Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck stoked fears of favoritism when he overruled a disciplinary panel's recommendation to fire a well-connected officer in the department. Beck's controversial decision involved Officer Shaun Hillmann, who in 2012 got into an off-duty altercation at a bar in Norco, pulled a gun, uttered a racial slur (which was caught on tape) and then lied to investigators about the incident. Hillmann's father is a retired LAPD officer and his uncle is a former deputy chief.
Beck sent the case to a disciplinary panel, which is required if an officer is going to be fired. The panel, made up of two high-ranking police officials and one civilian, dismissed five of the eight allegations against Hillmann but still concluded that the remaining allegations so seriously damaged his integrity that he could no longer carry out his duties. They recommended firing him. Nevertheless, Beck, who has the final say on officer discipline, decided that the three allegations were not enough to justify termination, so he gave the officer a 65-day suspension.
The chief's decision to reject a recommendation to dismiss would raise eyebrows simply because it's so unusual. Beck has disagreed with a panel's call to fire an officer in just one other case out of 100 since becoming chief. But the Hillmann decision hit a nerve in the department for two additional reasons: the egregiousness of the officer's behavior and the concern that he was spared because his uncle, Michael Hillman, was a highly regarded deputy chief who served alongside Beck. The chief has said the punishment was in line with those for similar offenses and has denied that Hillmann's family ties played a role in his decision-making.
Officer discipline cases are rarely clear-cut, and the chief has to balance the facts of the case and the officer's prior performance to determine an appropriate penalty. Still, it is not surprising there is grumbling within the department about this case. If the LAPD doesn't fire an officer who goes to a bar, gets into an altercation, pulls a gun, uses a racial slur and then lies about it to investigators, when does the department fire someone?