The Los Angeles Police Department today sent Det. Frank Lyga home with pay after “new information … came to the attention of the chief of police,” Commander Andrew Smith told the Weekly.
The longtime detective was
relieved of duty* sent home today but will still collect his paycheck until at least 30 days after a Board of Rights inquiry into the new information begins, Smith said. The department said last week that it took him out of the field while it investigated recorded audio from a Nov. 15 talk he gave to officers during a training session at the Los Angeles Police Academy. Some found his remarks to be offensive to African Americans:
On the recording, Lyga says of his 1997 fatal shooting of a fellow cop who happened to be black:
I regret that he was alone in his truck at the time. Figure that one out. Hear that? Alone in the truck at the time. I could have killed a whole truckload of them … and would have been happily doing it …
The comments riled up some in the black community, who wondered aloud why a man with this kind of world view was still on the force.
Lyga was also caught on tape calling a sergeant a “fruit” and describing a current LAPD division commander as a “very cute little Hispanic lady” who had “been swapped around a bunch of times.”
He also astonished us with a tale of having encountered Kevin Gaines, the officer he killed, sometime before he shot him. The deadly confrontation had previously been described as one between two men who didn't know either was a cop: Lyga had been working undercover, and Gaines was off-duty.
Some day before the shooting, he said, he spotted a former trainee, Derwin Henderson, working in Hollywood, and both stopped their vehicles on a street to chit-chat:
Turns out Gaines was with him. They were runnin' partners. That's how Gaines knew me.
Some in the African American community said this revelation should change the dynamic of what happened that day in 1997 when Lyga opened fire, but the District Attorney's office told us there had been no request to open a case.
The LAPD exonerated Lyga for the shooting. He said he was chased by Gaines and thought his life was in danger. The deadly traffic dispute helped to set off one of the department's darkest hours, the Rampart Scandal.
Central Rampart figure Rafael Perez was first investigated for allegedly stealing a load of cocaine out of a police evidence room, cocaine that had been booked into evidence by Lyga. There was speculation that the alleged theft comprised retaliation for Lyga's shooting of Perez's friend, Gaines.
Nobody at the department, it seems, wants to reopen those old, racially charged wounds.
[Added at 3:40 p.m.]: Being relieved of duty means that one's badge, gun and, if applicable, car are taken away, and an officer's power to enforce the law is nullified, at least for the time being.
[Updated at 4:51 p.m.]: Chief Charlie Beck, speaking to radio show host Dominique DiPrima today about another officer under disciplinary scrutiny, described why he refers officers to the Board of Rights:
I send people to Board of Rights for a reason – to be terminated.
Later in the interview Beck says, “When I find people with a malignant heart, then I understand that they have to be removed.”
In the past, when Beck has put people on home duty and referred them to the Board of Rights, it has been in order to try to fire them.
Lyga, of course, can make his case and challenge any possible discipline.
*[Added at 7:26 p.m.]: Despite earlier comments, police now want to emphasize that Lyga is being investigated and that his assignment to home doesn't necessarily mean he's officially relieved of duty or that he's headed for the termination-minded Board of Rights.
An investigation will determine if his case should be forwarded to the Board of Rights, we were told.
Whether or not the home assignment is related to the controversial recording is unknown, police now say. We removed a reference to the possible connection or lack thereof.