TORRANCE — The Police Department fired back last week in a continuing war of words by responding to allegations made by two former officers involved in a shooting last fall at the Del Amo Fashion Center.
Police Chief Donald E. Nash labeled as absurd the suggestion by former officer Henry Fricke that the department got rid of him because of a $10.5-million lawsuit filed by the mother of the slain theft suspect.
"That's completely absurd," Nash said. "If the lawsuit was an issue, we would have retained him. It would be better to have him on our side."
He said Fricke had to go after the department learned he had used the services of Hollywood prostitutes while off duty.
Interview in Chief's Office
Stung by public accusations, Nash and other police officials broke a self-imposed silence with an interview in the chief's office on Thursday. Police officials had previously cited state law in refusing to comment on personnel matters.
Fricke and John Maley, the other fired officer, "have no restrictions on talking," said Capt. Mel Hone, director of departmental administration. "They are not limited even to the truth. What comes out are self-serving statements. None of them has anything to do with the cases at hand."
Fricke and Maley maintain that discipline was not enforced evenhandedly. They also have said that although the department offered them psychological counseling after the shooting it was made clear that "good cops" would not need counseling. Hone said Fricke and Maley had been disciplined fairly and that the department repeatedly offered counseling to Fricke and Maley.
He dismissed the claims about unfair discipline as an effort to bolster their claims that they are entitled to workers compensation for work-related psychological stress .
"We are all sitting here playing right into their hands. . . . Here are two guys whose sole goal is getting lifetime tax-free retirement benefits," Hone said.
Maley is appealing his firing in an extended hearing before the Torrance Civil Service Commission.
Fricke filed a worker's compensation claim against the city May 22, alleging that he still was suffering psychological trauma caused by the shooting. He told The Times that stress from the incident impaired his judgment when he sought out the prostitutes.
But the chief said that a 1977 incident involving Fricke and a prostitute showed that the more recent instance was part of a pattern of unacceptable behavior.
Resigned From Santa Monica
Fricke acknowledges that in 1977, while a reserve police officer for Santa Monica, he used a prostitute who turned out to be a police informant. He said at that time he was suffering stress because a woman he loved had jilted him. He resigned from the Santa Monica department as a result of the incident. The Santa Monica department later rehired him and Torrance officials knew of the incident when he was hired, city records show.
Maley was fired in March after police officials found out he had drawn a knife on another officer during a dispute that one witness said involved questions about Maley's police tactics in the incident in the mall. The witness testified that Maley drew the knife on the officer after he said that Maley should have been able to disarm without gunplay the man shot and killed in the mall shooting.
In the shooting Sept. 9, Fricke, Maley and Officer Mark Hein shot and killed Bryant John Leadbeater, 32, of Redondo Beach. Police said all three men opened fire after Leadbeater, a suspected thief, lunged at Maley with a 10-inch boning knife. Leadbeater died after being struck by 24 bullets.