A veteran LAPD detective who lost his job after making racially charged remarks during a training session is suing the city alleging he was discriminated against because he was a “white police officer who was wrongfully perceived to be racist.”
In a federal lawsuit filed last week, Frank Lyga alleged his civil rights were violated when LAPD officials wrongfully decided to fire him because of his race. Lyga alleged the action was “motivated by political pressure” from the African American community, alleging a black officer would not have been fired for making the same comments. He is seeking to be reinstated with the LAPD.
“The decision to terminate Plaintiff Frank Lyga was based not on evidence that he was a racist police officer, but on the perception by others that he is a racist police officer and the fact that if he is not terminated, it would give fodder to LAPD detractors who believe that LAPD harbors racist officers,” the lawsuit read.
Lyga, who worked for the LAPD for 28 years, said in his lawsuit that he decided to retire early rather than be fired. One of his attorneys, Joseph Avrahamy, said the department had taken steps to terminate his client, but Lyga retired "before that happened.”
“He’s hoping that through this lawsuit, the truth will finally come out that he’s not a racist,” Avrahamy said.
Cmdr. Andrew Smith, an LAPD spokesman, declined to comment on the lawsuit or its contents. He said the department does not talk about pending litigation, on the advice from its attorneys, and state law prohibited him from speaking about disciplinary matters.
Lyga drew headlines last year after an audio recording surfaced of remarks he made during a question-and-answer session that followed a November 2013 training seminar about search warrants. Lyga delivered an expletive-laden rant, calling a prominent black civil rights attorney an “ewok,” saying a female LAPD captain had been “swapped around a bunch of times” and describing a lieutenant as a “moron.”
Lyga also discussed his fatal 1997 shooting of a fellow officer, Kevin Gaines. Gaines was off-duty and was involved in a traffic dispute with Lyga, who was working undercover at the time. The incident sparked tensions within the LAPD because Lyga is white and Gaines was black.
At the end of his lecture, Lyga recalled a confrontation with Carl Douglas, the attorney representing Gaines’ family and the same man Lyga called an “ewok.” Douglas asked Lyga if he had any regrets about the shooting.
“I said, ‘No, I regret he was alone in the truck at the time,’” Lyga said. “I could have killed a whole truckload of them and I would have been happy doing it.”
After the audio -- which was secretly recorded by someone who attended the lecture -- surfaced, Lyga admitted some of his remarks were inappropriate and apologized.
But an LAPD disciplinary panel recommended that LAPD Chief Charlie Beck fire Lyga, saying that although he had not been accused of racism, his speech had “an underlying racial tone.”
In his lawsuit, Lyga alleged he was told in another letter that he posed a “significant liability” to the LAPD, particularly if he were involved in another shooting of someone who was black.
Lyga also alleged that although he was cleared in the Gaines shooting, he was unfairly labeled a “racist cop killer.” Lyga lamented that the city settled a civil lawsuit with Gaines’ family, saying he thought the lawsuit would vindicate him and that any allegations he was racist “would be permanently dispelled.”
Lyga alleged he has suffered from physical, mental and emotional issues because of the move to fire him, and sued for money to cover his medical expenses, lost pay and $300,000 in compensatory damages.
Follow @katemather for more LAPD news.