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Reserve deputy's status is pulled

The man flashed his badge and demanded access to a crime scene in Glendale, police say.

January 23, 2008|Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

A director of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Multicultural Advisory Council has been stripped of his reserve deputy status after Glendale police complained that he showed up at the scene of a suicide last week, flashing his badge and demanding access to a restricted area.

The Glendale incident marks the latest in a string of cases in which reserve deputies or volunteers working for sheriff's departments around Southern California have been accused of overstepping their authority.

The incident prompted a top sheriff's official to send out an e-mail stating that reserve deputies are not permitted to enter crime scenes or use their badges to gain access to them.

The L.A. County department has 800 reserve deputies, including some businessmen and community leaders whom Sheriff Lee Baca uses for fundraising and other functions

One of the reserve deputies involved in the Glendale case is Aram Sardarian, a car dealer who serves on the advisory council, a group of business leaders and community activists formed to counsel Baca about issues involving ethnic communities. Sources close to the investigation said Sardarian threatened to call Baca when Glendale police would not let him enter the crime scene.

Undersheriff Larry Waldie declined to discuss specifics but described Sardarian as "a friend" of the suicide victim.

Sardarian was joined at the scene by a second reserve deputy, whose name has not been released. Their badges and sheriff's-issue guns have been taken away while authorities investigate.

"If the behavior is at a level that is inappropriate, the deputy should be fired from the reserve program," Baca said in an interview. "Emotions run deep when it comes to suicides."

Reached by cellphone Tuesday, Sardarian said, "I am not interested in talking to anybody yet."

Glendale Police spokesman John Balian said the department lodged its complaint after what he described as Sardarian's "unprofessional" and "aggressive" behavior Jan. 14 at a home in South Glendale near Adams and Green streets.

Law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation, however, said Sardarian pulled up on the scene in a Ford Crown Victoria, a car favored by law enforcement, about 45 minutes after the husband of the suicide victim had found her bleeding from a gunshot wound at their home and called authorities. (She was pronounced dead at the scene. Coroner's spokesman Craig Harvey later said that the woman died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.)

Sardarian, who identified himself as a reserve deputy, approached a Glendale patrol officer guarding the front of the house and displayed his badge and gun in an attempt to gain access to a scene clearly marked with yellow tape, the sources said

When he was rebuffed, he appeared to take offense, invoking the names of Baca and Glendale Police Chief Randy Adams, the sources said. He told officers at the scene he would be placing calls to both men, said the sources, who spoke on the condition that they not be identified.

Detectives later determined that Sardarian was an acquaintance of the family, but his conduct raised questions and concerns, the sources said. Sardarian also indicated he knew who owned the gun used in the suicide.

The incident prompted Michael R. Leum, the manager of the sheriff's Reserve Forces Bureau, to send out an e-mail out Friday, saying, "Under no circumstance (other than life threatening) should any reserve make contact with another agency without the knowledge and consent of his or her reserve coordinator.

"Reserves are not to attempt entry to any crime scene which they are not part of the investigative team. . . . failure to follow these directives can result in discipline, up to and including termination."

According to sheriff's officials, Sardarian has served as a reserve deputy for two years and has completed at least 175 hours of law-enforcement training.

Sardarian, a level 3 reserve deputy, has a restricted status, which requires him to work under the direct supervision of another sheriff's sworn or reserve deputy when in the field.

Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said the department "takes this very seriously," as evidenced by deputies' confiscation of Sardarian's badge and gun. Sardarian could be reinstated, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Some critics have said Baca and other local law enforcement leaders are too liberal in distributing officials credentials to civilians.

Identification cards bearing Baca's signature were given to local business owners and political donors who made up the sheriff's "Homeland Security Support Unit." In 2006, the Sheriff's Department revoked the ID cards after the Board of Supervisors ordered an investigation of the practice.

Another member of that group showed both his Los Angeles County sheriff's ID card and his Riverside County "Executive Council" badge to state agents who were serving a search warrant at his Glendale naturopathy office in 2005 during a Medi-Cal fraud investigation.

The display of official-looking identifications prompted a state investigator to write in his report that there was confusion because the card "did not distinguish whether the man was a sworn peace officer, a civilian employee or volunteer."

At the start of Baca's administration, at least two members of his special celebrity reserve unit ran into controversy, which led to that program's suspension in 1999. Reserve Deputy Scott Zacky, whose family owns Zacky Farms, was relieved of duty for allegedly brandishing a weapon at two people outside his Bel-Air home.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

Times staff writer Stuart Pfeifer contributed to this report.

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