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Ex-State Official Named to Probe Racism Charges Against Police

January 22, 1987|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

A Latino activist with a clouded record as a former state official was selected this week by Glendale city officials to investigate charges of racism against the city's Police Department.

The appointment of Herman Sillas of Los Angeles law firm Ochoa & Sillas is the result of a court order in a discrimination suit filed against the Glendale Police Department by a Latino officer who said he was passed up for promotion a number of times in favor of less qualified white officers.

U. S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian Jr. in October ordered that 38-year-old Ricardo L. Jauregui be immediately promoted to sergeant and be given back pay at that rank retroactive to February, 1985.

Tevrizian also ordered the city to hire an outside expert to investigate cartoons and flyers submitted as evidence in Jauregui's trial that depicted blacks and Latinos in a derogatory manner. A Glendale police officer acknowledged during the trial that he had drawn and circulated at least some of the flyers.

The city is appealing the case to the 9th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals and is attempting to put a hold on Jauregui's promotion until that appeal is resolved.

Glendale city officials said that Sillas will be given full authority to conduct the investigation and will submit a written report and recommendation to City Council.

"We want a full and complete investigation of these cartoons--their use, origin and distribution," said City Manager James M. Rez.

Sillas, 46, has strong ties to the Latino community and has served as a vice president of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and as chairman of the California State Advisory Committee to the U. S. Civil Rights Commission. From 1975 to 1977, he was director of the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

One of the top Latinos in the Carter Administration, Sillas was appointed by the former President in 1977 as U.S. attorney--the chief federal law officer--for 34 inland California counties from San Bernardino to the Oregon border.

Sillas came under fire in 1980 when the Justice Department alleged that he had accepted a $7,500 bribe while head of the DMV.

Sillas denied the allegations, which were made by a convicted felon, and no charges ever were filed. In September, 1980, federal attorneys found the bribery allegation unproven but strongly recommended that Sillas quit anyway because his relations with the Department of Justice had been impaired. Sillas complied and later went into private practice.

Sillas' appointment comes four months after the initial court order and one month after Tevrizian sharply criticized Glendale officials for failing to hire an outside investigator.

After the lawsuit, Glendale city officials originally said they had appointed members of the Police Department, the city manager's office and the city attorney's office to handle the investigation.

"That's no investigation," the judge said. "You have to bring in someone from the outside. You can't investigate yourself . . . . "

Tevrizian also had sharp words for Glendale Mayor Larry Zarian, in light of the Jauregui case, for publicly suggesting that there was no evidence in Glendale of discrimination against city employees. The judge was particularly upset by the 20 cartoons and flyers, which he called "trash, racism in its bluntest form." One depicted a running black man with the caption "Official Running Nigger Target."

City officials have denied all charges of discrimination and said they have actively sought out an investigator. Rez said that, before settling on Sillas, the city approached two retired Superior Court judges. Both declined to consider the case because of personal reasons, Rez said.

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