject of the investigation and was assigned to home. Nolte oversees a team that investigates officer-involved shootings. His Dodge Charger was discovered wrecked near the intersection of 213th Street and Avalon Boulevard in Carson after a crash the night of Jan. 24.

Josh Rubenstein, the LAPD’s communications director, confirmed that after the crash, Nolte joined DROP, which pays city police officers and firefighters their salaries and early pension payments simultaneously for the last five years of their careers.

When contacted, Nolte declined to comment on the crash. He did not respond to questions about the pension plan.

Moore said he could not address the situation of a specific individual. Speaking generally about DROP, he said: “The original intent of the program was to forestall retirements of well-qualified seasoned professionals. Circumstances that counter that are inconsistent with that intent. I remain supportive of making incremental adjustments to ensure the program continues to achieve its desired results.”

DROP participants are required to be on active duty the day they apply for the plan, but they can continue receiving the extra money even if they take extended leaves soon after joining.

The City Council recently altered the program after The Times revealed that nearly half of the police and firefighters who joined DROP subsequently took injury leaves, typically for bad backs, sore knees and other cumulative ailments. Under the revised rules, new participants must work 112 hours in a month to get their early pension check.

But the move by the City Council did not close another loophole: Officers on paid leave are considered on active duty and eligible for DROP. Officers are often put on paid leave and instructed to stay home pending the outcome of an internal investigation, which may take months to conclude. Police officers remains on the payroll until they are legally separated, Rubenstein said.

Rubenstein said he could not disclose specifically when Nolte joined the plan. “Those details are not subject to public information,” Rubenstein wrote in a message.

But Raymond Ciranna, general manager of Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions, said Nolte joined the plan Jan. 28. That was three days after he was assigned to home following the crash. Nolte has served 31 years with the department.

The crash itself remains under investigation by the LAPD. In an earlier statement, officials said that there were no injuries and that no one else was believed to have been involved.

The exact circumstances of the crash are still murky. Several motorists in the area reported in 911 calls to the California Highway Patrol that a severely damaged car was being driven at fairly high speed on the southbound 405 Freeway.

The recordings, first obtained by ABC7, suggest motorists feared for their safety.

“I was trying to honk and get them to pull over, and they kept on driving and they just had sparks flying. They don’t have no tire. I mean literally no tire,” one caller reported.

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Another motorist told a 911 operator that the driver of the car appeared to be “really drunk” and was “driving a damaged vehicle, just driving on the front axle…. The front wheel is completely gone.”

Simeon Yarbrough, a CHP spokesman for the area, said the car had been in a crash near the 110 and 405 freeways.

Although the mangled vehicle was found about 4:40 a.m. the next morning by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, the LAPD assumed jurisdiction over the investigation, Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said. LAPD officials have refused to say where Nolte’s vehicle crashed or exactly when the collision occurred.

Nolte previously was the subject of a civil lawsuit in connection with a shooting during a narcotics investigation.

According to LAPD records, Nolte told supervisors that during a 1997 raid at a Gardena motel he came face-to-face with a shotgun-wielding suspect who pointed the gun at him. Nolte shot the suspect in the hands. Authorities determined his actions were not against policy.

But years later, in a civil trial, evidence showed the suspect had his hands in the air when Nolte fired. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said Nolte’s claim of self-defense was not credible, according to a 2004 Times investigation.

The city later awarded the suspect $2 million in a settlement.

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