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Stripper Performed at O.C. Sheriff's Dept. Academy : Inquiry: Officials are investigating hiring of woman for birthday fete attended by training officers, recruits.

September 23, 1993|ERIC YOUNG and DAN WEIKEL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SANTA ANA — The Orange County Sheriff's Department has opened an internal investigation into the hiring of a stripper who performed during a birthday party two years ago at the department's training academy in Garden Grove, authorities said Wednesday.

The academy's top officer, Lt. Steve Carroll, said he expects to face disciplinary action for allowing the stripper to perform before training officers and recruits. Other top academy officials will also be sanctioned, said Assistant Sheriff Walt Fath.

About 30 trainees and 10 training officers attended the April 15, 1991, birthday celebration for one of the instructors, which was held during the workday in an office of the now-abandoned academy building in Garden Grove, officials said.

Sheriff's Department officials said they learned of the incident Friday when they were approached by a television reporter from the tabloid news program "A Current Affair," who had a videotape of the 10-minute performance.

The Sheriff's Department statement was issued a day before the scheduled airing of the videotape on "A Current Affair."

"We would have expected that the supervisors and manager of the academy would have taken a more professional, businesslike approach to the celebration of the birthday," Fath said in a prepared statement. "We are embarrassed by it and we will develop steps to see that it does not happen again."

Officials said they did not know why they had not heard about the incident earlier.

"If it was rumored to have happened, it never reached here and I don't know why," said Assistant Sheriff Dennis LaDucer, who oversees department operations.

High-ranking sheriff's deputies ordered the investigation Friday to determine whether department policies were violated, LaDucer said.

Mike Watkiss, Los Angeles bureau chief for "A Current Affair," said the investigation apparently was ordered within an hour after he confronted Carroll, the head of the training facility, with the videotape, which was obtained by "A Current Affair" about two months ago.

"The point is we don't want to have sexually explicit dancing in county facilities. That's not appropriate," LaDucer said.

The unidentified dancer began the performance wearing a "police-style" uniform but stripped to a bikini top and G-string, Fath said. The videotape, taken by a someone at the party, will serve as the basis for tonight's broadcast, Watkiss said.

The dancer strips in front of the training officer, touching him and coaxing him to pull lollipops from her top and the front of her G-string with his teeth. At other times, she straddles the officer's head and pushes his face into her breasts. Watching the entire performance are dozens of academy recruits and instructors, including Lt. Carroll.

Two of the onlookers are shown with video recorders, but it is unclear where those tapes are now, LaDucer said.

One training officer, who spoke only on condition that he not be identified, said the performance was meant as a way of thanking the training officer. He described the birthday surprise as a "genuine gesture" but also an example of some "poor judgment."

"At worst, it seems that someone could say it was a waste of 10 minutes of taxpayers' time," the officer said.

Sheriff's officials said the trainees, who were about halfway through their four-month training program, paid for the performance.

Members of the National Organization for Women contend that the performance could create an atmosphere conducive to sexual harassment on the job. Lisa McClanahan, a coordinator of a local chapter of NOW, said she was shocked by the tape when it was shown to her by "A Current Affair" and doubted claims that high-ranking members of the Sheriff's Department did not know about the performance.

Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The sheriff's training academy is one of three such facilities in Orange County. Graduates go on to become police officers or sheriff's deputies in Orange County and elsewhere.

Sheriff's officials declined to say how many people from the academy could face discipline or how severe it may be.

"At this point in time the sheriff is more concerned about who was in that decision-making process" to allow the stripper to perform, LaDucer said. "We don't hold brand new recruits to the same standards that we are going to hold supervisors. That's where our disappointment comes in," LaDucer said.

Carroll said in an interview that he allowed the woman to perform on condition that she not perform nude.

"I made a poor decision in retrospect and I have no one to blame except myself," Carroll said.

Investigators have not talked to everyone in the all-male audience or to the stripper, LaDucer said. "We haven't found the person. She passed out (business) cards, but everyone claims they don't have them."

The district attorney's office does not plan to investigate, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Guy Ormes, who handles special investigations. He said he did not think there were any potential criminal violations.

The revelations about the stripper come at a time when other police departments in Orange County face lawsuits over allegations of sexual harassment.

Ten female current and former Newport Beach Police Department employees last year alleged the department was "a hotbed of sexually offensive conduct." In February, four female current and former employees of the Irvine Police Department sued the city, the police chief and three other supervisors, alleging unwanted touching and sexual harassment.

Both lawsuits are pending.

Times staff writer Nancy Wride contributed to this report.

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