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Co-Workers Paint Different Portrait of Mark Fuhrman : LAPD: In contrast to racist boasts on tapes, black, Latino colleagues describe a hard-working, unbiased cop.

November 08, 1995|GREG KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

So we all know the name Mark Fuhrman and we all know that it has become synonymous with the worst of law enforcement. A cop whose own words branded him a racist and led some to believe he framed O.J. Simpson. A cop whose own chief called him a disgrace.

That is what we know, what we have seen and heard and read.

But what about the patrol officers and desk sergeants and detectives who worked with Fuhrman? Some have known him for years, have worked with him during the periods when we have been told he was out of control. What are we to make of the fact they considered him--in fact, many still consider him--a good officer, a good detective, someone who was a credit to the badge, at least when they knew him?

"The person that the world knows . . . on the tape . . . is racist, who made terrible remarks, who probably represents all the filth the world has to offer. The Mark Fuhrman I know . . . is not that. He is not a racist," said Sgt. Roberto Alaniz, a Latino whom Fuhrman sought out as a partner in 1984.

Sgt. Ed Palmer, an African American who first met Fuhrman at the West Los Angeles station last year, said: "I am as shocked as anybody. . . . If Mark were a racist and especially as big a racist as he sounded on the tapes, I would have no trouble telling him he was the scum of the earth. But I really can't."

And this from Carlton Brown, a black homicide detective who was Fuhrman's partner for most of 1993: "I really can't say whether Fuhrman was racist or not, but if he harbored those feelings, it was not evident to me. I don't know, maybe I'm naive. But I don't think so."

Recent interviews with more than half a dozen LAPD officers, all but one of them black or Latino, do not prove that the now-infamous former detective did not commit the brutalities he bragged about on a series of taped interviews between 1985 and 1994. Nor do they prove he did not mask racist views while sharing a patrol car, meals, even an apartment, with the officers who worked with him, trained him and even partnered with him.

But the portrait that emerges from these interviews is clearly one at odds with the Mark Fuhrman whose conduct and comments have sparked investigations of the Los Angeles Police Department--including a new probe by the U.S. Justice Department. Instead of the rogue, racist cop whose very presence in the O.J. Simpson case has again put the LAPD on trial, interviews suggest that Fuhrman was aggressive, even arrogant, but if he harbored the vile views expressed to others, he concealed them from many with whom he worked.

Sensing Racism

Not unlike Clint Eastwood's fictional San Francisco film detective Harry Callahan, several LAPD officers said, Fuhrman could be sullen and purposely shocking. But that was just his personality, they added, and it never overruled his logic when it came to arrests.

True, the portrait offered by officers in recent interviews is largely anecdotal. And even the officers who are willing to give Fuhrman the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his statements are not lining up a legal defense fund for him.

Maybe, some say, he never shared his true feelings with them.

Or maybe, they suggest, he changed after he underwent psychological counseling in the mid-1980s.

But their view of Fuhrman, the officers insisted, was not based on naivete. "I was born and raised on the streets of East L.A.," said Officer Robert Bermudez, who had just joined the LAPD in 1987 when he worked with Fuhrman. "I was new to the job but not to the world."

Palmer said: "Being African American, when you come into contact with someone, you listen to them and pick up on things. There have been times I have worked with people [and] you wonder about them. I never wondered with him. I knew he was aggressive. I knew he was a little arrogant. But I never got racism at all."

Nor, the officers said, do their comments reflect any tacit acceptance of the LAPD meting out street justice. "If he were that way, and as much a racist as the tapes indicated, then it would have come out somewhere and somebody would have spoken up," Palmer said. "That code of silence nonsense, you get to that point, somebody would have spoken up."

Especially, the minority officers said, if Fuhrman's wrath was directed at one of their own. "We are trained as police officers to uphold law and order," Brown said. "I also have an obligation to my race as an individual [and] . . . I would not have stood by for anyone crossing over the line of any race."

Alaniz added: "If he did something wrong and you [ignored it], what are the consequences? You can be indicted. You will be fired. You can lose your job, your home, everything. It's just not worth it."

Of course, there are plenty inside and outside the department who will tell you that the recollections of Fuhrman's former partners say less about him than they do about the willingness of any officers to publicly criticize one of their own.

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