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Maywood police reforms promised

Acting chief responds to a Times investigation into officers with troubling records.

April 02, 2007|Scott Glover and Matt Lait | Times Staff Writers

The city of Maywood's interim police chief Sunday announced a series of reforms aimed at improving background checks of potential new officers and ensuring better investigations into police misconduct.

Chief Richard J. Lyons unveiled the changes after a Times investigation published Sunday disclosed that the Maywood Police Department had become a haven for misfit officers pushed out of other agencies for crimes or serious misconduct.

"In response to recent public scrutiny, the Maywood Police Department is in the process of implementing changes," Lyons said in a prepared statement.

The Times story also revealed that a lieutenant in charge of internal affairs said some citizen complaints are handled "casually" in the lobby of the police station instead of being investigated; that officers accept free meals from area restaurants; and that officers carry leather-wrapped, lead-filled hand weapons, known as saps, which have been prohibited by many other agencies because of the brutal injuries they can inflict.

Some officers were hired by Maywood after flunking out of training programs elsewhere.

Lyons addressed several of the allegations in his Sunday statement.

"Areas of departmental policy that have been reviewed include, but are not limited to, internal affairs investigations, background investigations and the use of a sap as an impact weapon," he said.

Lyons said the department "will utilize a reputable private investigations firm" to conduct future background checks of officer candidates.

"Although there is no perfect system for background investigations, the department is confident changes ... will raise the standard for future applicants," Lyons said.

The chief also said the department had stopped conducting internal affairs probes and was also turning that job over to a private investigations firm.

The Maywood Police Department has 37 officers and patrols a square-mile city of 30,000 residents south of downtown Los Angeles. It also contracts its services to the nearby city of Cudahy. In recent months, critics have accused the department of being corrupt and heavy-handed.

The Los Angeles County district attorney, the state attorney general and the FBI have active probes into Maywood's department.

"The Maywood Police Department is committed to professionalism and has been fully cooperative with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office and the California state attorney general's office," Lyons said. "The public should view the Maywood Police Department as a whole and note the positive and hard work performed by officers on a daily basis."

The Times investigation revealed that at least a third of the officers on the Maywood force had either left other police jobs under a cloud or had brushes with the law since going to work for Maywood.

Among those currently on the job: a former L.A. County sheriff's deputy terminated for abusing jail inmates, an ex-LAPD officer fired for intimidating a witness and a former Huntington Park officer charged with negligently shooting a handgun and driving drunk.

Even Lyons has a criminal past. He was convicted of beating his girlfriend and resigned from the El Monte Police Department before going to Maywood. The conviction was later overturned on appeal because the defense was not allowed to exclude a juror who had worked with domestic violence victims. Lyons ultimately was convicted of a lesser offense of making a verbal threat.

In an interview before publication of Sunday's story, Lyons was asked about Maywood's reputation in law enforcement circles as a "second chance" department.

"It's OK to give a person a second chance if you learn from your mistake," Lyons said.

Maywood City Councilman Sam Pena said that before reading the Times article, he had not known the department had so many officers with checkered pasts.

"I was surprised, to say the least," Pena said. "The thing that's going through my mind is what was the police administration thinking when they allowed these people to go through. That's what I want to know. And that's what I'm going to be asking."

scott.glover@latimes.com

matt.lait@latimes.com

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