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Suit Claims Police Bias in Hiring for Drug Probes : Law enforcement: A private investigator contends that the San Diego Police narcotics unit allows just three firms to do undercover drug investigations.

July 18, 1990|H.G. REZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The San Diego police narcotics unit has a policy of allowing only three private investigative firms with close ties to the department to do undercover drug investigations, excluding other local agencies capable of doing the same work, according to a lawsuit on file in federal court.

Kevin S. Hill, a retired Escondido officer, filed the lawsuit in February, after he was purportedly told by San Diego Police Lt. Dan Berglund that he and his firm, California Confidential Services, were unqualified to do an undercover investigation at Sony Corp. of America.

Hill sued for $1.2 million in damages, naming as defendants Berglund, San Diego Police Chief Bob Burgreen, Escondido Police Chief Vince Jimno, former Escondido Chief James W. Connole, the cities of San Diego and Escondido, and several other Escondido and San Diego officers.

Since it was filed, the case has traveled slowly through the federal court system, with defendants filing motions asking to be dropped from the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, the officers and chiefs slandered Hill and engaged in a conspiracy to prevent him from being hired by Sony for an undercover investigation of some of the company's employees who were suspected of drug use.

San Diego Deputy City. Atty. James Chapin said Tuesday that U.S District Judge Earl Gilliam recently dropped the city of San Diego, Burgreen and Berglund as defendants in the lawsuit, when he ruled that the complaint was insufficient as it applied to the three. But Chapin said that Gilliam also allowed Hill's attorney to update the lawsuit in order to include them as defendants again.

However, Hill's lawsuit once again raises an issue that has been vexing for San Diego police and the city for several years. Other investigative firms, some of them run by former police officers, have complained bitterly about Berglund's decision to work mainly with Narcorp, Kennedy Consulting & Investigations and Kraut & Snyder, a Los Angeles-area firm, in private, undercover drug investigations at local work sites.

Usually, undercover drug investigations done by private investigators in San Diego have to be cleared with police. San Diego narcotics officers insist on supervising all drug transactions done in an investigation.

Until this week, Berglund led the police narcotics unit and supervised drug investigations. On Monday, he began working as a supervisor in the homicide unit. Berglund and Cmdr. Larry Gore referred all questions about the lawsuit to Chapin.

Hill's lawsuit alleges that Berglund accused him of being "mentally unbalanced and a danger to the public" at an April 17, 1989, meeting. Berglund also allegedly told him that he was unauthorized to carry a concealed weapon, Hill said. The Sheriff's Department revoked Hill's concealed weapon permit June 5, 1989, said the complaint.

Two days after meeting with Hill, Berglund notified Sony that Hill's firm was unqualified to do the investigation and told the company that only Narcorp, Kennedy Consulting & Investigations and Kraut & Snyder were approved by San Diego police to do private, undercover drug investigations in the city, the lawsuit contended.

A former police officer who runs a private investigative firm in San Diego echoed Hill's complaint. The investigator, who did not want to be identified, said he and employees of his firm had two meetings with Berglund to complain about his refusal to work with the firm.

"They favored Narcorp to a larger degree and were directing most of the business to Narcorp. . . . The Police Department was acting in a capacity they don't really belong in," said the investigator. "My feeling is that basically Berglund was out of his league. We get our license from the state of California, not the city of San Diego."

Narcorp owner Hal Phenix, a retired San Diego narcotics officer, said he did not know Hill and denied that his company had received favorable treatment from Berglund and San Diego police.

"Cops just don't do that. Police administrators are so concerned about appearances that they're very careful about what they do," Phenix said. "I don't get referrals from the department."

Dave Macleod, new owner of Kennedy Consulting & Investigations, also denied that his company gets referrals from San Diego police.

Chapin, the deputy city attorney, said his office has been meeting with police officials to discuss the department's policy in working with private firms on undercover drug investigations. He added that city officials have also talked with the state about assuming responsibility for approving private investigative firms that work on undercover drug investigations.

Private investigators are licensed by the state Department of Consumer Affairs.

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