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Sheriff aircraft staff intentionally missed calls, lawsuit claims

March 16, 2012 | 12:28 pm

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department rescue helicopter
Investigators are probing allegations that supervisors within the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department air support division purposely delayed calls for emergency air support and maintained improper relationships with contractors at taxpayers’ expense.

A criminal investigation was launched into “close relationships” between sheriff’s Aero Bureau officials and contractors, the results of which will be presented to the district attorney’s office next week.

At least one former Aero Bureau supervisor has publicly made accusations of impropriety.

In a lawsuit filed against the county, Lt. Edison Cook said deputies were instructed by their supervisors to “slow down on service calls in order to miss calls for service.” One sheriff’s supervisor, Cook said, instructed other supervisors to complete their quota of required extra shifts during the day not the night, when most calls for service go out. On one occasion, the three-decade veteran said he drew criticism from his captain when, during one shift, he assigned an aircraft to a deputy without one: “We don’t want to field too many ships because then it would look like we could get along without overtime.”

During the period of the alleged manipulation, Sheriff Lee Baca was regularly alerting the Board of Supervisors, which controls his budget, to the negative consequences of funding cuts, often including a detailed accounting of calls for service his department’s Aero Bureau had to miss.

In his lawsuit, Cook quotes a 2010 email from an Aero Bureau sergeant: “If we go short and calls are missed we need to record the missed calls and provide our executives with the proper records so they can fight the fight.”

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore confirmed that department investigators are also probing allegations that Aero Bureau officials improperly used county aircraft. Cook, now retired, alleges that one county aircraft “was used as the personal aircraft for [Capt. Louis] Duran and others to attend meetings out of state costing the county literally tens of thousands of dollars.”

Duran declined comment, Whitmore said.

Whitmore said that accusations of financial irregularities in business with contractors was referred to the county auditor, which he said found no impropriety.

“Once again the Sheriff’s Department will do whatever needs to be done to find out if there’s any wrongdoing,” Whitmore said.

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-- Robert Faturechi

Photo: A lawsuit is alleging that supervisors within the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department air support division purposely delayed calls for emergency air support. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

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