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Fuhrman Case: How the City Kept Troubled Cop : Police: He showed racist views and boasted of violence in '83 disability claim. Officials said they didn't believe him.


With all the vitriolic back-and-forth in the closing arguments of the O.J. Simpson murder trial last week, there was one issue on which all the attorneys agreed: Retired detective Mark Fuhrman was the worst LAPD had to offer.

And there was another issue left in doubt: Why Fuhrman--despite his avowed racism and penchant for violence--was allowed to remain on the force.

"Nobody," defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. declared, "did anything about it."

Indeed, Fuhrman's racist attitudes and boasts of violence were no secret to city officials. While requesting a stress disability pension in 1983, Fuhrman graphically described torturing suspects and conning internal affairs detectives investigating whether he and other officers engaged in a bloody beating rampage.

"I answer everything with violence," Fuhrman told the city Board of Pension Commissioners. "Just seems like I can't tolerate anybody or anything anymore."

But rather than grant Fuhrman's pension application--or bounce him from the force for his attitude or self-described acts of misconduct--officials said they didn't believe him. At the time, dozens of officers each year were seeking lucrative stress pensions, many claiming to be "walking time bombs."

In Fuhrman's case, one LAPD psychiatrist recommended that he not be allowed to carry a weapon again. Fuhrman, though, was back on the streets in the West Los Angeles patrol division within months of his startling admissions.

Psychiatrists and pension board members who evaluated him say that, in hindsight, a thorough LAPD investigation of his claims could have prevented much of the controversy sparked by the Simpson case.

"He expressed these thoughts, and the department was aware of them," said psychiatrist Ronald R. Koegler, who evaluated Fuhrman in 1982 and sent a report to LAPD officials recommending that he be re-educated. "The problem is with the department: If they got this report and didn't do anything. . . . All I can say is they must have liked him there and wanted him back."

LAPD officials, who say they are conducting a "biopsy" of Fuhrman's entire career, refuse to discuss why he was allowed to return to patrol duty less than a year after he was denied the stress disability pension in 1983. They also decline to say whether Fuhrman was counseled or monitored once he was back on duty.

"That would be confidential personnel files," said Cmdr. Tim McBride, the LAPD's chief spokesman.

But Fuhrman's pension records--available for public scrutiny on the dusty shelves of the county court archives--offer a case study of how one officer seemingly fell through the cracks. Fuhrman's case also raises troubling questions about the LAPD's response to evidence of racist attitudes and alleged misconduct among its rank and file.

Former pension commissioner Karl Moody, who thought Fuhrman was exaggerating at the time and still believes so, concedes that the board's action may also have sent a bad signal to the former detective and any others of his ilk.

"Maybe we made a mistake," Moody acknowledged in a recent interview. "If he was telling the truth, maybe we validated that it was OK to be a racist."

A Quirk of Fate

In the end, the denial of Fuhrman's pension was as much a "quirk" as anything else, said a former city attorney assigned to the pension board at the time.

"His case was not any more flimsy than any other cases," said retired Assistant City Atty. Siegfried O. Hilmer. "If he had gotten his pension, maybe it would have been better because he . . . may have just gone to Idaho and have been forgotten about."

Fuhrman, a native of Eatonville, Wash., joined the LAPD in 1975 after serving several years in the Marines. He described his military experience in racist tones as far back as December, 1981, in a psychiatric interview for his workers' compensation case. Fuhrman, who was granted workers' compensation in 1981, remained on paid leave through mid-1983 when the Pension Board denied his request for the permanent disability pension by a 6-0 vote.

During his last six months in the Marines, Fuhrman told Dr. John Hochman, he "got tired of having a bunch of Mexicans and niggers that should be in prison, telling [him] they weren't going to do something."

The chilling statement was one of dozens Fuhrman made to psychiatrists and the pension board, offering rich details about his attitude and alleged misconduct as an LAPD officer. All became publicly available when Fuhrman filed a 1983 Superior Court appeal of his pension rejection. The appeal was denied.

Fuhrman "bragged" to Koegler in late 1982 about breaking suspects' hands, faces, arms and legs "if necessary." And, lacing his comments with racial epithets, he told Koegler, as he did Hochman, about his problems with minorities in the Marines.

"He is preoccupied with violence, and this theme frequently entered into his remarks," Koegler concluded.

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