The Los Angeles 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 council’s motion also mentions complaints categorized by gender or ethnicity.
“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 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 that Chief Deputy Fred Mathis was intoxicated while on duty at the department’s office at City Hall East as the department was 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.