Monday, April 23, 2007


LAFD probes alleged hazing

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles City Fire Department is investigating allegations that a young African American firefighter found his locker at a North Hollywood station vandalized in a racist manner in recent days.
Although top officials with the city's fire and police departments would not disclose the nature of the incident at Fire Station 89 because of the internal investigation, others familiar with the probe said the rookie firefighter opened his locker to find a banana and his clothing -- including his uniform -- covered with a white lotion or foam.
To date, the sources said, one firefighter has acknowledged being involved in the incident, although no one has been disciplined pending the outcome of the investigation.
"The Fire Department has zero tolerance for any kind of behavior that involves hazing, racial discrimination or mistreatment of people," Battalion Chief Kwame Cooper said late Friday. "So we are actively and aggressively investigating this incident to determine the details of what happened. We are taking it very seriously and will take appropriate action when our investigation is complete."
Matt Szabo, press secretary for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, said the department's "swift and thorough" response was "evidence that the zero tolerance policy of the mayor and chief is taking effect and that the culture of the Fire Department is changing."
Word of the incident comes a week after a Los Angeles jury awarded $1.7 million to a former city firefighter who said he was the victim of retaliation for helping a black female firefighter who had accused the department of discrimination.
And in December, Fire Chief William Bamattre resigned in the wake of a number of discrimination allegations against the department. The highest-profile case involved a lawsuit by Tennie Pierce, a black firefighter who alleged he was fed dog food in 2004 by fellow firefighters at a station in Westchester. The City Council's $2.7-million settlement with Pierce was vetoed by Villaraigosa after photos surfaced of the firefighter himself engaging in pranks. His lawsuit is scheduled for trial in September.
In the latest incident, fire officials opened an administrative investigation after allegations of the hazing surfaced. As part of that investigation, the department contacted the LAPD's North Hollywood Division, which provided "technical assistance," including dusting the locker for fingerprints, according to LAPD Lt. Paul Vernon.
The firefighter who was allegedly targeted in the incident has been assigned to another station.
"I just cannot fathom this happening ... after all of the other [discrimination] lawsuits we have had," said veteran Fire Capt. Jerry Thomas, a vocal critic of the department who is retiring after 32 years. "Until people start getting terminated for these offenses, these types of conditions will continue."

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