Pubdate: Thu, 16 Mar 2000
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Los Angeles Times
Contact:  Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053
Fax: (213) 237-4712
Author: Jim Newton and Tina Daunt, staff writers


The blowup between Police Chief Bernard C. Parks and Dist. Atty. Gil
Garcetti is more than another institutional skirmish between two agencies
whose feuds have a long and bitter history.

It also is a fierce clash of personalities, a politically and legally
charged confrontation, and, according to some observers, such an exercise
in overreaching by Parks that it instantly turned many of the city's
political leaders against him. Many of them were outraged at reports that
Parks had effectively cut off the district attorney's office from files and
reports related to the Rampart police scandal.

"The chief has now made this his war," said Los Angeles County Supervisor
Zev Yaroslavsky, a longtime friend of Parks. "He has raised the stakes so
high and so personally that he has made this about him. That's a tragedy.
The chief doesn't deserve it, but he's brought it on himself."

The explosive conflict between the chief and district attorney occurs
against two backdrops, one historically rich, the other politically hot.

For years, police and prosecutors have battled over one thing or another,
from the Police Department's resistance to allowing prosecutors to wade too
deeply into the scenes of police shootings to the testy disagreements about
which agency was most responsible for blowing the case against O.J.

In some cases, those disputes have grown personal. Garcetti and his
deputies feuded with then-Chief Daryl F. Gates over prosecutors' rights to
inspect crime scenes and interview witnesses to police shootings. Those
disagreements continued through the 1980s and 1990s, by which time Garcetti
had been elected district attorney, and Police Chief Willie L. Williams was
at the helm of the LAPD.

For the most part, however, those spats have been run-of-the-mill flare-ups
between police and prosecutors, higher profile than in most cities but
otherwise not that unusual.

This one is much bigger than a spat. Parks repeatedly has said Garcetti was
going too slow in his Rampart investigation, refusing to prosecute the
Rampart officers accused of wrongdoing. Garcetti has insisted that he wants
to go further and deeper, gathering evidence for major felony prosecutions
in Rampart and, if necessary, in other police divisions.

That has made the latest confrontation something else altogether.

"This is the most outrageous act ever committed by a police chief of this
city," said one observer with long ties to Parks, Garcetti and Mayor
Richard Riordan. "And it's got politics beneath it."

Those politics concern Garcetti's precarious position as an official facing
a June runoff against his top deputy. The incumbent finished second in the
initial round of that election, and many observers blamed his poor showing
on Parks' public broadsides attacking the district attorney for his
handling of the Rampart scandal.

Now, Garcetti is in the fight of his political life, and no longer appears
willing to take criticism from the chief lying down.

In interviews and news conferences Wednesday, Garcetti called the chief's
actions unilateral, illegal and unacceptable.

Any foot-dragging in the case, Garcetti said, was Parks' fault, not his.

Despite his fiery, sometimes angry rhetoric, Garcetti said politics were
not part of his calculation. Many observers are skeptical of that claim,
but agree that his public break with Parks carries significant political

Opinion polls conducted before the Rampart scandal was in full swing
suggested that two of the region's three most popular public figures were
Riordan and Parks. The third, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, is not a factor in
this debate.

As a result, staking out a position that is so starkly at odds with the
mayor and chief could expose Garcetti to their supporters' wrath on
election day in November. It even could prod Riordan, who has been neutral
in the district attorney's race, into endorsing Steve Cooley against the

More broadly, all the players in the case may suffer in the public's
estimation for their failure to work together. On the other hand, Garcetti
already may be so damaged by Parks' public criticisms that some analysts
suggest the county prosecutor has little to lose in taking on the chief

As he attempted to extricate himself from the crisis, Parks met with a
number of city officials and others, suggesting in those conversations that
he had been misunderstood, that Garcetti had falsely accused him of
refusing to cooperate and that news reports had exaggerated the split.

But some of those who met with Parks said they came away from those
meetings unconvinced.

Some, including some who support the chief's efforts to clean up corruption
in the department, found his explanations contradictory. And several noted
that, even as Parks promised to cooperate with the district attorney's
office in the future, he continued to complain about its handling of the
case so far.

"When he was done explaining," said one official, "I was more confused than

So inflammatory was Parks' move to cut off the district attorney that City
Atty. James K. Hahn, generally a supporter of the chief, called Riordan on
Wednesday morning and told him the time had come for Riordan to tell Parks
to back down and obey the law. Although Hahn would not describe the rest of
their conversation, other sources said Riordan was noncommittal. Those same
sources said Riordan rejected Hahn's request to be allowed to join an
afternoon meeting of Garcetti, Parks and U.S. Atty. Alejandro Mayorkas.

A flare-up over that meeting just a few hours later tested Riordan's
ability to play a constructive role in the police scandal. Riordan's
scheduled meeting with the various law enforcement officials fell apart
when Garcetti spurned the invitation.

Riordan, the district attorney said, has "intervened in the past but not

Pressed for an explanation of why he would not sit down with the mayor and
police chief, Garcetti added: "There's no useful purpose for the meeting."

For his part, Riordan initially appeared caught between his loyalty to
Parks, whom he appointed, and a universal legal consensus that the chief
was out of line. The mayor tried to stay neutral and, as he often has in
recent days, laid much of the blame for the latest controversy on the

"I am not going to pass judgment," the mayor said when confronted by
reporters at Fairfax High School early in the day. "My job as chief
executive of the city is to get the parties together, to get them to work
together, to get Rampart behind us. What I'm going to tell everybody, the
chief, the D.A., everybody else, is beware of the media reaction."

Faced with Garcetti's brushoff, Riordan called on the district attorney
Wednesday afternoon. According to people knowledgeable about the
conversation, Riordan was seeking Garcetti's help in finding a face-saving
way out of the controversy that would allow cooperation to resume without
unduly embarrassing the police chief.

Riordan held a separate meeting with Parks.

By late afternoon, Riordan's patience had run out. At a news conference,
the exasperated mayor crumpled his notes and tossed them out.

"Let me put this aside," he said. "This isn't a children's game. The
district attorney and the chief of police have been acting like children.
They've got to start acting like adults and put the city first."

Despite his shuttle diplomacy and his emergence with a truce between the
law enforcement adversaries, some critics said the mayor's difficulty in
achieving that reflect his dwindling ability to marshal consensus in the
Rampart case.

Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, once a Riordan ally but increasingly a
critic, said the mayor's uncritical acceptance of the LAPD had made his
views largely irrelevant in an atmosphere where political sentiment is
building for independent review of the department and its work.

"Clearly, the mayor has little ability to help resolve this," said
Ridley-Thomas. "He's not looked to as one who has the capacity and/or the
inclination to resolve the conflicts that are presented to us."
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