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Sheriff's Department to add new policy on screening job applicants

Records show many L.A. County Sheriff's Department applicants admitted to misconduct but were not reported.

December 27, 2013|By Robert Faturechi and Ben Poston
  • Sheriff Lee Baca speaks last week during a toy drive outside sheriff's headquarters in Monterey Park.
Sheriff Lee Baca speaks last week during a toy drive outside sheriff's… (Andrew Renneisen, For The…)

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is creating a new policy that will require the agency's background investigators to report job applicants who admit to potential criminal conduct during the hiring process, officials said.

The reform comes in response to inquiries from The Times about a mass hiring the sheriff conducted in 2010 after taking over the jurisdiction of the county's smaller police force, the Office of Public Safety.

According to internal records reviewed by The Times, many of the county officers who then applied for jobs with the Sheriff's Department admitted during the screening process that they had committed misconduct for which they had never been caught.

IN-DEPTH: Behind the badge

Officers acknowledged misdeeds such as stealing county property and falsifying reports. One officer said he "confiscated" steaks from people having a barbecue, then cooked them and ate them on-duty.

No action was taken against any of the county officers who admitted apparent wrongdoing, according to a sheriff's spokesman.

Officer Michael Cohen, for instance, admitted to knowingly using excessive force at least 10 times, obtaining official records for personal use at least 50 times and lying to supervisors or in reports at least 30 times, hiring records show.

Cohen, who was not hired by the Sheriff's Department, declined to comment through his attorney. A sheriff's spokesman said the department did not conduct an administrative review to determine whether Cohen victimized anybody.

According to legal experts, admissions made during law enforcement job interviews can be used in court, even if the disclosures are made during the polygraph portion of the screening process.

In 2010, prosecutors convicted three Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies of assaulting an inmate after a deputy admitted his involvement during a job interview with the Chino Police Department.

Sheriff's officials say building cases against officers who admitted to wrongdoing during the mass hire three years ago would have required more evidence than just admissions, and some of the misdeeds were old and beyond the statute of limitations.

Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers said the new policy about how to handle potentially criminal admissions made during the hiring process is still being formulated. He said he expects it will require sheriff's employment screeners to refer any misdeeds that appear to be "prosecutable" to criminal investigators.

If the admissions are made by Los Angeles County employees, they'll be referred to the sheriff's internal criminal investigators. If not, Rogers said, they'll be referred to whichever law enforcement agency has jurisdiction where the crime occurred.

Rogers said there had not been a consistent protocol for how to handle these situations.

"It was more left up to individuals' judgment," he said. "We're taking it out of individual judgment and making it a policy."

According to a sheriff's spokesman, the only officer who was criminally investigated during the 2010 mass hire was Randall Budd, who wasn't offered a position. During his job interview with the Sheriff's Department, he was asked questions about whether he had stolen in the past.

Budd, then a lieutenant for the county's police force, told them he stole up to $25,000 of equipment, much of it from the county, including a grenade launcher, grenades, handcuffs, radios, Kevlar helmets, body armor, 2,000 rounds of AR-15 ammunition, 2,000 rounds of AK-47 ammunition and more, according to internal hiring records.

Budd was never charged with a crime. Reached by the Times, Budd said he wasn't even aware of a Sheriff's Department criminal investigation. He said the sheriff's records were "not accurate" but referred questions to his attorney, who declined to comment.

A sheriff's spokesman, however, said that after Budd's admissions, a criminal investigator did reach out to Budd's former employers at the county police but they could not identify any missing property or evidence that Budd had stolen anything. The sheriff's investigator met with the district attorney's office, but there were concerns about a lack of evidence and statute of limitation issues. No search warrants were prepared and the case was closed, the spokesman said.

According to a spokeswoman for the district attorney, no case about Budd was formally presented to that office.

County chief executive officer William T Fujioka said that officials could not go after Budd criminally because he recanted and there was "no direct proof," such as surveillance footage showing him stealing property.

"At least we didn't hire that one," Fujioka told a Times reporter.

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

ben.poston@latimes.com

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