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Choice of Consultant to Probe Feud Among Irwindale Police Adds to Unrest

May 18, 1986|MARK ARAX | Times Staff Writer

IRWINDALE — A decision by the city manager to hire the city's own public relations firm to investigate a bitter feud between Anglo and Latino policemen has sparked sharp criticism from city officials and police officers.

They said the feud is affecting service to the public and called on City Manager Charles Martin to appoint an outside consultant with no ties to the city to investigate longstanding turmoil in the department that has festered into death threats and intimidation.

"You've got a situation where the city is investigating the city," Councilman Art Tapia said. "That's a bunch of bull. I won't go for it. We've got to get some outside agency that's not partial to anyone."

Several police officers said they were taken aback when Xavier Hermosillo, who handles public relations for the city, walked into the department last week and told officers that he had been hired to investigate allegations raised in an article in The Times last Sunday.

The article, based on a monthlong investigation, described a 27-man Police Department so divided by racial feuding and allegations of police misconduct and brutality that some officers are wiring themselves for sound and secretly recording conversations with fellow officers, Chief of Police Julian Miranda and City Manager Martin.

While Tapia called for an outside private consultant to investigate the charges and make recommendations, other council members recalled that the city hired such a consultant two years ago, but his recommendations to toughen discipline inside the department were ignored by Miranda.

They said it was time the council took a public stance on the problem.

"I'm kind of curious why nothing was done two years ago," said Robert Diaz, who was elected to the council in April. "I think it's now the responsibility of the council to investigate and see that the matter is resolved."

Councilman Joseph Breceda said he will raise the issue at the council's next meeting, scheduled for May 29. "They had outside consultants before but they just neglected them," he said. "Now that this whole thing's in the open, we should deal with it."

All telephone calls to Martin last week were referred to Hermosillo, and Chief Miranda continued to deny that serious problems plague his department.

Many of the 14 officers and former officers interviewed for the Times article said the feud dividing the department into a largely Anglo "A Team" and a largely Latino "B Team" had been allowed to worsen because of indifference on the part of Martin and Miranda.

Several of those officers reacted with disbelief to the choice of Hermosillo's public relations firm, Xavier Hermosillo & Associates, to investigate the feud.

"Hermosillo assured us that he wouldn't let politics intervene on his study," one officer said. "But I don't think he can. He's Charlie Martin's man. There's no two ways about it. It's going to be another whitewash.

One Latino officer said Hermosillo appeared more interested in determining the identity of anonymous police sources quoted in the article than in investigating allegations that some "B Team" officers had received death threats after reporting assaults on Latino prisoners and incidents of police misconduct to the chief and city manager.

"The impression we got from his talks with us is that he's been hired by Martin to do a little headhunting," the officer said. "They want to punish the guys who talked to The Times."

The officer said this impression was strengthened when the department announced a separate investigation last week into how internal police memos were acquired by The Times and the existence of tape recordings of departmental conversations.

Hermosillo said he had no intention of "chopping anybody's head off." And he insisted that his job as the city's public relations man would not affect his objectivity as a hired investigator. Last month, Hermosillo acted as the city's spokesman when he answered questions on behalf of Martin and Miranda regarding the feud.

"There's a way to wear two hats well," he said. "You take off one hat before putting on the other. Yes, it would look ridiculous if I wore the two hats at the same time.

"But I'm not going to flack or lie for anybody. I don't play games. I don't cover up for people. If Charlie Martin is dirty and has a role in this, I'm going to say he's dirty."

But in the same conversation, Hermosillo indicated that he was still acting as Martin's press spokesman, saying that all questions to Martin regarding the feud were being directed to him. He also appeared to contradict himself when he described his investigatory role as that of "crisis public relations."

"I didn't say we're an objective outside agency. We're using public relations and investigative tools . . . to do true crisis management, true crisis public relations.

'No Stone Unturned'

"We're looking at every point that was in the story and beyond that. We're leaving no stone unturned," he said.

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