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Wife of Burbank officer blames department for his suicide

November 3, 2009 |  1:38 pm

Neil The family of a Burbank police sergeant who took his own life last week blamed the police chief and other department and city officials for his death, saying he was the victim of retaliation for defending fellow officers who had been falsely accused of wrongdoing.

Neil Thomas Gunn Sr., 50, was one of a dozen current or former Burbank officers who had their records subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in connection with an FBI investigation into excessive force at the department.

But Tina Gunn described her husband as a hard-working cop who cared deeply for the department and said the police brass and the union failed to support him against unfounded use-of-force allegations, effectively ruining his career and leaving him "brokenhearted."

"They had everything to do with what happened," she told The Times in a phone interview today. "My husband felt that no matter what he did, he was going to be the fall guy because he was the one who spoke out. He took [the allegations] very hard. They are trying to portray my husband as something he was not. He was a good man. He was beyond clean. The department turned its back on him."

City Atty. Dennis Barlow said he maintains "the greatest concern and respect for the Gunn family."

"My heart goes out to them at this time of their tragic loss," he said.

He added that he did not know what the three independent investigations into the department would find, noting he would examine the results of those reviews when they are completed.

A 22-year veteran of the department, Gunn Sr. grew up in Highland Park and followed his older brother, now retired from the department, into policing. His son Neil Jr. is currently a Burbank police officer. Gunn Sr. rose through the ranks, working gang and narcotics units before being promoted to sergeant of the department's elite special enforcement detail.

Earlier this year, five officers filed suit against the Burbank Police Department, alleging discrimination and retaliation. Gunn Sr. was expected to be a witness for the officers. But last month the FBI acknowledged that several of those officers -- and others who subsequently sued the department -- were being investigated in connection with excessive-force allegations.

Gunn Sr. was named in a subpoena of records presented to Burbank officials about a month ago, requesting information on a dozen current and former officers.

The subpoena specified 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, FBI agents sought Burbank police internal affairs investigations initiated in response to use-of-force complaints from 2003 to the present.

The FBI acknowledged last month that the agency was looking into possible civil rights violations by Burbank police officers but would not comment on specifics being examined by its civil rights division or on how long the probe would last.

Tina Gunn, who works in the Burbank city manager's office, said the family, who will attended a City Council meeting tonight, believes her husband was singled out when he defended one of his colleagues at a police union meeting. He returned from summer vacation in Scotland to learn he had been placed on administrative leave.

Last week, he shot himself to death after parking his car in a residential neighborhood in Burbank.

-- Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Sgt. Neil Gunn Sr. Credit: Courtesy the Gunn family.

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