SAN GABRIEL — A panel appointed seven months ago to investigate Police Chief Don Tutich has found no merit to charges by rank-and-file police officers that the chief was an ineffective department head and had altered the report on an accident involving a member of his family.
In a terse statement released last week, the city announced that "after considering all of the testimony," the three-man Police Department Review Committee "concludes that it finds no basis for the charges."
The committee, consisting of City Councilman Ted Anderson, City Atty. Kenneth Brown and City Administrator Robert Clute, was appointed by the City Council last August.
Last week's statement, upon which committee members would not elaborate, apparently resolves a longstanding political issue that at one time pitted two council factions against each other. The charges indirectly forced the resignation last May of a city attorney who had commenced his own investigation of Tutich.
In February, 1988, the 30-member Police Officers Assn. voted "no confidence" in Tutich, alleging that the chief had used "restrictive and antiquated" police procedures, resulting in the loss of federal grants.
The association also charged that Tutich had failed to recruit Asian police officers, though the city's population is about one-third Asian, and that he had sought to alter the report on an accident in which his father-in-law was involved.
Tutich, who has been police chief for 13 years, responded heatedly to the charges. He said the San Gabriel Police Department had been a model department that applied for federal block grants and contributed significantly to reducing crime in the city.
"The troops have done an outstanding job," Tutich said at the time. "That's one of the ironies of the situation."
The committee discussed its findings Tuesday in a closed session of the City Council, permitted under state law because the issue under discussion was a personnel matter.
Council members would not discuss the committee's findings or the nature of their discussion, except to say that the committee's report was unanimously accepted.
"Yeah, I'm satisfied," said Vice Mayor Frank Blaszcak. "It wasn't a matter to be voted on, but you can safely say that there was unanimity on the council as a matter of acceptance (of the findings)."
Tutich, who was attending a police chiefs' conference in Costa Mesa, could not be reached for comment. Officer Ray Schneiders, president of the Police Officers Assn., was on vacation last week. Other members referred all inquiries to him.
For a few weeks last spring, the allegations against Tutich became a hot political issue as incumbents on the council accused challengers in the municipal election of orchestrating the charges. The challengers, running on a slow-growth slate, denied that they were involved.
After three slow-growth challengers ousted three incumbents in the April election, the council appointed Orange County lawyer R. Zaiden Corrado as city attorney. Corrado began an investigation of the Police Department but resigned less than a month later, charging that Mayor John Tapp was impeding the investigation.
Tapp denied that he had done anything improper, explaining that Corrado's investigation was not timely. Corrado had "jumped the gun," said Councilman James Castaneda.
"I'm glad it's behind us," Tapp said. "Too bad it took a year to come to conclusion. I hope the community can go forward and work on other issues now."
Councilman Sabino Cici said he heartily approved of the exoneration of Tutich. "I just think we should have gone a step further and apologized to the chief for taking so long," Cici said.
Police Capt. David Lawton, the department's No. 2 man, who had issued a statement in support of Tutich last year, said the committee's findings were no surprise. "I never felt there was any substance to the allegations to begin with," he said.