December 01, 2013
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department hired dozens of officers even though background investigators found they had committed serious misconduct on or off duty, sheriff's files show.
The department made the hires in 2010 after taking over patrols of parks and government buildings from a little-known L.A. County police force. Officers from that agency were given first shot at new jobs with the Sheriff's Department. Investigators gave them lie detector tests and delved into their employment records and personal lives.
The Times reviewed the officers' internal hiring files, which also contained recorded interviews of the applicants by sheriff's investigators.
Ultimately, about 280 county officers were given jobs, including applicants who had accidentally fired their weapons, had sex at work and solicited prostitutes, the records show.
For nearly 100 hires, investigators discovered evidence of dishonesty, such as making untrue statements or falsifying police records. At least 15 were caught cheating on the department's own polygraph exams.
Twenty-nine of those given jobs had previously been fired or pressured to resign from other law enforcement agencies over concerns about misconduct or workplace performance problems. Nearly 200 had been rejected from other agencies because of past misdeeds, failed entrance exams or other issues.
Several of those with past misconduct have been accused of wrongdoing since joining the department, including one deputy who was terminated after firing his service weapon during a dispute outside a fast-food restaurant.
David McDonald was hired despite admitting to sheriff's investigators he had a relationship with a 14-year-old girl whom he kissed and groped. He was 28 at the time.
"I was in love," he said in an interview with The Times. "I wasn't being a bad guy."
McDonald had been fired from the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department amid allegations he used excessive force on prisoners. A fellow deputy told a supervisor that he didn't want to work with McDonald because he harassed inmates.
L.A. County sheriff's officials made him a jail guard, a decision that surprised even McDonald.
"How can you put me back in the jails when I already had a problem there?" McDonald told the newspaper.
A fellow deputy asked not to work with McDonald because he said McDonald harassed inmates by calling them names. Asked by a supervisor how he thought inmates should be supervised, McDonald said "Well, like Clint Eastwood, tell them what to do and they either do it or else."
Since being hired by the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, McDonald said he has been disciplined in connection with using physical force on an inmate.
"They want you to be more touchy-feely," he said of the discipline. "Whenever you're gonna jack up an inmate, you have to call a supervisor first."
After sheriff's officials learned The Times had access to the records, they launched a criminal investigation to determine who had leaked them. They also said they would review whether some applicants had been improperly hired. The union representing deputies unsuccessfully tried to get a court order blocking publication of information from the files.
The records provide a rare look into hiring decisions at the nation's largest sheriff's department, an agency dogged in recent years by a string of scandals related to deputy abuse and racially biased policing.
The department's hiring files detail proven and unproven allegations of misconduct based on information from past employers, romantic partners and others. The files also document when applicants were arrested or charged for alleged crimes but not convicted. One new hire had been charged with assault under the color of authority, and another had been arrested for assault with intent to murder and rape.
The Times, however, focused its analysis on allegations that had been proved in court, sustained in workplace investigations or in cases where the applicants themselves admitted to wrongdoing to sheriff's investigators.
The Times attempted to contact all of the new hires through visits to their homes, phone calls or by email. More than a third granted interviews or declined to comment. Others received inquiries but did not respond. Some could not be located. Of those who did respond, some disputed the contents in their files. Others characterized past problems as mistakes made many years ago that did not reflect how qualified they are to work in law enforcement today.
Law enforcement experts said hiring officers with problematic backgrounds undermines the department's integrity.
I was under the impression that people with backgrounds like that were not being hired.”
— Edward Rogner, a retired Sheriff's Department commander
"Cops are held to a higher standard than the average member of society because we've got to be able to trust them," said Edward Rogner, a retired Sheriff's Department commander who was involved in the expansion but not in hiring decisions.
When told about The Times' findings, Rogner added: "I was under the impression that people with backgrounds like that were not being hired."
Sheriff Lee Baca declined to comment, but his spokesman said Baca was not aware people with such backgrounds were hired.
Before he knew of the newspaper's investigation, Baca told Times reporters that people with records of violence or dishonesty have no place in law enforcement. He said applicants who had been fired from other agencies shouldn't be given a second chance, and that he would not hire applicants with histories of illegal sexual conduct.
"Men that take women and use them as a sexual object are going to always come up against my wrath," he said.
