We're big fans of the whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing — and certainly wish it had applied more thoroughly to cases like that of 18-year-old Jeremy Marks — but in heel-dragging, money-wasting scandals like these, one can't help but wish for a fast track.

After a year of L.A. County Sheriff's Department investigations, the four Manhattan Beach police officers accused of covering up a January 2010 hit-and-run accident were finally fired from their posts last week, according to the Daily Breeze.

But they can still appeal those terminations. And while that whole legal tangle continues to unravel, all four will remain on paid leave.

The story goes like this:

After a sloshy night out at Grunion's Sports Bar & Grill, Manhattan Beach police officers Richard William Hatten, Kristopher Thompson and Eric Eccles got themselves into a bit of a crunch on Sepulveda Boulevard in Hatten's Chevrolet Corvette.

Things only got stickier from there:

Police in February said the crash possibly involved an intoxicated driver who left the scene. …

[Jeff] Goodrich, who was on duty at the time, responded to the crash, sources said. He was soon directed to an Arco minimart service station at Manhattan Beach Boulevard and Dianthus Street when witnesses informed police that the damaged, unoccupied Corvette was parked there.

Sources said that when Goodrich checked the license plate, he learned that the car was registered to Hatten. Sources said Goodrich did not file a report of the incident.

Eccles, an officer indicted and acquitted on charges he beat a suspect in 2001, reportedly did not report for his next shift, but later informed his superiors about the crash.

[Bryan] Klatt was the watch commander on duty at the time, and reportedly did not immediately inform the department's command staff, sources said.

Of those five officers mentioned in bold above, only Goodrich was not issued notice of termination last Thursday. Update: This is because he died of cancer in October.

A sheriff's investigator handling the case tells the LA Weekly today that he's not familiar with the Manhattan Beach Police Department's rules for granting administrative leave, but is relatively sure the five officers in question have been strictly off duty since the January incident.

According to Manhattan Beach city salary records (props to Controller John Chiang for a database well done), the average police officer makes about $100,000 per year. Update: The MBPD's human resources department isn't sure if the officers' salaries are public record, but promises to get back to us on that. Update: If we want that information, we'll have to file a California Public Records Act request, says “Sylvana T” in human resources.

Pretty good money for sitting around feeling guilty, or no?

Another roadblock to kicking the officers off their healthy city salary will be Hatten's drawn-out trial: He's pleading “not guilty” to one misdemeanor count of

“leaving the scene of an accident” in court on March 3.

In other words, 13 months after a blatant hiccup within a small-town police force, taxpayers will have dropped almost half a million on a pack of de-uniformed sitting ducks.

Why? It's all there in the Police Officers Bill o' Rights. Justice sure can be expensive.


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