A Los Angeles Police Department investigation involving 224 interviews, more than 250,000 documents and more than $400,000 has determined that former Detective Mark Fuhrman was lying when he boasted on tape about an array of officer misconduct, including torturing suspects.
But the investigation’s executive summary - a copy of which was obtained Thursday by the Los Angeles Times - has angered the department’s civilian bosses, who contend that the department’s analysis of the case is so poorly reasoned and incomplete that it may complicate an ongoing federal investigation of the police department. The Police Commission has directed Chief Willie L. Williams and his staff to rewrite the document.
The allegations involving Fuhrman came to light after his testimony in the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, which was rocked by disclosures that the ex-detective had given tape-recorded interviews to an screenwriter. On those tapes Fuhrman bragged of beating suspects and fabricating evidence. Fuhrman also implicated other police officers in wrongdoing.
According to the 30-page summary of the department’s still-secret investigation, department investigators probed 29 allegations of misconduct against Fuhrman. Time after time, the investigation turned up incidents that paralleled some of the details Fuhrman provided to the screenwriter.
In almost every instance, however, the inquiry concluded that Fuhrman was exaggerating or lying outright. As a result, the summary states the department dropped charges of brutality, racism and excessive force.
Police commissioners said they are concerned about how it will be received, particularly by the U.S. Justice Department. Some commissioners fear that the report does not candidly examine how an officer who demonstrated Fuhrman’s racism could be promoted through the ranks. They fear it may provoke federal authorities to step up their ongoing inquiry into the police department.
Williams defended his department’s work. The chief conceded that the commission was unhappy with the executive summary and had asked his staff to prepare a new draft. Williams promised that the new draft could be completed in a few weeks.
Among the controversial allegations reviewed as part of the Fuhrman inquiry:
Fuhrman’s statements that he tortured suspects and beat them “to mush” in the aftermath of a 1978 ambush in East Los Angeles were found to be untrue. “Each of Fuhrman’s statements is refuted by the evidence, witness statements or a combination thereof,” the executive summary states. It does not explain how that conclusion was reached.
Fuhrman told the screenwriter that an officer named “Tom” tore up drivers’ licenses and used racist slurs, among other things. Police investigators identified that officer, but found that the statements about him were unfounded. “None of the seven witnesses stated that (the officer) tore up drivers’ licenses … and there is no physical evidence that (he) tore up drivers’ licenses,” according to the report.
Fuhrman described a police chase in which he said officers rammed a suspect’s vehicle and then struck and kicked him. Investigators found an April 24, 1986, pursuit that matched some of Fuhrman’s claims, but concluded that photographs of the truck and of the suspect’s injuries did not match Fuhrman’s description. Although the suspect was adamant that Fuhrman struck him, police records indicated that Fuhrman was not there at the time, so police believed the suspect was lying.
Fuhrman’s claim that police allowed a suspect to die in custody rather than let him receive treatment from a paramedic was ruled unfounded, even though evidence surfaced showing police did block paramedics during an April 9, 1977, incident. The executive summary attributes that to a “misunderstanding,” and adds that the delay did not appear to contribute to the death of Lee Roy Dean, a suspect who had been shot by police. “The suspect was never observed breathing after the shooting and was undoubtedly deceased as he lay on the ground,” the report states. It does not say what the “misunderstanding” was or why it was not treated more seriously, given the suspect’s death.
Responding to those findings, the commission’s recently appointed inspector general, Katherine Mader, criticized the department for “shading” its interpretation of that incident. Such shading, she said in a memo to the commission also obtained by the Times, “plays into public perception that police reports are not written in an objective manner.”