A veteran Torrance police officer is accusing the city’s police chief of interfering in an internal investigation and retaliation after the chief ordered him to halt a widening probe into possible criminal conduct by other members of the department.
Lt. Hector Bermudez, a 22-year member of the Torrance Police Department, argues in his federal lawsuit Chief Mark Matsuda denied his promotion as part of the reprisal.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the allegations are the latest controversy for Matsuda, who was temporarily suspended from his post in the South Bay city earlier this year after an internal investigation. The Los Angeles Times reports Matsuda could not be reached for comment, but deputy city attorney Tatia Strader said the city would not comment because of the pending litigation.
Bermudez’s suit, filed June 6 in Los Angeles, traces the alleged retaliation to 2014, when he was overseeing the internal affairs unit. He began looking into unlawful use of a state law-enforcement database that includes criminal histories, according to the Los Angeles Times.
During the inquiry, reports the Los Angeles Times, Bermudez learned that others may have committed violations or have information about alleged misconduct, but he says a police captain told him not to pursue those leads, citing Matsuda’s orders, according to the lawsuit.
The Los Angeles Times also reports the same captain also bypassed Bermudez to solicit information about his investigation from underlings, according to the suit. The lawsuit alleges that the possible misuse of law enforcement databases was connected to officers’ off-duty work with a private security company for professional athletes.
The Los Angeles Times says Bermudez complained about the captain to department leadership, and the next year, he was passed over for two of the open captain positions — and one of Bermudez’s attorneys says the captain’s interference cost his client a promotion.
“Lt. Bermudez was denied the captain promotion by Chief Mark Matsuda because he spoke up against a captain trying to interfere with a law enforcement investigation,” said one of his attorneys, Bijan Darvish, in email to the Los Angeles Times.
Although the outcome of Bermudez’s internal investigation is not clear, and no other police officers were identified in the lawsuit, it’s clear Matsuda is familiar with controversy.
The Los Angeles Times reports in February, Matsuda was suspended amid allegations he made inflammatory comments about Muslims, gay people, blacks and women, the Daily Breeze reported at the time.
In a statement issued while he was on leave, Matsuda said the city had an “outside, independent third party” investigate the allegations. He described the discipline as a testament to fairness.
“The city policies, including disciplinary policies, apply to the highest offices and personnel in the Torrance Police Department, including myself,” Matsuda said in a February email to the Los Angeles Times. “I am committed to leading by example and demonstrating that strong relationships with the community start from strong relationships internally.”
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