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LAPD Comes Up Empty in Gun-Theft Probe

December 22, 1989|DAVID FREED | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An internal Los Angeles Police Department probe into the alleged theft of gun parts by bomb squad officers has found "insufficient evidence to clearly establish culpability" among any of the accused policemen.

Nonetheless, the investigation identified several "procedural weaknesses and administrative concerns" that have been forwarded to Police Chief Daryl F. Gates for review, said Robert L. Talcott, president of the Los Angeles Police Commission.

Citing the officers' right to privacy, neither Talcott nor a spokesman for Gates would elaborate on what the investigation uncovered.

The Times filed a request under the California Public Records Act to obtain a copy of the final report on the department's investigation, which Talcott deemed "exhaustive." That request was rejected by the Los Angeles city attorney's office on grounds that the investigation was a personnel matter and, as such, not public.

Lt. Jimmie J. Finn, 46, who raised the allegations of theft and other improprieties, said this week he also was denied a copy of the report.

Finn said Thursday he believes he has "suffered that special harm reserved for whistle-blowers" by having sparked the investigation--assignment to LAPD's Planning and Research Division. The division generally is considered a backwater.

Finn also speculated that the department is "trying to hide something."

A 24-year police veteran and former SWAT team member who holds the department's Medal of Valor, Finn in 1986 was given command of the department's firearms and explosives section. Finn took over the unit, commonly called the bomb squad, five months after two of its most senior members, Detective Arleigh McCree and Officer Ron Ball, died while attempting to dismantle a pipe bomb in North Hollywood.

Finn alleged that soon after arriving, he discovered evidence indicating that a handful of officers in the unit stripped hundreds, perhaps thousands, of confiscated guns destined for destruction and were using the parts privately or selling them. Finn also alleged that thousands of rounds of confiscated ammunition were missing from department evidence lockers.

He said he tried repeatedly to alert his supervisors to what he had found, but his superiors appeared reluctant to act.

In late 1988, he went outside the chain of command and met privately with members of the Police Commission, the civilian board that oversees department operations. An Internal Affairs investigation was launched early this year, records show, but it languished until June, when The Times reported Finn's allegations.

Finally, in a one-page letter dated Dec. 4, Talcott advised Finn the investigation was complete.

"In light of the nearly 2 1/2 years that have elapsed since the events under investigation occurred or were raised, the department was faced with the almost insurmountable task of retroactively seeking out the truth in a very serious and complex case," Talcott wrote. "The unfortunate end result was that the statutes of limitations had run (out), memories had failed, and the possibility of establishing culpability was almost non-existent. "

"The exhaustive investigation, which involved over 800 hours of research, did, however, identify a number of administrative concerns and procedural weaknesses which have been brought to the attention of (Gates) for appropriate action."

Talcott commended Finn for pursuing the matter and expressed hope "that the experiences gained as a result of this series of incidents will become a part of the department's continuing growth process."

Cmdr. William Booth, Gates' spokesman, said Thursday that no officers would be disciplined as a result of the case.

Finn, meanwhile, said he was not appeased by Talcott's letter or the outcome of the investigation.

"I can guarantee you that many members of this department who become aware of how I have been treated will be reluctant to step forward to divulge internal corruption to the chief of police or the Police Commission," Finn said. "That reluctance to fight corruption will ultimately endanger the future of this department and its service to the public."

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