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Police Captain Appointed Chief in El Segundo

July 31, 1986|TIM WATERS | Times Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO — Police Capt. Raymond W. Lewis, whose memo criticizing former City Manager Nicholas Romaniello prompted the manager's suspension and ultimate dismissal, has been appointed police chief by Romaniello's replacement, Arthur E. Jones.

Jones said this week that Lewis, a 15-year veteran of the 61-officer department, will take the helm Friday. The appointment ends an eight-month period during which Police Chief J. Clark Devilbiss retired and then agreed to return as acting chief on an interim basis.

Lewis, 39, will earn $59,460 a year.

Jones said about 50 candidates applied for the chief's position, including El Segundo Police Capt. Tim Grimmond. Both Grimmond and Lewis had alternately served as acting chief between Devilbiss' retirement and return.

Two panels each composed of two police chiefs from Southern California cities were used to select a new chief, Jones said. One panel whittled the list of candidates down to 10 finalists, while the other then interviewed and ranked the finalists. Lewis came in first, Jones said.

Nevertheless, Lewis' appointment was termed a "political payoff" by former City Councilman Chip Armstrong, as well as by Romaniello, who had conducted a similar search for a new police chief before he was suspended. In that search, which culminated last February, Lewis was not ranked among the top three finalists, Romaniello said this week.

Armstrong, a Romaniello supporter who lost his bid for reelection, said Lewis was rewarded by the former city manager's political foes for the internal memo he wrote charging that Romaniello made several inquiries to police about obtaining confidential reports on council candidate Alan West, a Romaniello foe who was elected.

Lewis said: "It's not true. Other than that I have no response."

In the memo, Lewis termed Romaniello's request "at best . . . highly unethical" because it would compromise the city manager's office and Police Department. "At worst, the city manager's efforts were an attempt to solicit a commission of a misdemeanor," the memo stated.

Under California law, it is a misdemeanor to release police records of an investigation if no charges are filed. Although not specific, Lewis' memo stated that police files contained "nothing pertaining to any illegality or improper conduct on the part of Mr. West."

Suspended, Then Fired

Romaniello was suspended from office by council members after the memo was written, and he was later fired. El Segundo City Atty. Leland Dolley declined to discuss the matter this week, saying it is still under investigation.

Romaniello said he had, indeed, asked Lewis if there was a police file on West, who campaigned heavily on the theme that Romaniello should be fired. "I guess there was a little bit of get-evenness," in the request, he said.

However, Romaniello said that after he made his request, Lewis informed him that, under the law, the Police Department could not release the file. Romaniello said that he then told Lewis: "OK, no big deal."

Jones termed as "nonsense" allegations by Armstrong and Romaniello that Lewis' appointment was a political payoff. "I have no need to pay off anybody," he said.

Mayor Jack Siadek, a Romaniello political foe, labelled the accusations "sour grapes," adding that Jones neither contacted nor asked him about Lewis.

"There were no politics involved," Siadek said. "It was a cut-and-dried matter."

'Return to Normalcy'

Siadek said Lewis's appointment is yet another step in the city's "return to normalcy" after the firing of Romaniello and the return of Jones to the city manager's job. Jones retired in May, 1985, citing health reasons, but was persuaded by council members to return to the post after Romaniello was terminated.

Since joining the department, Lewis has served in a variety of administrative and field positions. A graduate of El Segundo High School, he received a bachelor's degree in police science in 1971 from California State University, Los Angeles, and a master's degree in public administration from USC in 1978.

Lewis said the biggest challenge confronting the department is a result of the rapid growth in commercial development with the city in the last several years. Besides an increase in traffic-related problems, the department has witnessed a rise in various white-collar crimes, he said.

Acting Police Chief Devilbiss said that he will resume his new career as a professional masseur and weight-lifting instructor at a local health club.

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