As a county police officer, Ferdinand Salgado had just gotten off work when he was arrested on suspicion of soliciting a prostitute who was actually an undercover cop at a Yum Yum Donuts parking lot in El Monte. According to authorities, he grinned at her, asked for oral sex and arranged to meet her at a motel.
During the sheriff's background investigation, it was determined that he tried to manipulate the results of the polygraph test by controlling his breathing, a common tactic used to manipulate the outcome of the exam. He denied it, but admitted knowing about a memo circulating among his colleagues on cheating techniques.
He pleaded to a lesser charge of disturbing the peace. During his Sheriff's Department interview, he denied he said anything to the woman.
"I ain't buying it," an investigator told him after reviewing the police report. "You know you're not telling me the truth."
Salgado, who was hired as a jail guard and has since left the agency, wasn't the only one with a conviction on his record.
Records show almost 30 other hires had been convicted of drunk driving, battery or a variety of lower-level crimes. About 50 disclosed to sheriff's background investigators misdeeds such as petty theft, soliciting prostitutes and violence against spouses.
One hire told investigators of having inappropriate sexual contact with two toddlers as a teenager.
In another case, Linda Bonner was given a job after revealing that she used her department-issued weapon to shoot at her husband as he ran away from her during an argument. He wasn't hit; he was lucky he was running in a zigzag pattern, she told investigators, because if not the end result "would have been a whole lot different."
She told investigators that she got into a fight with her then-husband, who slapped her in the face. She told them that she got her service weapon from her purse and fired it at her husband as he was running away from her.
About four years ago, a Los Angeles County police force called the Office of Public Safety was disbanded. Its responsibilities — patrolling county buildings, parks and hospitals — were handed over to the 18,000-person Sheriff's Department in an effort to save money.
The Sheriff's Department was not required to hire any of the former county officers, officials said.
The agency ended up hiring about 280. The majority were taken on as sworn deputies, while others were hired as custody assistants in the department's troubled jail system, security guards or for other lower-level positions.
We had to have grave reasons for not hiring them.”
— Former Los Angeles County Undersheriff Larry Waldie
Baca's then second-in-command, Larry Waldie, and a small circle of aides, were responsible for scrutinizing applicants.
Waldie, now retired, said he personally reviewed many of the applicants' files. He said he was unaware of any hires with histories of significant misconduct.
Presented with some of The Times' findings, Waldie said: "That information was not brought to me ... I don't recall any of these specifics so don't ask me anymore."
Waldie then said he and his aides were under "significant pressure" from the county Board of Supervisors and other officials to hire as many county officers as possible.
"We had to have grave reasons for not hiring them," Waldie said.
A county spokesman denied Waldie's account, saying the Board of Supervisors "clearly and emphatically" told the Sheriff's Department to only hire applicants who met the agency's hiring standards.
Internal Sheriff's Department records reviewed by The Times show the union representing the former county officers was also lobbying Waldie to hire specific members, including some who had committed serious misconduct during their careers.
The department's hiring guidelines give officials wide latitude to employ people with histories of bad behavior, according to records and interviews. The specific rules are confidential to prevent applicants from tailoring their answers to meet the guidelines. A year before the county police hiring process, the Sheriff's Department's civilian monitor criticized officials for their lax hiring guidelines during a previous recruitment drive.
One taped recording of a background interview suggests the department made special accommodations for the county officers.
In the recording, a sheriff's investigator tells an applicant who was caught cheating on his polygraph exam that normally that would have meant "goodbye, you're done, there's no second chances." The investigator then told the applicant that he and other suspected cheaters might not be disqualified "as a favor because, you know, it's law enforcement." The applicant was eventually hired.
It is difficult to assess the performance of the new hires because law enforcement personnel records in California are not available to the public. But interviews and records reviewed by The Times show several officers hired in 2010 have faced new allegations of misconduct.
Gary Esquibel had been suspended as a county police officer for not stopping a colleague from using excessive force and failing to report the incident. Still, the Sheriff's Department hired him as a sworn deputy. He has since been accused of doing nothing as three inmates beat another inmate bloody, according to court records.
Sheriff's background investigators determined he was using "countermeasures" — tactics aimed at manipulating the results of the test. Esquibel denied it. He was suspended for 20 days in 1996 for failing to stop another officer from using excessive force and for failing to report the force.
The department is investigating those allegations, which surfaced during a criminal trial of those charged in the beating. Esquibel declined to comment.
