HUNTINGTON PARK — Two police officers have been suspended amid a district attorney's investigation into charges that the officers used a stun gun while interrogating a juvenile under arrest.
The officers under investigation are William J. Lustig Jr., 31, and Robert Rodriguez, 25, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Lawrence J. Mira. Both officers were suspended with pay last week by Police Chief Geano Contessotto, said Craig Robinson, the city's personnel director.
"In the course of attempting to secure information from this arrestee, the officers are alleged to have used a stun gun on a juvenile, inflicting injuries," Mira said in an interview Thursday.
Sources familiar with the investigation said the two officers are suspected of inflicting several pairs of burns on a 17-year-old boy, using the twin electrified probes of the stun gun.
The district attorney's investigation is the latest legal problem involving officers of the Huntington Park Police Department. The department has the highest frequency of brutality claims against it of any police department in the Southeast/Long Beach area, a Times survey found earlier this year.
Fired in August
This is the second time in five months that Lustig has been taken off duty. He was fired by Contessotto in August for not reporting a July 20 traffic accident involving an on-duty patrol car that he was driving, city officials have said. Lustig returned to work early last month after a key witness in the case became ill and was unable to complete testimony against the officer, the officials have said. Civil Service charges against Lustig regarding the auto accident were dropped.
Lustig and Rodriguez could not be reached for comment. Lustig's lawyer, Helen Schwab of Encino, did not return Times phone calls.
Mira said Lustig and Rodriguez are accused of assaulting the juvenile with a stun gun in the early morning hours of Nov. 30. Mira declined to identify the youth, discuss the charges against him, or say where the alleged assault occurred.
On Dec. 2, district attorney's investigators used a search warrant to search police lockers at the Huntington Park police station and recovered a stun gun, sources familiar with the investigation said.
When asked about the search, Mira said, "We are interviewing witnesses and we are gathering information."
Contessotto could not be reached for comment about the investigation and did not return several Times phone calls late last week.
In an interview two weeks ago, Contessotto said the department does have Taser-brand stun guns, which use darts or probes to inflict a 50,000-volt charge. Contessotto would not say how many guns the department has or which officers are authorized to use them.
However, Mira said Thursday that the stun gun allegedly used by the officers is not a Taser.
Mayor Herbert A. Hennes said he had been told that the district attorney's office had taken several photos of the alleged victim's injuries.
"What I've heard is that the D.A. has it (the case) and that there are pictures," Hennes said, adding that he would not say who told him of the photos.
Mira said, "It would not be uncommon for us to pictorialize injuries."
Hennes said, "Naturally, we are concerned about whatever happens, but I'm not going to prejudge the officers."
Last week, Lustig and Rodriguez received written notices from the chief that said the two officers were suspended and face disciplinary action, said Robinson, the city's personnel director. The possible discipline was not stated in the letter, but could include further suspension, reduction of salary or firing, Robinson said Thursday.
The letters gave the two officers until Monday to give their version of the Nov. 30 incident to the chief, Robinson said. The chief will then decide on discipline.
In explaining the firing of Lustig earlier this year, Contessotto said the officer "did not report an accident and that's a cover-up by omission." In that August interview, Contessotto said Lustig's car had struck a car occupied by five people, including a child, and that the accident resulted in "soft-tissue injuries," such as whiplash.
During an Oct. 3 hearing that was closed to the public, Maria Avalos, who was riding in the car struck by Lustig, became ill and had to be treated by county paramedics, said a member of the Huntington Park Civil Service Commission, which heard the case. Avalos was under subpoena to testify Oct. 30 but did not appear at a Civil Service hearing, and Civil Service charges against Lustig were later dropped, city officials said. She and her family have declined to be interviewed and have since moved out of the city.
The district attorney's investigation of Lustig and Rodriguez is the second in recent months involving Huntington Park police officers.
The district attorney is investigating whether Lt. David Hood slashed the tires of a South Gate businessman's vehicle, and then, in an attempt to create an alibi and cover up the incident, gave a false statement to Downey police. The Aug. 25 incident involving Hood is still under investigation, Head Deputy Dist. Atty. Steven A. Sowders said last week.
Earlier this week, Lustig was one of two officers cleared in the August, 1985, shooting death of Joseph E. Aviles, 82. Sowders said Aviles had fired first at Lustig and Officer Dale Shields, and that Aviles' death was a "justifiable homicide."
Aviles' family has filed a $5-million lawsuit against the city.
Lustig, a three-year veteran, has been accused of brutality in six pending lawsuits and two legal claims filed against the city in 1984 and 1985.