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Punishment of Son Cost Officer's Job

January 23, 1986|DEAN MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

REDONDO BEACH — An 11-year veteran of the Police Department was fired last year after the officer admitted that he had broken the leg of his 3 1/2-year-old son while punishing the boy, according to records released last week.

Police Agent Steven Yoshida, 36, was fired by Police Chief Roger M. Moulton on April 26 after an internal investigation concluded that the officer had endangered the life of his son and that he had lied to workers at Gardena Memorial Hospital about the cause of the boy's injury, records from the Los Angeles County Civil Service Commission show.

Yoshida, whose job included investigation of child abuse cases, admitted that he struck his son, Kevin, with a closed fist on the boy's upper right leg on Christmas Eve, 1981, after the child locked his parents out of their Gardena home, according to the records. The blow fractured the boy's right femur, resulting in a three-week hospital stay. When Yoshida took the boy to the hospital, he told the treating physician the boy had broken his leg when he fell from a swing, the records indicate.

Although Yoshida had a near-perfect record with the department, Moulton cited provisions of the Redondo Beach Police Manual and Rules as grounds for dismissal in his notice of termination to the officer. He pointed, among others, to sections that cite unlawful conduct and off-duty behavior that discredits the city as grounds for dismissal.

Dismissal 'Justified'

"The nature of the offense was so severe and the gravity of it so serious, it justified the dismissal," Moulton said in an interview this week. "I felt it was very important that there was a cover-up in terms of reporting it."

Yoshida, with the financial backing of the Redondo Beach Police Officers Assn., appealed the firing to the Los Angeles County Civil Service Commission last summer. The police agent admitted hitting the child and falsely reporting the incident to the hospital, but said he did not mean to break the leg and said he lied so the boy and his older brother would not be taken away from him and his wife during an investigation, according to testimony included in the records.

"I didn't do it intentionally, it was just something that happened in the course of discipline," Yoshida said in an interview with two Redondo Beach police investigators whose report was part of the records. "I was sorry for what I did, and I suffered for it."

Yoshida told the officers that he was trying to pick up the boy and hit him on the buttocks, but struck his leg by mistake, according to a transcript of the interview.

'Damn Accident'

"I don't think that I've got a 'problem,' " he said. "I think what I did was in the course of discipline, and in that one situation, it was just a damn accident--something that I've paid for inside of myself."

Efforts to reach Yoshida this week through his attorney and the police officers' association were unsuccessful. Cecil W. Marr, Yoshida's attorney, would not comment on the case.

Police Agent Ralph Royds, president of the association, said this week that the group hired Marr to defend Yoshida in his appeal because "he is a good cop" and because the association did not believe the 1981 incident was related to his work as a police officer.

"Everyone makes mistakes and that is what happened to Steve," Royds said.

Chief Moulton agreed that Yoshida had been a good police officer, and characterized the circumstances surrounding his firing as highly unusual. But the chief said he has no doubt that the dismissal was warranted.

'Difficult Decision'

"It was a very difficult decision, but I did what I thought was appropriate," he said. "Here was a situation where he was investigating child-abuse cases, and he was a suspect in one himself."

Moulton said the department, which has 93 sworn officers, is too small to place officers with "particular problems" on special assignments that would assure that they had no contact with certain types of cases. He said that he was also concerned about the future liability of the department if he kept Yoshida on the force.

"We were on record knowing he had at least one experience" involving child abuse, Moulton said. "If this would come up in the future, we would all be held responsible because we had knowledge."

The December, 1981, incident came to Moulton's attention last March when he was contacted by Gardena police, who were investigating the case for possible criminal charges, Moulton said. Gardena Police Lt. Phil Shepherd said the case was referred to his department by a counselor for the Salvation Army, who had heard about it from Yoshida's wife, Young, after the couple separated in December, 1984.

Shepherd said Gardena police forwarded the results of their investigation to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, but the case was rejected because the three-year statute of limitations on the alleged offense had expired.

Dismissal Upheld

The Civil Service Commission upheld Yoshida's dismissal in October, but released the records of the case only last week at the request of The Times. The commission ruled in November that the records would become public 90 days after its October decision if Yoshida did not appeal that decision in the meantime to a Superior Court. Attorneys for both the city of Redondo Beach and Yoshida had requested that the records remain confidential.

City Manager Timothy Casey said the city requested that the information remain confidential to protect Yoshida's right to privacy. Moulton, while acknowledging that the dismissal of a police officer is a public matter, said he wanted to be fair to Yoshida.

"I believe in the system, and he had the right to appeal," Moulton said. "I took the kind of action I thought was necessary, but by the same token I don't want to destroy his life."

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