Legendary former Det. Frank Lyga wants his LAPD job back.
He says he retired in October, before his recommended termination by Chief Charlie Beck and the Los Angeles Police Department's Board of Rights went into effect. Lyga was slated for firing because of perceived-to-be-racist comments he made during a seminar he conducted on Nov. 15, 2013, a recently filed lawsuit against the city claims.
The federal civil rights suit, sent to us by Lyga's attorney, Joseph Y. Avrahamy, seeks $300,000 in damages as well as additional special damages, back pay, front pay and reinstatement as a cop.
The 2013 talk to other law enforcers at the police academy ended with a Q&A, and Lyga took shots at old foes, including attorney Carl Douglas, who had deposed Lyga for a lawsuit against the city by the family of fallen Officer Kevin Gaines.
On March 18, 1997 Lyga fatally shot Gaines in a road-rage confrontation that drew national headlines. Lyga says both men were out of uniform and had no idea the other was a cop when they started beefing in North Hollywood traffic. Lyga is white; Gaines was black.
The detective opened fire after Gaines threatened him with a gun, he said, and the department later backed Lyga's account. But allegations of racism followed Lyga through his career, he says, especially because the city settled with the Gaines family rather than air the details of the case.
In 2013 Lyga reiterated that Douglas had asked him years earlier if he had any regrets about that North Hollywood confrontation. Those 2013 remarks were recorded, and the audio was later publicized by political consultant and commentator Jasmyne Cannick.
“I regret he [Gaines] was alone in the truck at the time,” the detective said of the 1997 shooting. “I could have killed a whole truckload of ’em … and would have been happily … doing so.”
The comment was interpreted by many, particularly African-American cops still stung by Gaines' demise, as a racist remark about killing “a whole truckload” of black men.
During the seminar Lyga also criticized a female police captain who he suggested had been sexually “swapped around.” She subsequently filed a lawsuit against him. And he described Douglas, who's black, as celebrity attorney Johnnie Cochran’s “little Ewok assistant.” One sergeant was called a “fruit.”
Despite telling investigators he and Gaines were not acquainted, Lyga suggested during that 2013 talk that the two had met before their deadly encounter.
He mentioned running into fellow cop Derwin Henderson on a Hollywood street one night. Gaines, he said, was riding with Henderson when Lyga pulled up in an unmarked Buick Regal, apparently the same car he was in the day of the North Hollywood shooting.
“Turns out Gaines was with him,” Lyga says. “They were runnin' partners. That's how Gaines knew me.”
Unhappy that former Chief Bernard Parks wanted to transfer Lyga from his narcotics unit after the North Hollywood confrontation, the detective said in 2013 that he told superiors back then, “If Parks puts me there, I’m going to the media and tell them that this was a sanctioned hit on Gaines by the LAPD.”
These matters weren't addressed in his suit.
The filing does say that Gaines allegedly moonlighted for rap mogul Suge Knight — a charge challenged by some African-American critics of the department as one designed to blame the victim.
And it does mention that a book's conspiracy theory about the March 1997 killing of rapper Biggie Smalls outside the Peterson Automotive Museum alleges that the department didn't properly investigate the murder “because of the involvement of LAPD officers” in the crime.
It does mention that the North Hollywood shooting led to a thread that unraveled the LAPD's darkest hour, the Rampart Scandal, in which cops allegedly stole, shook down suspects and brutalized gangsters.
The scandal's key figure, Rafael Perez, served federal time after he was accused of taking cocaine that had been booked into evidence by Lyga, allegedly as retribution for the detective's shooting of his friend, Gaines.
The claim seems to paint Lyga's career after 1997 as one clouded by charges of racism because the department never properly stood up for him as a man who pulled the trigger professionally and without prejudice.
His 2013 remarks “were not determined to be racist statements, but it was determined that some of the words used by Frank Lyga could be interpreted by some to have racial overtones,” the suit says.
Lyga was recommended for termination, the filing argues, because he was a “white police officer who was wrongly perceived to be racist.”
It's interesting to see that Lyga says he retired in order to keep his pension. A department spokesman and Lyga's attorney told us at the time, in mid-October, that he was outright fired.
To be fair to the LAPD here, the department employed and promoted Lyga for nearly 30 years, and the suit's list of accolades, including awards from state and federal justice departments, seems to show that the department bankrolled his existence as a top lawman.
If brass thought he was a racist, they didn't always seem to show it.
And if Lyga had any self-doubt about his star-lawman status, it wasn't on display during the 2013 seminar. He told fellow law enforcers, mostly cops from LAPD and other area agencies moving up in the detective ranks, that Leonardo DiCaprio once had the rights to his story and that Will Smith currently owned them.
“The movie Crash that won the Oscar — I was depicted in a bad light in that movie,” Lyga told the cops that day. “The director Paul Haggis invited me to the … party afterward.”
The LAPD doesn't comment on pending legislation, but we doubt that Lyga will be invited back to its party. The question for conspiracy theorists is whether the city will settle quickly or let Lyga continue to open fire with his mouth.