Andrew Blankstein and Patrick McGreevy, Times Staff Writers
Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton said Thursday that an internal investigation has been launched into allegations that a former deputy chief gave preferential treatment -- and helped secure promotions -- for female officers with whom he had intimate relations.
The accusations against Michael Berkow, who headed the LAPD's internal affairs division before leaving the department last month to become police chief in Savannah, Ga., were made in a civil lawsuit filed in May. Ya May Christle, a sergeant in internal affairs, alleged in her suit that Berkow and the city of Los Angeles retaliated against her after she complained about the deputy chief's conduct.
Berkow, 51, who was Irvine's police chief before coming to the LAPD, told a Savannah television station Thursday that he was limited in what he could say about the pending litigation, but was confident the suit would ultimately be thrown out. People in Georgia, he said, "will judge me by my actions and by my conduct."
Clint Robison, an attorney representing Berkow and the city in thecase, said there was no wrongdoing.
He said Berkow "is confident that when the truth comes out ... hewill be vindicated." Robison said the case was dismissed earlier thisyear after a judge ruled that it had failed to make the case thatBerkow had acted improperly against Christle, but the lawsuit hassince been expanded, rewritten and refiled.
Bratton said Thursday that the lawsuit's allegations were beinginvestigated internally and there will be no comment "at all on anyof it" because the matter involved a personnel complaint.
"It's all being handled," Bratton told The Times. "It's all beinginvestigated."
The chief defended his former deputy chief, describing him as agood cop. The internal affairs unit Berkow directed was in charge ofinvestigating possible wrongdoing by police officers. "He's anoutstanding police officer, hardworking, dedicated," Bratton said.
In the lawsuit, Christle alleged that Berkow had a sexualrelationship with a female captain under his supervision and that thewoman was subsequently allowed to remain in her post beyond athree-year limit set by the federal consent decree imposed after theRampart scandal. Reached Thursday, the captain denied any romantic orintimate relationship with Berkow.
The deputy chief also was accused in the lawsuit of having hadsexual relations with another female officer, who was underinvestigation by an outside law enforcement agency.
Christle's attorney, Bradley Gage of Los Angeles, said that Berkowand department personnel retaliated against her by confiscating hercomputer, which contained information about an internal affairsinvestigation into the police investigation of the slaying ofNotorious B.I.G.
Gage is one of several attorneys suing the city of Los Angeles onbehalf of the family of the late rapper, whose real name wasChristopher Wallace, alleging that two former Los Angeles policeofficers orchestrated his fatal shooting in 1997 on WilshireBoulevard.
The federal court judge presiding over the case, which is pending,ordered the city to pay $1.1 million in sanctions last January afterfinding that the LAPD failed to turn over evidence.
Los Angeles Police Commission members said Christle's allegationsshould be thoroughly investigated.
"The nature of the allegations would be serious for any rank, saidCommission Vice President Alan Skobin, "but they are of even greaterconcern when it's a person in charge of internal affairs."
In 2003, Berkow became the first high-ranking sworn officer otherthan the chief to come from outside the ranks of the LAPD when he washired from the Irvine Police Department.
The Syracuse University law school graduate, whose friendship withBratton dates back decades, had earned a reputation as a reformer whotargeted municipal and police corruption.
As head of the Coachella Police Department, Berkow arrested themajority of the City Council, and his boss, the city manager, who waslater convicted of misuse of public funds.
When he came to the LAPD, Berkow was charged with streamlining thedepartment's much maligned disciplinary system, which was criticizedat the time for being slow, burdensome and failing to target the mostegregious cases of police corruption.
During his tenure, Berkow initiated undercover stings andinvestigations that resulted in dozens of officers being fired fromthe LAPD for misconduct.
He also presided over a number of high-profile use-of-force cases,including the Stanley Miller flashlight beating and the fatalshootings of 13-year-old car theft suspect Devin Brown and toddlerSusie Pena.
Although Berkow won the respect of some civil rights attorneys andactivists, he also drew the ire of union officials and others in thedepartment, who criticized him for what they perceived asheavy-handedness.
In her lawsuit, Christle alleged that she saw two of the deputychief's female subordinates leaving a department office that had beenoutfitted as a bedroom for Berkow. Soon after, the suit alleges,Berkow was seen leaving the third-floor room dressed in a whiteT-shirt and pajama bottoms. After she complained, Christle said shewas transferred and demoted.
Department sources said that, after days at the office that couldstretch to 18 or more hours, Berkow sometimes slept in an unused roomat the internal affairs offices, in the Bradbury building at Broadwayand 3rd Street.
A former member of his staff, who asked not to be named because ofthe pending litigation, said the room was the size of a closet withan air mattress on the floor and a sign on the door that read"reserved for Chief Berkow."
"The Bradbury building has security 24-7 and there are LAPDpersonnel coming and going 18 hours a day," the staffer said. "Theidea of this being some den of iniquity is ludicrous."
Police sources said an investigation into Christle's allegationswas launched by Andre Birotte, the inspector general for the PoliceCommission. The probe has since been taken over by the department'sConsent Decree Bureau because internal affairs has a conflict ofinterest, according to LAPD sources.
Officials in Savannah said Thursday that Berkow told them aboutthe allegations when he was being considered for chief.
"Chief Berkow fully cooperated with investigators during thesearch process," said City Manager Michael Brown. "The chief hasimpressed the city and the public during his short time here with hisprofessionalism and on-the-street approach to leading thisdepartment."
Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times
All Rights Reserved
Favors for sex at the LAPD alleged; Bratton vows a complete investigation