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FBI probe of Burbank police focusing on alleged excessive force involving 12 officers

October 1, 2009 | 12:44 pm

The FBI investigation into the Burbank Police Department is focusing on allegations of excessive force by officers, court documents obtained by The Times show.

Federal investigators have told the Burbank officials to turn over reports involving 12 current and former officers, according to a federal grand jury subpoena obtained by The Times.

The subpoena specifies information related to "use of force, defensive tactics, Tasers, pepper spray, or the rules and ramifications pertaining to the use of excessive force or a violation of civil/constitutional rights."

In addition, the department has been told to produce records related to internal affairs investigations initiated in response to use-of-force complaints between 2003 to the present for the officers named in the subpoena.

Officials with the FBI confirmed Wednesday that they are investigating possible civil rights violations by Burbank Police officers. Sources familiar with the investigation said it was unrelated to a series of recent lawsuits by seven officers against the department and its management alleging racial discrimination and retaliation. FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller would not comment on specifics of the probe by the agency's civil rights division or on how long the probe would last.

According to the subpoena, authorities requested records related to several officers including Omar Rodriguez, Jose Cruz Duran, Neil Thomas Gunn Sr., Christian Dereck Canales, Jon Murphy Jr., Mike George Reyes, Steve Sarkis Karagiosian, Armen Dermenjian, William Hampton "Bill" Taylor, Nick Wayne Nichols, Tommy Perez and Edgar Manuel Penaranda, according to the subpoena.

Federal officials are seeking use-of-force complaints or allegations generated in response to a Dec. 28, 2007, robbery of Porto's Bakery a well as records in connection with the Aug. 23, 2007, arrest of Rene Escarsega, the subpoena states.

At least three of the officers -- Karagiosian, Rodriguez and Taylor -- are among seven current or former officers who have filed suit against the city and police department alleging violations of civil rights.

The latest was filed last month by Taylor, who alleged that his demotion to captain from deputy chief was due to supporting officers who had filed complaints against the department.

Karagiosian and Rodriguez were part of a lawsuit filed in April against the police department and top managers by five officers who alleged a pattern of racial discrimination and retaliation, as well as unlawful demotions or firings.

Among the most explosive claims were that department officials tolerated an environment in which officers commonly used slurs about race, ethnicity and sexual preference directed at them, their colleagues, suspects and the public.

Burbank City Atty. Dennis Barlow said he was unable to comment on the FBI investigation or the lawsuits against the city and Police Department, citing pending litigation.

Mayor Gary Bric said he was confident that the investigations into the department, which also includes an independent probe by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, would be thorough and complete. He said there would be no limits on investigators.

"I'm sure people are looking at this and have questions and concerns about what's happening to our Police Department," Bric told The Times Wednesday. "But we can assure there's been no impact on public safety."

-- Andrew Blankstein

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