The City Council voted Tuesday to order a report on the grievance and disciplinary process at the Los Angeles Fire Department following allegations of a cover-up involving a senior administrative commander who was allegedly under the influence of alcohol or drugs while on duty.
The vote was 13-1, with only Councilman Mitch O’Farrell dissenting.
“The Fire Department has policies and procedures that govern discipline. However, in a recent case, certain procedures were not followed after a complaint was made about an employee’s behavior,” according to the motion, which was introduced by Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez. “It is imperative that the Fire Department report on the current disciplinary and grievance procedures and standards as well as the consequences for those responsible who choose not to follow the mandated procedures.”
The motion also sought data on complaints categorized by gender or ethnicity, which is why Councilman Mitch O’Farrell voted no, according to his communications director, Dan Halden.
“Councilmember O’Farrell believes that any allegations of bias or discrimination based on race and gender anywhere should be investigated thoroughly and strongly supports the United States Department of Justice’s inquiry into the matter. As written, the motion he voted against in committee and again today was presented as a foregone conclusion rather than the very serious allegation of procedural violations at LAFD,” Halden said.
“The claims of bias in the department’s handling of the issue are rightfully under review. And as a member of a traditionally marginalized community himself, although he believes this motion is well intentioned, the councilmember has privacy concerns related to the instruction to collect personal data that could potentially single out people based on gender identity, race, and sexual orientation.”
The Los Angeles Times reported on Aug. 3 that the U.S. Justice Department is investigating allegations from organizations that represent Black and Latino LAFD firefighters, the Stentorians and Los Bomberos, respectively.
Assistant Fire Chief and Los Bomberos President Patrick Butler sent a letter on July 28 to U.S. Attorney Tracy Wilkinson asking her office to “investigate the Fire Chief (Ralph Terrazas) and all city leaders that were involved in the cover-up regarding the on-duty alcohol and drug intoxication of a high-ranking member of the Fire Chief’s staff.”
The Times reported that Terrazas received a complaint alleging that Chief Deputy Fred Mathis was intoxicated while on duty at the department’s office at City Hall East as LAFD crews were battling the Palisades Fire in May. The department is required to promptly deal with employees who are suspected of being intoxicated, but records and interviews reviewed by the Times showed that the complaint about Mathis was not filed for three days.
The complaint indicated that Mathis admitted to drinking, according to the Times, and the city’s time-keeping system was allegedly retroactively logged to report that Mathis was out sick the day his intoxication was reported.
“We all want and demand accountability and transparency from our civic leaders and government services. The men and women of the LAFD deserve nothing less, nothing is more essential to our department,” Butler said in the letter. “Issues of race, inequality and other societal problems cannot be addressed until we have confidence in our leaders and the processes that protect us and the public we serve.”
According to The Times, Capt. Robert Hawkins, executive vice president of the Stentorians, said, “Chief Terrazas knew about this and broke policy. It’s a lack of accountability and lack of integrity. People get special privileges based on rank and skin color.”
Stentorians President Gerald Durant and Butler also asked the Los Angeles Fire Commission to investigate the department’s handling of the complaint against Mathis.