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LAPD Panel Finds Minor Errors in Markowitz Case

Inquiry: Reprimands are recommended for two officers who failed to determine that kidnap occurred.

November 22, 2001|SUE FOX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After finding two officers guilty of "fairly minor misconduct" in a shoddy kidnapping investigation, a Los Angeles Police Department disciplinary panel recommended written reprimands Wednesday for both.

The recommendation by the Board of Rights--which goes to Chief Bernard C. Parks--closes a three-day hearing for Officers Brent Rygh and Donovan Lyons, two West San Fernando Valley patrolmen who responded to the Aug. 6, 2000, report of a West Hills abduction. The victim, Nicholas Markowitz, 15, was killed two days later.

Rygh and Lyons testified that they were never told that the boy had been forced into a van. Faced with incomplete information from 911 dispatchers, they tried to find out more by calling one witness. But she told them Markowitz appeared to have escaped, they said.

"The officers did not have any reason to believe there had been a kidnapping," said the board's chairman, Police Capt. Gary Williams.

The three-member panel found that both men had "excellent" personnel records, full of glowing commendations. Several supervisors vouched for the men during the hearing, including Capt. Jim Cansler, Rygh's commanding officer in the West Valley Division, whose request for an internal inquiry led to the Board of Rights hearing.

"I testified because [Rygh] continues to do an outstanding job," Cansler said Wednesday. "I think in this situation, he made a mistake. But I still think he's a good officer.

"He's the kind of officer you'd want coming to your house if you had a problem."

Cansler said he also thought highly of Lyons, but did not serve as a character witness for him because Lyons had transferred to the Foothill Division.

The disciplinary board held that although the officers' tactics were slipshod--they should have interviewed the witness in person, Williams said--their efforts were hampered by poor dispatching.

The board also found that even if police had not mistaken the kidnapping for a scuffle between teenagers, it probably would not have helped the West Hills teen. "The suspects had at least a 12-minute head start," Williams said, noting that they would probably have been out of the city before a crime broadcast could have been issued.

A written reprimand, though far less severe than other possible penalties, is a permanent blotch on an officer's record. If these officers engage in future misconduct, the penalty could be worse.

Rygh and Lyons, on the advice of counsel, would not comment on the board's judgment.

Both men, as well as the LAPD, still face a civil lawsuit filed by Markowitz's parents.

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