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LAFD probe digs up more forgeries

January 30, 2007|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles Fire Department probe into the forging of signatures on investigative reports involving two racial discrimination claims has uncovered 16 other cases in which employees signed others' names.

Battalion Chief Mike Arguelles told a City Council committee Monday that he had ordered a halt to the practice.

"The conclusion I arrived at is that for investigatory reports that was just a non-acceptable practice," Arguelles told the council's Public Safety Committee.

Council members said the practice could undermine the integrity of the process for investigating personnel complaints.

"That's why it's inappropriate to have one person sign someone else's report," said Councilman Jack Weiss, the committee chairman.

Arguelles launched his review after two Fire Department officials who led internal inquiries into a pair of discrimination cases, including the lawsuit by Tennie Pierce, said their reports were altered without their consent and that their names were signed by someone else.

Pierce is the veteran firefighter who complained that three other firefighters slipped dog food into his firehouse spaghetti.

Arguelles said he went back through four years of personnel complaint investigations involving 425 cases and found 18 in which a department official signed another's name and one that was submitted without a signature.

"It was not a common practice. It was infrequent," Arguelles told the panel.

He said that in most of those cases an investigator in the field asked his partner at headquarters to sign the report for him to expedite its processing.

However, Weiss said the forging of signatures could present problems later if an investigator were called into court and asked to verify that he wrote and signed a report.

William Bamattre recently resigned as fire chief amid complaints that the Pierce case and others indicated that the Fire Department has not taken long-standing complaints of racial and sexual discrimination seriously.

On Monday, the council committee asked Interim Fire Chief Douglas Barry whether he had taken steps to end the kind of discrimination and hazing that Pierce cited in his lawsuit.

"I think we are going to do a lot to minimize it happening," Barry said. "To say it's never going to happen, it would be very difficult for me to say that."

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