October 2, 1995 in Nation/World

Furhman’s Stress Claims Ignored Lapd Didn’t Believe His Story As He Sought Stress Pension

Los Angeles Times
 

With all the vitriolic back-and-forth in the closing arguments of the O.J. Simpson murder trial last week, there was one issue on which all the attorneys agreed: retired Detective Mark Fuhrman was the worst the Los Angeles Police Department had to offer.

But there was another issue left in doubt: Why Fuhrman - despite his avowed racism and penchant for violence - was allowed to remain on the force?

“Nobody,” defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. declared, “did anything about it.”

Indeed, Fuhrman’s racist attitudes and boasts of violence were no secret to city officials. While requesting a stress disability pension in 1983, Fuhrman graphically described torturing suspects and conning internal affairs detectives investigating whether he and other officers engaged in a bloody beating spree.

“I answer everything with violence,” Fuhrman told the city Board of Pension Commissioners. “Just seems like I can’t tolerate anybody or anything anymore.”

But rather than grant Fuhrman’s pension application - or bounce him from the force for his attitude or self-described acts of misconduct - officials said they didn’t believe him. At the time, dozens of officers each year were seeking lucrative stress pensions, many claiming to be “walking time bombs.”

In Fuhrman’s case, one LAPD psychiatrist recommended that he not be allowed to carry a weapon again. Fuhrman, though, was back on the streets in the West Los Angeles patrol division within months of his startling admissions.

Psychiatrists and pension board members who evaluated him say that, in hindsight, a thorough LAPD investigation of his claims could have prevented much of the controversy sparked by the Simpson case.

“He expressed these thoughts, and the department was aware of them,” said psychiatrist Ronald R. Koegler, who evaluated Fuhrman in 1982 and sent a report to LAPD officials recommending that he be re-educated. “The problem is with the department: If they got this report and didn’t do anything. … All I can say is they must have liked him there and wanted him back.”

LAPD officials, who say they are conducting a “biopsy” of Fuhrman’s entire career, refuse to discuss why he was allowed to return to patrol duty less than a year after he was denied the stress pension disability in 1983. They also decline to say whether Fuhrman was counseled or monitored once he was back on duty.

“That would be confidential personnel files,” said Cmdr. Tim McBride, the LAPD’s chief spokesman.

But Fuhrman’s pension records - available for public scrutiny on the dusty shelves of the county court archives - offer a case study of how one officer seemingly fell through the cracks. Fuhrman’s case also raises troubling questions about the LAPD’s response to evidence of racist attitudes and alleged misconduct among its rank-and-file.

Fuhrman, a native of Eatonville, Wash., joined the LAPD in 1975 after serving for several years in the Marines. He described his military experience in racist tones as far back as December 1981, in a psychiatric interview for his workers’ compensation case. Fuhrman, who was granted workers’ compensation in 1981, remained on paid leave through mid-1983 when the Pension Board denied his request for the permanent disability pension by a 6-0 vote.

During his last six months in the Marines, Fuhrman told Dr. John Hochman, he “got tired of having a bunch of Mexicans and niggers that should be in prison, telling (him) they weren’t going to do something.”

The chilling statement was one of dozens Fuhrman made to psychiatrists and the pension board, offering rich details about his attitude and alleged misconduct as an LAPD officer. All became publicly available when Fuhrman filed a 1983 Superior Court appeal of his pension rejection. The appeal was denied.

Fuhrman “bragged” to Koegler in late 1982 about breaking suspects’ hands, faces, arms and legs “if necessary.

In speaking with Hochman, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, Fuhrman talked of “choking, kicking, and punching a man after he was unconscious.” He said he “was afraid that he would kill someone if he continued to work the streets.”

Finally, he told Hochman about the investigation surrounding “what happened to four guys” he and his partner caught after two fellow officers were shot. The limited facts he related to the psychiatrist seem to square with an Oct. 18, 1978, incident at a Los Angeles housing project, also apparently described in Fuhrman’s now-infamous audiotaped interviews with aspiring screen writer Laura Hart McKinny.

Fuhrman told McKinny that he and his partners pounded the suspects’ faces to “mush,” pushed one of them down the stairs and left their blood-splattered apartment in ruins.

However, no evidence has been disclosed that department officials ever took a second look at the case as a result of what Fuhrman told the psychiatrists.

At the time, several psychiatrists recommended that Fuhrman be removed from police duty.

Dr. Ira M. Brent said Fuhrman suffered from “a highly narcissistic character disorder” and “many aspects of paranoia, underlying hostility and rage.”

Susan Saxe-Clifford, a psychiatrist working for the LAPD at the time, was the one who recommended that Fuhrman not be allowed to carry a gun.

At Fuhrman’s pension hearing, Sgt. Larry Palmer testified that the “department had a variety of light-duty, low-stress jobs available for Officer Fuhrman. Gun, uniform and public contact would not be required,” transcripts show.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email