As Los Angeles Police Department officials quietly scoured records on Tuesday for evidence of any truth in former Detective Mark Fuhrman’s inflammatory anecdotes tape-recorded by a screenwriter, the head of the citizens’ panel over-seeing the department launched an investigation into the allegations.
“We need to get to the bottom of this … so we don’t continue to have community relations problems,” Police Commission President Deirdre Hill said. She added she directed Police Chief Willie L. Williams to set up an in-house investigative team and to quickly obtain transcripts of Furhman’s interviews with writer Laura Hart McKinny.
Regardless of whether the statements are true, they represent a potential public relations nightmare for a department that is still trying to recover from the fallout over the 1991 beating of black motorist Rodney King.
The department has been criticized for the slow pace of implementing some of the widespread reforms voters approved in the wake of the beating and rioting after the officers’ first trial. Tensions threatened to reignite this summer when it was revealed that the officer who shot and killed a 14-year-old boy had been on a list of “problem officers” identified by the commission that investigated the 1992 riots.
The tapes - and whether the jury should hear them - have taken center stage in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. The defense has tried to discredit Fuhrman, an investigator who found key evidence, by painting him as racist and a rogue cop with little regard for department policies.
Both sides have obtained copies of the tapes, and sources said they pose potential trouble not only for Fuhrman, who testified he had never used a particular racial slur, but for the LAPD as well.
On the tapes, of interviews for a future book or screenplay, Fuhrman not only uses slurs, he also derides a superior officer, who is married to trial Judge Lance Ito, and claims he often pulled over black motorists who were driving expensive cars.
Furhman’s lawyer has said the interviews were for a work of fiction and were not meant to be taken as truth. The prosecution has depicted them as the invented boasts of a mean-spirited braggart eager to sell a story. The defense, however, said the tapes are proof that Fuhrman had it in for Simpson as well as other blacks.
Hill said, regardless of the intent and veracity of Fuhrman’s statements to the screenwriter, “this creates an extraordinary community relations problem. It only underscores the racial tensions, which have been a problem for some time.
“Unfortunately, most people who hear the statements don’t stop to ask why he made them,” said Hill, who is black.
Even before Hill called for an investigation, however, sources said department officials were searching records, trying to find incidents like those Fuhrman, who retired Aug. 5, related on the tapes.
Of particular concern to the police department, sources said, are suggestions that officers who may still be with the department might have committed misconduct. People who have heard the tapes say the officer implicates colleagues in wrongdoing as well. Such officers could be subject to discipline.
Hank Hernandez, attorney for the Police Protective League, said Fuhrman’s comments will unfairly “reflect on everybody here.” Noting the high rate of officers leaving for other departments, he added “who can blame these good cops?” for bailing out.