By Joel Rubin
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles police officials are investigating allegations that a veteran detective made racially charged comments about shooting black men and disparaged several superiors with vulgar insults during a training lecture given to other cops.
Frank Lyga, a veteran investigator assigned to the LAPD's gang and narcotic division, has been removed from field duties pending the outcome of the investigation, said Cmdr. Andrew Smith, a department spokesman.
Internal affairs investigators opened an inquiry into Lyga, 57, after a fellow officer filed a complaint against him for the comments he allegedly made while teaching a class at the department's training academy, Smith said.
The investigation has centered on an audio recording allegedly capturing the comments.
Smith declined to comment on whether investigators have confirmed that the voice on the recording is Lyga's. However, a department source with close knowledge of the case said investigators believe it is Lyga speaking. The official spoke on the condition that his name not be used because internal investigations are confidential.
A copy of the recording was released publicly last week by Jasmyne Cannick, a political consultant and writer. The LAPD official confirmed to The Times that comments on the recording put out by Cannick are the same as those on the recording the department reviewed in its investigation.
Cannick said the recording was made by an African American officer who attended the class Lyga taught last November.
On the recording, a man gives a rambling, expletive-laden talk that revolves mostly around Lyga's 1997 shooting death of Kevin Gaines, an off-duty LAPD officer.
According to police accounts of the shooting, Lyga was working an undercover narcotics operation when he became involved in a traffic dispute with Gaines. Apparently, neither man knew the other was a police officer.
Gaines allegedly pulled a gun on Lyga to threaten him. Lyga, who said he feared for his life, fired twice at Gaines, killing him.
The shooting sparked racial tensions within the department because Gaines was black and Lyga is white.
In recounting the LAPD's investigation into the shooting and the lawsuit Gaines' family filed, the man on the recording complains repeatedly that he was unfairly labeled as "a racist killer."
At the end of the recording, which appears to capture the last half-hour of a longer talk, the man recalled a confrontation he had with Carl Douglas, a prominent attorney who helped represent Gaines' family in their lawsuit.
Douglas, the man said, asked him if he believed all "young black men" were gang members. And then shortly later asked if he regretted shooting Gaines.
"I said, 'No, I regret he was alone in the truck at the time,' " the man recalled. "I could have killed a whole truckload of them and I would have been happy doing so."
Earlier in the recording, the man fired off slurs aimed at a female LAPD captain, a lieutenant, and others including, Johnnie Cochran, the late attorney who also represented Gaines' family.
Using crass language, the man commented on the captain's attractiveness and insinuated she was sexually promiscuous.
He called the lieutenant, Paul Vernon, "an [expletive] moron."
"I've never met Frank Lyga in all these years, but have heard from others that he has some animus toward me," Vernon said. "I haven't lost any sleep over it yet and I won't now."
Lyga did not return repeated calls and emails for comment. The local NBC affiliate reported Tuesday that in a brief interview with
Lyga, the detective acknowledged making the comments and expressed regret, but also claimed his words had been taken out of context.
Cannick said she released the recording, in part, to challenge the claim made often by top LAPD officials that the department has broken from past decades marked by racism and abuse in its ranks.
"I beg to differ when relics like this are still working in the LAPD," Cannick said. "It's scary to think the department has someone with that mentality training other officers."
The investigation into Lyga comes at a particularly sensitive time for LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, who is seeking a second five-year term as chief.
Beck has won wide praise for his management of the department during his first term, But he has been criticized in recent months for a decision he made in another case involving another officer caught on tape making racially disparaging remarks.
In that case, Beck overruled recommendations that Officer Shawn Hillmann be fired and instead gave him a lengthy suspension.
Beck would not comment on the ongoing investigation into Lyga, Smith said.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2014 the Los Angeles Times