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A TIMES INVESTIGATION

Maywood employs police officers with a history of trouble

April 01, 2007|Matt Lait and Scott Glover | Times Staff Writers

THE Maywood Police Department -- a 37-man force that patrols a gritty square-mile city south of downtown Los Angeles -- has become a haven for misfit cops who have been pushed out of other law enforcement agencies for crimes or serious misconduct.

Among those on the job: A former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy terminated for abusing jail inmates; a onetime Los Angeles Police Department officer fired for intimidating a witness; and an ex-Huntington Park officer charged with negligently shooting a handgun and driving drunk.

Other officers were hired by Maywood after flunking out of training programs elsewhere, a Times investigation has found.

In all, at least a third of the officers on the force have either left other police jobs under a cloud or have had brushes with the law while working for Maywood. Several officers in recent years have left Maywood after being convicted of crimes.

Even the newly appointed police chief has a checkered past: He was convicted of beating his girlfriend and resigned from the El Monte Police Department before he could be fired. His conviction was later overturned on appeal because the defense was not allowed to exclude a juror who had previously worked with domestic violence victims. He was ultimately convicted of a lesser charge of making a verbal threat.

Known among law enforcement circles as a department of "second chances," Maywood's police department is one of nearly 50 independent police agencies in Los Angeles County. The department, whose officers are mainly white and Latino, serves a densely populated city of roughly 30,000 that is 96% Latino. There are no women or African Americans on the force, which also patrols the nearby town of Cudahy.

"Are there things that are bad in our department? I would venture to say that there are," said Maywood City Councilman Samuel Pena. "But I think you would find bad things in other departments if you looked closely at them.... There are bad apples in every department."

Although Maywood's police department has rarely been in the news, in part because it is dwarfed by the nearby LAPD and county sheriff's department, allegations of corruption and brutality have thrust it and city officials into the spotlight in recent months.

The brewing scandal has included accusations that police and city leaders were on the take from the owner of a local tow company; that a longtime officer was extorting sex from relatives of a criminal fugitive; that a police officer tried to run over the president of the Maywood Police Commission in the parking lot of City Hall; that an officer impregnated a teenage police explorer; and that officers had covered up the truth surrounding a fatal police shooting that resulted in a $2.3-million legal settlement.

The Los Angeles County district attorney, the California attorney general and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have active probes into the Maywood department.

Amid the chaos, Bruce Leflar, still listed on the department's website as chief, abruptly stopped showing up for work last fall.

And the officer whom he'd appointed to clean up the department, Al Hutchings, agreed to resign his post after being told a videotape had been made of him allegedly having an on-duty liaison with the female owner of a local doughnut store.

Hutchings, who has been a vocal critic of the Maywood police and casts himself as a whistle blower, said the allegation that he was involved in an improper relationship was fabricated "to blackmail me into stopping the work that I was doing."

As is the case with many of his fellow officers, it was not the first time Hutchings had been accused of misconduct. As an LAPD officer he was convicted of bilking the department for bogus overtime pay.

In an interview, Hutchings said he disclosed the conviction on his application to the Maywood department. Though he contends that a supervisor had approved all of the overtime he worked, he said he entered the plea so as to quickly dispose of the case, which he alleges was filed in retaliation for his having reported misconduct by a high-ranking LAPD official.

In addition to hiring officers shunned by other agencies, Maywood has been slow to adopt policing practices in place at bigger departments, which are aimed at ensuring professional conduct and increasing public trust. For example, Maywood officers accept free meals from local restaurants, a perk that even the past chief acknowledged partaking in.

And supervisors at the department don't always see the need for documenting citizens' complaints, a practice mandated at other agencies. In a recent deposition, the lieutenant in charge of internal affairs said complaints were often "resolved casually" in the lobby of the police station.

Officers are also permitted to carry a leather-encased, lead-filled hand weapon, known as a sap, which many agencies have outlawed because of the brutal injuries they can inflict.

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