By Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton, Times Staff Writers
Los Angeles Times
The former head of the Los Angeles Police Department's internal affairs unit acknowledged in a sworn deposition that he had a three-year affair with a female sergeant under his supervision, raising new questions about how the watchdog unit operated.
The LAPD handbook notes that relationships between supervisors and subordinates are problematic. It says that if such a liaison develops, "it is the duty of the involved employees to immediately notify their commanding officer."
In the deposition, Michael Berkow, who is married, said he met Sgt. Andrea Balter in 2003 and had sex with her over the next three years. Until January 2005, she worked for the internal affairs division as an advocate, a kind of internal prosecutor handling police misconduct cases, including those involving inappropriate sexual relationships.
Berkow's attorney, Clint D. Robison, said his client did not report the relationship to his commanding officer, Police Chief William J. Bratton, because although Berkow was Balter's ultimate boss, she did not report directly to him. "In his opinion, [the relationship] wasn't reportable," Robison said.
Bratton's spokeswoman said Tuesday that the chief, citing personnel rules, would not say whether he was aware of the relationship.
The deposition took place Oct. 11, but attorneys representing Berkow and the city have attempted to keep its contents sealed. Berkow left the department a few weeks later to become chief in Savannah, Ga.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William F. Fahey on Tuesday denied the city's efforts to seal Berkow's deposition, allowing it to be made public.
In a statement released late Tuesday by the Savannah city manager to elected officials and the press, Berkow said he regretted the pain he had caused others.
"The court ruling today released to public view details of my private life," he wrote. "My wife and I were having marital problems at the time and were effectively living in two different cities, during which time I became involved with another woman. I deeply regret this fact and the pain I have caused all parties."
Berkow said that he was truthful in the deposition and that the lawsuit it stems from has no merits. He was deposed as part of a civil suit brought by another former female subordinate who accused him of promoting women in his office who had sex with him. Ya-May Christle claims that Berkow kept a bedroom on the floor above his office in the Bradbury Building.
Christle's suit alleges that she several times saw two female sergeants, one of them Balter, emerge from the makeshift bedroom, which had a sign saying "Reserved for Chief Berkow." They were followed by Berkow, who was clad in pajama bottoms and a T-shirt, according to the suit.
Robison has insisted that his client did nothing improper and that Christle's case should be dismissed.
"There's not one allegation of direct harassment ... or quid pro quo or requests" for sexual favors," Robison said.
"These developments are very disturbing and are shocking to me," said L.A. City Councilman Jack Weiss, who heads the Public Safety Committee. "There is no question this is quite serious. This is the top official in the department charged with monitoring the behavior of cops."
In his notification to Savannah's elected officials, City Manager Michael Brown said that he was extremely distressed about Berkow's behavior and that the chief should have used better judgment. "It was a terrible personal indiscretion," he wrote, adding, that there was no indication that "this was anything more than a personal indiscretion."
Brown said he wished he had known more details before hiring Berkow. But he said Berkow has admitted to the off-duty affair and said he was never the woman's direct supervisor or the one who wrote her performance evaluations.
Robison also acknowledged that his client had a sexual relationship with another sergeant named in the suit but said it ended before Berkow joined the LAPD.
That sergeant, who was promoted under Berkow's command, also acknowledged in a deposition that she had a relationship with Berkow that ended before they began working together at LAPD.
Berkow, previously chief of the Irvine department, joined the LAPD in March 2003 as Bratton's head of internal affairs. Soon after, the chief appointed him deputy chief in charge of internal affairs, which became known as the Professional Standards Bureau.
Berkow initiated undercover stings and investigations that resulted in dozens of officers being fired from the LAPD for misconduct.
In the deposition, Berkow said his relationship with Balter spanned three years, but he denied that they ever used the bedroom in the Bradbury Building or had sex while on duty.
In 2005, Balter transferred from internal affairs to Metro Division.
Berkow denied he had anything to do with the move.
"My relationship with her was off duty," Berkow insisted.
Balter's job was to bring cases against police officers accused of violating LAPD policies. Those violations included use of force, theft, lying during an investigation and sexual misconduct.
Although he declined to comment Tuesday, Bratton last week described Berkow as "an outstanding police officer, hardworking, dedicated."
Berkow also declined to discuss the deposition.
Although several LAPD sources said the chief and Berkow were close, it remains unclear whether Bratton knew about the sexual relationship before the deposition. One source close to the chief, who asked to remain anonymous because of a pending personnel investigation, said Bratton has said he didn't know about it.
Christle's attorney, Bradley Gage, said that his client was the victim of department retaliation after she complained about Berkow's conduct.
But Robison said there is no evidence that Christle was harassed or that her work environment was affected in any way.
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Ex-LAPD supervisor admits affair with subordinate