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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.

October 02, 1995|PAUL FELDMAN and ROBERT J. LOPEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

"People would come in and say, 'I'm a walking time bomb,' " Hochman continued. "I think the people in the medical liaison's office would look at reports and say, 'Oh, here's another time bomb. Let's take him to the watch repair store.' "

Disability Claims

City records show that the city pension board was granting 30 to 57 psychiatric-related disability claims each year from 1980 to 1984, said Ed Griffiths, manager of the city's disability retirement division.

In the last five years, after a new state law took effect prohibiting ex-officers with psychiatric disabilities from carrying concealed weapons, pension seekers have slowed to a trickle of no more than half a dozen a year.

At the time Fuhrman filed for a pension, about 80% of police pension requests were being approved, according to city statistics.

That Fuhrman's request was denied was largely a matter of whim, said retired Assistant City Atty. Hilmer. "He could have got it," Hilmer recalled. "It's one of the shortcomings of psychiatry, I guess. It's just an art, not a science.

"It depends on who examines you and if he believes what you're saying. Then you are home scot-free with your allegations that you're disabled. And if you're not believed, and it's just as easy, you're out of luck."

Nonetheless, psychiatrists said the violent nature of Fuhrman's statements was unlike that voiced by most officers filing stress disability claims. "I've seen it [violence] expressed, but it is not common," said psychiatrist Koegler, who has evaluated about 300 stress claim cases. "Most involve complaints of unfair treatment by superiors."

Those handling the Fuhrman case also emphasized that it wasn't up to them to do anything about Fuhrman's racist attitude.

"The fact that he has these ideas does not mean that we are going to pension him off as disabled," Koegler said. "He in fact may have had these attitudes when he came on the force."

Longtime pension commissioner Sam Diannitto agreed that expressions of racism and violence do not necessarily constitute a disability. "If you look at racial hatred and violence, that's really a mind-set," said the assistant fire chief. "It's not disabling, in my opinion."

Diannitto said the six-member board was bound by the city charter, which stipulates that applicants be declared disabled only if they cannot do any job they are assigned. Department officials, he pointed out, told the commission they could put Fuhrman behind a desk in a lower stress job.

"Our hands are pretty much tied," said Diannitto, who has served on the board for 23 years.

At Fuhrman's pension hearing, Sgt. Larry Palmer testified that the "department had a variety of light duty, low-stress jobs available for Officer Fuhrman. Gun, uniform and public contact would not be required," transcripts show.

Fuhrman remained in the department's personnel division for a few months but was back on duty as a patrol officer in West Los Angeles in May, 1984.

Within five years, he was working as a training officer. In late 1989, he was promoted to a coveted detective post in the West Division, where he was named as a defendant in at least four brutality lawsuits.

Fuhrman remained in the West Division--where he wound up on the world stage as a central figure in the Simpson case--until he retired in August. Jury deliberations begin today.

As the Fuhrman furor boiled over, Chief Willie L. Williams declared that officers with racist attitudes are subject to being fired.

"We will not tolerate any type of racist or violent behavior," Williams said last week at an Eastside community meeting. Discrimination based on racial or gender bias "is viewed as just as critical as if you robbed someone with a gun or if you're an officer dealing drugs."

While the LAPD refuses to comment on the specifics of the Fuhrman case, psychiatrist Hochman noted that social mores have evolved over the past 15 years.

"What's a bad cop, and what's a good cop? The definitions have changed," he said.

Times staff writer Jim Newton contributed to this story.

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