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Ex-police chief may have violated law over ticket, officials say

Jeff Eley, San Fernando's former police chief, may have violated the law when he successfully sought to dismiss a congressional aide's traffic ticket last year, prosecutors conclude.

March 04, 2013|By Jack Leonard and Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times

San Fernando's former police chief may have violated the law when he successfully sought to dismiss a congressional aide's traffic ticket last year, prosecutors concluded.

The Los Angeles County district attorney ultimately decided not to charge the police official, Jeff Eley. But revelations in a district attorney's memo obtained by The Times add another chapter to the political soap opera in the small San Fernando Valley town that has been buffeted by scandal.

County prosecutors said Eley, then the department's acting police chief, received a call on his cellphone from the aide within minutes of an officer issuing the ticket in November 2011. Eley approached the officer to examine the citation.

DOCUMENT: Memo details ticket-fixing allegation

"Oh my God, do you know who this is?" Eley said to the officer, according to the memo.

The ticket, given for running a stop sign, had been issued to Fred Flores, who worked for then-Rep. Howard Berman (D-Valley Village). Berman had helped the department obtain federal funding over the years, the memo said.

Flores acted belligerently during the incident and threatened to contact Eley to take care of the citation, the memo said.

Eley took the police copies of the citation from the officer who issued it, according to the memo. Seven weeks later, after Flores had been scheduled to appear in court, Eley asked a court to dismiss the ticket, saying there "were conflicting statements made between the officer and the violator."

State law prohibits police from concealing or nullifying a ticket before it goes to court. Police can recommend that a citation be dismissed but not because of a "personal relationship with any officer, public official or law enforcement agency." Violation of the law is a misdemeanor.

The district attorney's memo said that though Eley's actions may have violated the law, his department's rules gave him the "ultimate discretion to cancel citations." Deputy Dist. Atty. Renee Chang wrote in the memo that the ticket was dismissed by a neutral judge and that there was no evidence Eley received any personal favors or promises in return.

District attorney's spokeswoman Jane Robison said her office also took into consideration that Eley lost his job as acting chief and that he would probably not face jail time for a first-time misdemeanor. She said Flores served as a liaison between the congressman and the Police Department and would be expected to have the cellphone number for the acting police chief.

"We had no evidence of a personal relationship," she said.

Eley's lawyer, Robert Wexler, said his client did nothing wrong and welcomed the decision not to file charges. Eley, he said, remains on administrative leave and was unavailable for an interview by Los Angeles County sheriff's detectives investigating the ticket-fixing allegation.

Flores could not be reached for comment. He previously denied asking Eley to do anything with the ticket.

The controversy over the ticket's fate was one of several spectacles that in recent years have tarnished the reputation of the city, including a public announcement by the mayor that he was having an affair with a colleague and claims of a relationship between another former police chief and a teenage cadet.

Eley was removed from his post and placed on administrative leave last year after a video surfaced on YouTube showing Officer Saul Esquivel giving Flores the citation. The video, with opening titles such as "Deception" and "Corruption," was taken from the dashboard camera in Esquivel's patrol car that captured the Nov. 23, 2011, traffic stop.

According to the district attorney's memo, Flores swore at Esquivel as the officer wrote the ticket. As Esquivel returned to his patrol car, he realized he still had Flores' driver's license. Flores stepped out of his vehicle and walked toward Esquivel, the memo said, berating him with several offensive names. The officer handed Flores his license and returned to the patrol car.

The ticket was issued at 8:25 a.m., according to a copy of the citation obtained by The Times. Phone records show that Flores called Eley 12 minutes later, just as the watch commander was notifying the acting chief about the incident, according to the memo.

At the station, Esquivel told Eley that Flores' behavior had been unacceptable. Eley took the citation, walked toward his office and called Flores on his cellphone, the memo said. The call lasted 11 minutes.

On Jan. 12, 2012, Eley filled out paperwork seeking the dismissal of the ticket in the "interest of justice." A department employee took the request to court the next day. Without any additional inquiry, court Commissioner Martin Gladstein dismissed the ticket.

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