HUNTINGTON PARK-Reacting angrily to Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner's condemnation of its Police Department, the City Council Monday voted unanimously to ask both the state attorney general and the California Bar Assn. to investigate Reiner for improper conduct.
Reiner provoked the council's ire at a press conference last week while announcing that his office would prosecute two former Huntington Park officers on charges that they tortured a 17-year-old boy with a stun gun. At the press conference Thursday, Reiner called the two fired officers "thugs" and then said the entire department had a history of brutality allegations that is "frankly embarrassing to all of law enforcement."
Mayor Herbert A. Hennes said Tuesday that Reiner has "smeared the city and the (Police) Department."
"I don't think we have a whole department of sadistic perverts. We have a number (of officers) of our department who have long tenure, unblemished professional records and to blanketly indict such members is unreasonable," Hennes said.
In calling for an investigation of Reiner, the council cited his statements at the press conference, which Hennes charged "sensationalized the circumstances surrounding the incident."
The requests, made at a special meeting Monday, drew mixed results.
A spokesman for Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp's office said he would review the council's request but doubted that state officials would investigate Reiner.
"If it's just an allegation that Reiner spoke out of turn I don't think there's any violation there that we would be interested in," said Donald de Nicola, supervising deputy attorney general in the attorney general's Los Angeles office.
A spokeswoman for the state Bar association in San Francisco, Ann Charles, said the association customarily investigates all complaints such as the one made by the Huntington Park City Council.
In an interview Tuesday, Reiner said, "It's unfortunate that the City Council too often in the past . . . has acted as apologists for the worst actions" of its Police Department.
In requesting the investigations, council members said they were not endorsing the alleged conduct of the two accused officers. Hennes said he realized the department has problems, but "whether that is the fault of the department or individual aberrations, I don't know."
To address the department's problems, the council Monday requested that the state Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training make a "complete and professional investigation" of the department, Hennes said.
The investigation, sought at the request of Huntington Park Police Chief Geano Contessotto, would focus on the department's "policies and procedures, administrative orders and line of supervision," Hennes said.
But a spokesman for the commission, Deputy Director Glen Fine, said it does not do investigations but provides management counseling services for police departments around the state. He added that he has received a request from Contessotto and that his office would consider the request.
Setting Minimum Standards
The commission's major responsibility is to set minimum standards for hiring and training police officers and sheriffs' deputies around the state, Fine said.
The two former officers, William J. Lustig Jr., 31, and Robert Rodriguez, 25, pleaded not guilty Monday to one count each of unnecessary assault and beating of a person under color of authority with intent to commit great bodily injury, a felony, and one count each of inhumane and oppressive treatment of a prisoner, a misdemeanor.
If convicted on the felony charge, the former officers face prison sentences of up to six years and fines of $10,000. The misdemeanor charges carry a maximum fine of $4,000.
Meanwhile, the district attorney's investigation of the Nov. 30 arrest of a boy identified only as Jaime R., a Huntington Park youth, is focusing on whether police officers and supervisors attempted to cover up the alleged assault, Reiner said.
Contessotto has denied that his department was involved in a cover-up and said he was the one who asked the district attorney's office to investigate the alleged torture.
The alleged assault of Jaime R. took place on 58th Street in Huntington Park shortly after the juvenile was stopped for questioning at about 4:30 a.m. by Officer Eric Ault, members of the district attorney's office said. At the time, the juvenile had a paper bag with wires hanging from it and was suspected of stealing a car radio, Reiner said last week.
Lustig and Rodriguez answered Ault's radio call and asked Ault if he was having any success in questioning the juvenile, Reiner said. Ault replied no, and the two officers placed the juvenile in the rear of Ault's police car and repeatedly jabbed the juvenile's left thigh with a 50,000-volt stun gun, Reiner said.