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FBI probe targets allegations of excessive force by Burbank police

The bureau has told officials to turn over reports involving 12 current or former officers, according to a federal grand jury subpoena. Two cases are cited, including a robbery at Portos Bakery.

October 02, 2009|Andrew Blankstein

The FBI investigation into the Burbank Police Department is focusing on allegations of excessive force by officers, court documents obtained by The Times on Thursday show.

Federal investigators have told Burbank officials to turn over reports involving 12 current and former officers, according to a federal grand jury subpoena obtained by The Times.

The investigation involves at least two incidents, including one stemming from a robbery investigation at the well-known Portos Bakery.

The subpoena specifies information related to "use of force, defensive tactics, Tasers, pepper spray, or the rules and ramifications pertaining to the use of excessive force or a violation of civil/constitutional rights."

In addition, FBI agents are seeking Burbank police internal affairs investigations initiated in response to use-of-force complaints from 2003 to the present for the officers named in the subpoena.

The FBI has said only that the agency is looking into possible civil rights violations by Burbank police officers. FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller would not comment on specifics of the probe by the agency's civil rights division or on how long the probe would last.

According to the subpoena, authorities requested records related to the following : Omar Rodriguez, Jose Cruz Duran, Neil Thomas Gunn Sr., Christian Dereck Canales, Jon Murphy Jr., Mike George Reyes, Steve Sarkis Karagiosian, Armen Dermenjian, William Hampton "Bill" Taylor, Nick Wayne Nichols, Tommy Perez and Edgar Manuel Penaranda.

Two cases mentioned in the subpoena are a Dec. 28, 2007, robbery of Porto's Bakery as well as the Aug. 23, 2007, arrest of Rene Escarsega. Details of both cases were not immediately available.

At least three of the officers -- Karagiosian, Rodriguez and Taylor -- are among seven current or former officers who have filed suit against the city and Police Department alleging violations of civil rights.

The latest was filed last month by Taylor, who alleged that his demotion to captain from deputy chief was due to supporting officers who had filed complaints against the department.

Karagiosian and Rodriguez were part of a lawsuit filed in April against the Police Department and top managers by five officers who alleged a pattern of racial discrimination and retaliation, as well as unlawful demotions or firings.

Among the most explosive claims were that department officials tolerated an environment in which officers commonly used slurs about race, ethnicity and sexual preference directed at them, their colleagues, suspects and the public.

Mayor Gary Bric said he was confident that the investigation into the department, which also includes an independent probe by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, would be thorough and complete. He said there would be no limits on investigators.

"I'm sure people are looking at this and have questions and concerns about what's happening to our Police Department," Bric told The Times on Wednesday. "But we can assure there's been no impact on public safety."

Burbank City Atty. Dennis Barlow said he was unable to comment on the FBI investigation or the lawsuits against the city and Police Department, citing pending litigation.

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andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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