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Fire Dept. reassigns official in bias probes

February 28, 2007|Robert J. Lopez | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles Fire Department deputy chief who oversaw probes of two now high-profile discrimination lawsuits is being reassigned, a move that in effect demotes him as second in command of the 3,900-member force.

Deputy Chief Andrew Fox, who oversees all disciplinary investigations as commander of the Bureau of Operations, will take over as head of the Bureau of Training and Risk Management on April 1, according to an internal memo sent Tuesday morning to department members by the office of interim Fire Chief Douglas L. Barry.

Fox will be replaced by Deputy Chief Emile Mack, who heads the Bureau of Training and Risk Management, according to a copy of the memo obtained by The Times.

Mack is a 28-year department veteran who served as a firefighter, paramedic and inspector before being promoted into the department's upper ranks.

Fox oversaw a disciplinary system that was criticized as failing to meet minimum city standards and was widely perceived to be rife with cronyism and favoritism, according to an audit released last year by the city's personnel department. In his new job, Fox will oversee such issues as workers' compensation and human relations training.

Fox did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Barry praised Fox and Mack as "dedicated, loyal and accomplished officers." The change will allow both men to use their skills "to better serve the department," Barry said.

Veteran fire commanders interviewed Tuesday said the move was not unexpected, given that Barry had said he would be the "agent of change" sought by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

"This is a good move. There's been too much favoritism and cronyism," said Capt. Scott Gould, a 25-year veteran who has filed several grievances in recent years alleging that he was the target of unfair discipline by Fox's bureau.

Capt. Henry Olvera, who has worked on a department committee formed to address such issues as uneven discipline and discrimination, said the changes show that Barry is serious about reforms.

"He's making a statement that is huge," said Olvera, a 31-year veteran who is a leader in Los Bomberos, a group that represents Latino firefighters on the force.

The move was also praised by United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, which represents the department's rank and file. "I hope this is the first of more changes to come," union President Steve Tufts said in a statement.

Fox also is the mayor of Thousand Oaks. The Times published a photo earlier this month of a 2002 campaign brochure with him wearing his helmet and turnout coat, a potential violation of Fire Department rules and regulations. Department officials said they were reviewing the matter.

A 26-year veteran of the force, Fox wielded significant power because he reported directly to the fire chief and oversaw a group of captains known as advocates, or investigators trained in internal affairs.

Despite the recommendations of two commanders, Fox chose not to launch an advocate investigation after firefighters laced a black colleague's dinner with dog food at a Westchester firehouse in October 2004, records show.

Instead, Fox relied on inconsistent written statements from firefighters involved in the incident and quietly approved suspending two white captains and a Latino firefighter who were found to be the most culpable.

The black firefighter, Tennie Pierce, filed a racial discrimination and retaliation lawsuit that reignited long-standing allegations of racism and sexism on the force and led to the resignation late last year of Fire Chief William R. Bamattre. Bamattre was replaced by Barry.

The City Council agreed late last year to settle the suit for $2.7 million, but Villaraigosa vetoed the deal after a public outcry and the publication of photos showing Pierce apparently engaging in firehouse hazing.

A battalion chief supervising the department's inquiry of the Pierce incident told The Times in December that his name was signed by someone else without his knowledge on a key report that was sent to Fox.

Capt. Armando Hogan, who was an advocate investigating allegations that a black lesbian firefighter assaulted a male colleague, also said in an interview that his name was signed without his consent on a discipline report sent to Fox. The firefighter, Brenda Lee, filed a lawsuit alleging that she was run out of the department.

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robert.lopez@latimes.com

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