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LAPD chief testifies in civil trial, denies he unfairly passed captain over for promotion

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, left, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti are seen at a news conference on Feb. 4.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck denied Monday that he unfairly passed over a captain for promotions, telling jurors he selects officers for high-ranking positions based on who he thinks is “the best person for the job.”

Beck also rejected allegations that he was “throwing a bone” to Capt. Peter Whittingham when he upgraded the LAPD veteran after he sued the city in 2014.

“I wouldn’t do that,” the chief said.

Beck spent nearly two and a half hours on the witness stand Monday, testifying in a highly watched civil trial involving Whittingham, who alleged he was wrongly kept from advancing in the LAPD after Beck became chief in 2009.

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Whittingham has alleged he was unfairly passed over for promotions after going against the chief’s wishes in a 2012 disciplinary hearing and after disagreeing with another captain over whether an officer should be demoted.

Whittingham’s lawsuit contends that he and other command staff were told that when Beck sent officers to a three-person disciplinary panel -- known as a board of rights hearing -- the chief expected those officers to be fired.

In August 2012, the lawsuit said, Whittingham served on one such hearing and voted to suspend an officer instead of fire him. After that, Whittingham alleged, he was warned by Beck’s then-chief of staff that Beck considered a captain’s panel votes when deciding on promotions.

Beck denied the allegations on Monday, saying he had “no clear recollection of any specific board that Peter sat on.” The chief said he considers “hundreds of points” when deciding promotions.

At first, the chief appeared at ease on the stand, often turning toward jurors when explaining the structure of the 10,000-officer LAPD. But he later went back-and-forth with one of Whittingham’s attorneys, Gregory W. Smith, who repeatedly asked the chief to keep his answers brief.

“Listen to my question, chief,” Smith said at one point.

“I did,” Beck replied.

The chief testified that although he had heard complaints against Whittingham -- one official described the captain to Beck as “aloof and detached,” another said Whittingham had a “negative” effect on morale -- he decided to advance Whittingham in 2014.

Whittingham now heads the LAPD Criminal Gang Homicide Division, which Beck described to Assistant City Atty. Wayne Song as a “hugely important job.” The chief said he believed Whittingham’s experience, ability to work with residents and understanding of gang violence made him the best fit for the position.

“I thought Peter was the right person,” the chief said.

Follow @katemather for more LAPD news.

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