In three years as chief, the only officer Geano Contessotto has had fired for use of excessive force is Richard Musquiz.
Musquiz, however, maintained in a lengthy interview in June that he was "one of the most mild, timid officers" in the department.
While Contessotto said Musquiz was fired for abusing a prisoner, Musquiz said he was fired because of an argument he had with the chief. Musquiz also said he was only following department training that requires an officer to "take action right away" when physically challenged. The rule is similar to those at other departments.
Musquiz, a Huntington Park police officer from 1981 to 1983, was fired after he punched a handcuffed suspect several times in the face, knocked him down and kicked him several times in the head, City Atty. Elwayne E. Smith said. The suspect initiated the confrontation by spitting in the officer's face, Smith said.
Punched in Face
Musquiz admitted that he punched the suspect twice in the face, but denied kicking him. He maintained that the suspect kicked him twice before he retaliated.
The City Council fired Musquiz, acting on Contessotto's recommendation. Musquiz challenged the decision in Superior Court, saying the city did not follow proper procedures in firing him. He lost, and last month the state Court of Appeal upheld the lower court ruling.
Musquiz claimed that the chief singled him out for firing because he made a joke about the chief's handling of the funds for an Explorer youth program that Musquiz supervised. Contessotto, however, said Musquiz's belief that the joke played a part in his firing was "ridiculous."
Musquiz said he was trained to be aggressive and was encouraged to use physical force.
As an example, he recalled the day during his training period in 1981 when he was told by a training officer to test his chokehold training on a prisoner who had taken a swing at another officer.
While the prisoner was lying unconscious on the ground, then-Lt. Contessotto walked into the room. Contessotto told Musquiz he had done a "good job" in applying the chokehold, Musquiz said.
The chief, however, said Musquiz's story is "absurd" and "fabricated." It is "sour grapes" from a man who was fired for abusing a prisoner, he said.
Though Contessotto and Musquiz differ on that incident, a review of Musquiz's department evaluations shows that the officer was frequently criticized for being timid.
In a 1982 evaluation, Contessotto said Musquiz was "still timid and inexperienced in many areas," but "appears to have a reasonably aggressive approach for a subject his size." In the evaluation, Contessotto said Musquiz was "a bit timid with the public," and "his physical condition is still in great need of improvement." In another 1982 evaluation, Contessotto said Musquiz was participating in a weightlifting program to improve his physical condition.
Musquiz said Contessotto told him to use steroids to increase his size. Musquiz is 5 foot 7 and 130 pounds. The chief, however, denied that he ever told Musquiz to use steroids, and said he advises officers never to use steroids.