A Los Angeles police officer under investigation for allegedly committing a string of home-invasion robberies had five felony arrests before he was hired by the LAPD in 1996, according to documents obtained by The Times.
Officer William Ferguson was arrested four times as a juvenile and once as an adult on burglary and theft charges, records show. His 1991 adult arrest resulted in a misdemeanor conviction for attempted burglary.
What became of his juvenile arrests is not clear because court records on those matters are not public.Ferguson's attorney, Robert Rico, had previously acknowledged his client's arrest as an adult but declined Monday to say whether Ferguson had a juvenile record. ''The record reflects what the record reflects,'' he said.
LAPD officials declined comment Monday on Ferguson's criminal history prior to joining the department. Lt. Horace Frank, an LAPD spokesman, said any felony conviction--even a conviction as a juvenile--would bar a person from getting hired at the LAPD. However, neither misdemeanor convictions nor mere arrests would automatically disqualify a potential candidate.
Ferguson, 30, is under investigation as part of a probe that also is looking into other officers, including Ruben Palomares, who is in federal custody on drug charges and is a suspect in a Huntington Park homicide. Lawyers for Ferguson and Palomares, on behalf of their clients, have denied that the officers committed crimes together.
Ferguson's actions are also under scrutiny in a February 1999 on-duty shooting that figured in a recent $1.7-million civil settlement and will be discussed by the city's Police Commission in coming weeks.
The adequacy of city background checks into LAPD candidates is a long-standing matter of debate, and a policy question that has been explored by the Police Commission many times over the years. In the LAPD's analysis of the events known as the Rampart scandal, the department noted that four officers accused of wrongdoing had been hired despite past arrests.
Ferguson was hired at a time when the LAPD was pressing to expand, an effort spearheaded by then-Mayor Richard Riordan. Critics at the time accused the department of hiring candidates too quickly, in some cases without conducting thorough background checks.
"We're disappointed someone slipped through the cracks," said Mitzi Grasso, president of the Police Protective League.
"It appears to me that there was a breakdown in the screening process. It's a problem that the department, the league and the city have been wrestling with for some time."
According to court records, Ferguson was arrested four times as a juvenile between 1986 and 1990. One of those arrests was by LAPD.
He was arrested twice on suspicion of theft and twice on suspicion of burglary, once while he was allegedly in possession of burglary tools, the records show.
The court records obtained by The Times do not contain details surrounding the arrests or the outcome of the cases. Cases involving juveniles are not public records.
Ferguson was arrested as an adult in January 1991 on suspicion of burglary, court records show.
In that case, he pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of misdemeanor attempted burglary. He was sentenced to three years' probation, records show. He joined the Marine Corps in 1992. After a four-year stint in the service, he joined the LAPD.
As a police officer, Ferguson has been the subject of numerous personnel complaints, and has been investigated on allegations that he framed suspects, planted evidence and intimidated a witness. He is currently relieved of duty pending an internal disciplinary hearing.
On Feb. 8, 1999, Ferguson was involved in an on-duty shooting in which he shot at, and missed, an alleged teenage drug dealer. The department's handling of that shooting investigation has been the subject of an internal inquiry by the Police Commission's inspector general.
The inspector general's probe was launched after a Times article disclosed that when the Police Commission concluded that the shooting was within LAPD policy--a finding that Chief Bernard C. Parks urged it to make--some key information about the incident had not been shared with members of the civilian panel.
For example, the commissioners were not told at the time of their vote that Ferguson's role in the shooting was--and still is--the subject of an active criminal investigation. Nor were commissioners told that police officials had searched the officer's locker and seized a replica weapon that one detective speculated was possessed by Ferguson "to be used as planted evidence," according to police documents.
Ferguson and his partner, Jeffery Robb, known on the streets of the Southeast Division as "Batman and Robin," refused to testify about the shooting in a civil proceeding on the matter, invoking their constitutional right against self-incrimination. Robb resigned from the department in January 2000.
Ferguson is also under investigation by authorities attempting to learn more about his relationship with Officer Palomares, who was arrested in June after allegedly trying to buy 10 kilograms of cocaine from an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent.
One of Palomares' co-defendants in the drug case told investigators that Palomares and Ferguson were involved in a criminal partnership in which they would commit invasion-style robberies, stealing narcotics and money from drug dealers.
The co-defendant, according to people familiar with his statements, also implicated Palomares in an unsolved 1999 Huntington Park killing, another crime that remains under investigation.
Last month, LAPD officials confirmed that they have an ongoing criminal investigation into Palomares, Ferguson and other officers.