Burbank PD showing signs of inner turmoil

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A lawsuit filed last year by a group of Burbank police officers claims a culture of racial, gender and sexual orientation discrimination persists at the department. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is conducting a wide-ranging investigation into possible excessive use of force by Burbank cops.

BURBANK — An FBI investigation into allegations of excessive force in the Burbank Police Department is one symptom of an agency beset with turmoil, the Los Angeles Times reported on its Web site today.

Some city officials and police officials told the Times that excessive force was a problem in the department, but that it was limited to a small number of cops who became heavy-handed after the 2003 slaying of rookie Officer Matthew Pavelka.

At first, "everybody was on board with that,'' one veteran officer told the Times. "It was to get a cop killer.'' But, after a time, that aggressive style became the norm, several officers said.

The Burbank force has been so bitterly divided by the accusations, the Times reported, that newly appointed interim Chief Scott LaChasse asked psychologists to help him sort through the morass and come up with a corrective plan.

The City Council has set aside more than $1 million to pay for policing experts to assess the department. Officers told the Times they are under orders to not discuss the turmoil because of internal affairs investigations and a federal grand jury probe.

Federal prosecutors are scrutinizing several cases involving use of force against suspects and have subpoenaed the department's files relating to two cases.

One of those cases involved Neil Thomas Gunn Sr., a 22-year veteran of the force, who turned a 12-gauge shotgun on himself in a quiet hillside Burbank neighborhood.

Gunn was a sergeant in charge of the department's Special Enforcement Detail, an elite unit responsible for making high-risk arrests — and one of several Burbank officers who are subjects of an FBI investigation into allegations of excessive force, according to law enforcement sources familiar
with the probe, the Times report.

Gunn and Jose Duran, a sergeant in vice/narcotics, helped conduct searches of locations linked to robbery suspects who robbed a popular eatery on Dec. 28, 2007.

At the time, there were anonymous complaints of excessive force, but an internal probe found no substantiation for them. The case was reopened last spring when a detective told authorities that he had watched an officer grab a suspect by the throat and put a gun to his head while the suspect was sitting in a hallway in the police station waiting to be interviewed.

Officers said that Gunn and other colleagues have been targeted within the department for reasons having nothing to do with excessive use of force.

According to court papers, the Times reported, officers were taunted by white cops, passed over for promotions, denied backup and, in one case, threatened by a fellow cop at gunpoint.

What's really ailing the department, these officers told the Times, is years of nepotism and cronyism. Adding to the problem, they allege, is a core of mostly white officers who grew up in Burbank and are resistant to outsiders.

Gunn's wife, Tina, told the Times he felt humiliated and betrayed by having his actions in the field second-guessed and by being sent home against his will. Gunn believed he was being railroaded for having spoken out against the police leadership at police union meeting, his wife told the Times.

He "felt like the fix was in,'' she said. "that it didn't matter what he said.''

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