Sheriff's polygraph examiners found that county police Officer Desmond Carter was deceptive when asked about his involvement in domestic disputes. They also determined he tried to manipulate the results of his polygraph exam.
He lasted three months as a sworn deputy. A motorist who bumped Carter's car in a McDonald's parking lot started to drive off before they were done settling the matter, according to a district attorney's memo. Carter, who was off duty, drew his service weapon and fired several rounds at the man's car, one of which hit the wall of a nearby business.
Carter said he fired his gun after he was dragged 15 feet by the man's car, but investigators found no evidence that his clothes were damaged or that he was injured, prosecutors wrote. The district attorney did not charge him with a crime, but the Sheriff's Department fired him. Carter did not respond to inquiries from The Times left with his attorney.
Age: 38 years old
Background investigators concluded Carter was using "countermeasures" — tactics aimed at manipulating the results of a polygraph exam when he was asked about incidents of illegal sexual conduct.
Another officer, Niles Rose, was hired despite being the subject of several unreasonable force allegations.
Rose had been investigated for misconduct 10 times at the Office of Public Safety since 2001. In three of those cases, the allegations were found by investigators to be true, according to the sheriff's background file. A former supervisor said Rose developed a reputation as being heavy-handed with suspects.
"If you want smart force used, you make sure he's in the locker room," Marc Gregory, a former county police captain, said in an interview with The Times.
After the Sheriff's Department hired Rose as a jailer, he faced new allegations of misconduct, according to interviews and a court declaration.
An inmate accused Rose in the declaration of hurling an inmate uniform at him, causing him to recoil and hit his head against a wall. Rose then allegedly declared the man a "child molester" and threatened to put him in the general population, where sex offenders have been targeted by other prisoners.
Age: 36 years old
Sheriff's background investigators noted that he was the subject of 10 internal affairs investigations from 2001 to 2007. Three were founded. At least six of those inquiries related to allegations of unreasonable force, threats or intimidation.
Rose declined to discuss the inmate's allegation of abuse, saying it still may be under investigation. He did confirm that he had so many physical confrontations with inmates that jail managers moved him to the time card office, where he would no longer have contact with prisoners.
He called the move an overreaction.
"I'm not one to just walk around and beat on people for no reason," Rose said. "I never put my hands on someone or fought with somebody who didn't swing at me first."
Allegations of misconduct continued after Rose was reassigned to administrative work.
Sheriff's officials suspect he stole thousands of dollars in overtime funds, according to several law enforcement sources who requested anonymity because the case was ongoing. Rose is now on leave, and a sheriff's spokesman said he's under criminal investigation.
Additional credits: Web producer, Armand Emamdjomeh | Digital design, Lily Mihalik
The Times reviewed the hiring files for the roughly 280 officers hired in 2010 when the Sheriff's Department took over patrol responsibilities for the L.A. County Office of Public Safety. The records contained both proven and unproven allegations of misconduct and poor performance. The Times focused its analysis on proven instances of poor performance and past misconduct, including criminal convictions, workplace disciplinary actions and admissions of wrongdoing as adults. The Times also included instances in which sheriff's polygraph examiners determined applicants were being deceptive. Although the exams are inadmissible in court, they are used by law enforcement agencies to screen applicants.
The newspaper did not count cases in which applicants admitted to miscellaneous office theft when the value was less than $50 a year.
Reporters consulted with law enforcement experts to determine which types of police misconduct were significant enough to include in the paper's analysis. Based on that, The Times omitted lower-level incidents such as at-fault car accidents that did not cause injuries, workplace tardiness and carelessness with public property.
Reporters also consulted with criminal law experts to help determine which types of physical confrontations disclosed by applicants should be categorized as misdeeds. The newspaper did not count instances in which applicants said they solicited prostitutes in countries where prostitution is legal or where The Times could not determine the laws at the time.
The newspaper focused its analysis on proven instances of past misconduct, including criminal convictions, workplace disciplinary actions and admissions of wrongdoing as adults. Reporters consulted with law enforcement experts to determine which types of police misconduct were significant enough to include. In the tally of applicants who showed evidence of dishonesty, reporters counted on-the-job incidents such as falsifying records. The newspaper also included instances in which sheriff's polygraph examiners determined applicants were being deceptive or were using tactics aimed at manipulating the results of the test.