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Fired Deputy Accuses Agency of Harassment

Lawsuit: Former officer says he was targeted for reporting misconduct. Sheriff's officials accused him of 'fraternizing with a detainee.'

July 10, 2001|BETH SHUSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy sued the department Monday, claiming he has been continuously retaliated against for reporting misconduct five years ago.

Charles Hulsey, fired from the department in May, had--by his admission and according to some colleagues--a troubled history with the Sheriff's Department.

After joining the department in 1990 and enjoying what he describes as a relatively uneventful career while assigned to county jails, Hulsey claims his problems began in 1996, when he reported that several deputies beat a suspect and attempted to plant drugs on him in the Lennox area.

Since then, Hulsey contends that he has been labeled a snitch, a reputation that he says dogged the rest of his time at the department, following him from station to station as he was transferred around the agency.

"The past five years I've had a terrible, terrible career," said Hulsey, 34. "There's an internal network of deputies who talk to each other and pass these things along."

Sheriff's Department officials declined to discuss Hulsey's allegations because of the pending litigation. But several sheriff's deputies who worked with Hulsey said privately that the case is not as simple as it appears.

These deputies, who declined to be identified, say Hulsey was never the model law enforcement officer. Rather, they said, he had a quick temper and frequently complained about his work. Twice, he reported being injured on duty and took leaves.

Hulsey was fired two months ago for reasons he adamantly disputes. The department accused him of "fraternizing with a detainee." He says he was helping a woman who, while in custody, asked for his assistance with a problem she had with her neighbor.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court, seeks lost earnings and benefits, attorneys' fees and punitive damages against the county and several named deputies.

Hulsey's story also illustrates a side of law enforcement culture rarely visible to the public: Police agencies, even large ones, often are insular places where co-workers know intimate details about one another and where officers' reputations--sometimes accurate, sometimes distorted--follow them wherever they work.

In Hulsey's case, several deputies contacted about his lawsuit quickly offered detailed information about his career and standing within the department.

To Hulsey's attorney, Brad Gage, that just proves a code of silence is alive and well within the Sheriff's Department.

"Every place they sent him, the deputies knew about him and he was continuously harassed," Gage said. "He was clearly targeted for retaliation."

In Lennox, Hulsey worked patrol after spending five years working in the jails. As he tells it, he was on patrol in July 1996 when he and several deputies pursued a fleeing suspect. The suspect, Kendrick Lute, was apprehended.

Hulsey says he heard the deputies suggesting that Lute would only receive minimal jail time for resisting arrest so they decided to drive him to a deserted parking lot where Hulsey says they beat Lute. He said they also tried to plant cocaine on him but ultimately did not.

"I was sick to my stomach," Hulsey said. "My training officer said later that I couldn't be trusted because I wouldn't jump in."

When Lute complained to the department, internal affairs investigators interviewed Hulsey, who says he described the beating. Several deputies were placed on suspension. Hulsey was one of those, disciplined for failing to report the misconduct in a more timely manner.

Most of the deputies involved declined to be interviewed. One has left the department and another could not be located.

Hulsey says he was kept on probationary status with the department longer than necessary, delaying his promotion to full deputy status, and that deputies did not want to work as his partner.

Additionally, he said other deputies refused to provide assistance to him during an altercation with a suspect. In that case, Hulsey claims a deputy sprayed him with pepper spray. He says he received a shoulder and back injury.

After taking a leave, Hulsey was transferred to the Lancaster station, where he remained on probation for six months. He was in a car accident there--another deputy was driving--which he says left him with more back and shoulder injuries and kept him off work for several months.

He then was transferred to Crescenta Valley, where he said he became involved in an altercation with other deputies. All of this, he said, stemmed from the Lennox incident.

He spent a few months on a stress-related leave and then was offered a job in the Santa Clarita station, where he says he was "ostracized, ignored and closely scrutinized."

Then, in May, Hulsey said he received a letter informing him that he was being fired. Hulsey said he was helping a woman who had been arrested and had listed an incorrect address.

Hulsey acknowledged that he visited the woman at her home and her work but said it was at her request to talk to her about problems she allegedly was having with her neighbors.

"I'm sure the real reason he was fired is because he is a marked man," Gage said.

Hulsey says he has moved out of the county and that he fears more retaliation. "I've had more sleepless nights," he said.

"I'm really angry that they [department officials] have the power to do this to people's careers."

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