HUNTINGTON PARK — Police Chief Geano Contessotto has fired an officer who has been accused of brutality in six lawsuits and two legal claims filed against the city in 1984 and 1985.
Officer William J. Lustig Jr.'s firing, however, has "nothing whatsoever" to do with the brutality allegations against Lustig, Mayor Pro Tem Thomas E. Jackson said Monday.
In a July 23 letter, Contessotto notified Lustig that his last day on the force was to be Wednesday and cited five alleged violations of civil service regulations, Jackson said. All five alleged violations apparently stem from one July 20 incident, Jackson said. He declined to describe the incident or elaborate on the charges against Lustig, referring questions to Contessotto.
Contessotto did not return The Times' phone calls and could not be reached for comment.
Lustig, 30, also could not be reached for comment. Lustig, who joined the department in July, 1983, can appeal the chief's decision to the city's Civil Service Commission. If the commission upholds the chief's decision, Lustig could make a final appeal to the City Council, Jackson said.
30 Claims in 2 Years
Huntington Park police officers are accused of brutality more frequently than officers of any other municipal police department in the Southeast/Long Beach area, The Times reported July 6. In the last two calendar years, the 60-member department had 30 legal claims filed against it that allege brutality. A claim is the first step in filing a lawsuit.
Since The Times story was published, the district attorney has decided to review allegations raised in three claims reported by The Times, head Deputy Dist. Atty. Steven A. Sowders said Monday.
Sowders said his office will review police records and interview persons involved in the claims to decide whether the incidents should be investigated by his office. He said the review will be finished in three weeks and that its results will be reviewed by the state attorney general's office.
The claims concern:
- Jose Silva Coria, 25, who was shot six times by four police officers Aug. 10, 1985. Police said Coria--originally stopped for failing to have a license plate on his vehicle--shot at them first. No gun was ever found and Coria was later acquitted of assault and attempted murder of a police officer.
- Alejandro Miramontes, 44, a legally blind man who has charged that he was hit on the head and knocked unconscious by police. Miramontes is one of 17 persons who attended an Oct. 7, 1984, party and are suing the city, charging police brutality.
- Michael D. Wilson, 41, a businessman who charged he was kicked and beaten by police in February, 1984, after he set off his own burglar alarm.
Sowders said that he had contacted Contessotto and that the chief was "extremely cooperative and said he would give us anything we wanted."
Councilman Jackson said he was confident that any investigation would conclude that city police officers had done nothing wrong.
"When all the smoke clears, we are overwhelmingly going to be found not guilty of police brutality," Jackson said.
Council Hires Lawyer
Although the police chief is attempting to fire Lustig, the City Council on Monday unanimously approved hiring a lawyer to defend Lustig, other police officers and city officials in a suit brought by the family of Joseph Ezequiel Aviles. Aviles, 82, fired a revolver when police came to his door last Aug. 26, and died in a salvo of police bullets and a shotgun blast. The family claims Aviles was hard of hearing and did not know that the men who came to his door that night were police officers.
Named as defendants in the $5-million lawsuit filed in April in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles are Lustig, Officers Dale E. Shields and Ronald Beason, Contessotto, City Atty. Elwayne E. Smith, Administrative Officer Donald L. Jeffers and Mayor Herbert A. Hennes Jr.