LASD INVESTIGATIONS: MOTORCYCLE MADNESS: Did a Sheriff’s Cmdr. use LASD workers as his personal mechanics? by Matt FleischerMay 4th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon
LASD MOTORCYCLE MADNESS
by Matthew Fleischer
Did a Sheriff’s Department commander have his personal vintage motorcycle repaired and revamped by LASD mechanics on county time? According to a longtime department facilities worker, the answer is YES
In May of 2011, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Commander David Waters called a meeting of Facility Services Bureau workers—the people responsible for the repair and maintenance of LASD property—and read them the riot act. Facility Services fell under Water’s umbrella as the highest ranking sworn supervisor at the Administrative Services Division, which—in addition to Facility Services—oversees the department’s fiscal operations, warehousing, human resource management, and construction projects. Waters lecture in May had to do with the fact that, for years, employees had been asking for and getting their supervisors approval to sign out county-owned tools in order to do side work at home. The practice, Waters told them, would stop immediately. Anyone caught bringing tools home would fired.
Waters was a relatively new commander for the division, but he was known for being a tough supervisor. Years before, he’d worked in Facility Services as a lieutenant. So while Waters’ speech elicited more than a few grumbles, no one was entirely shocked.
What did startle the Facility Services people, however, is Water’s own actions in the months after his crackdown.
According to a letter of complaint filed with the LA County Office of Investigations, obtained by WitnessLA, on June 23, 2011, about a month after Waters’ no-tools-at-home meeting, a custom vintage motorcycle was trailered in to the sheet metal shop at LASD’s Peter Pitchess Honor Ranch facility. The bike, according to the complaint was “left there for the sheetmetal workers to fabricate a new exhaust system for this bike and other repairs. This is improper[sic] use of county equipment and labor on a county facility for personal gain. There is a possibility that county material is being used.”
The letter went on to note that the bike in question belonged to Commander David Waters.
The author of the complaint was Calvin Grable, a civilian plumbing supervisor who has worked for the Sheriff’s Department since 1996. I spoke with Grable, who confirmed that the letter was his and vouched for its accuracy. As proof, he forwarded photos he took of the bike when it was inside the shop awaiting repair [see above], that he also submitted to the county. Grable was in attendance for Waters’ May meeting and was, he said, “shocked at the hypocrisy” when he was told about the personal bike flagrantly sitting in a county shop was the Commander’s.
“It bothered me that people didn’t stand up,” he says, explaining that other workers were also upset by the ethical violation.. “I wasn’t the only one who took pictures.”
Work on the bike is a custom job, says Grable. County workers were instructed to create an exhaust system from scratch to resemble a classic Indian bike from the World War II-era.
According to the Kiwi Indian motorcycle shop of Riverside, a vintage Indian exhaust system can cost anywhere from 600-1,000 dollars. A custom piece can cost “considerably more.” The shop charges 100 dollars per hour for work on Indian bikes.
Grable says the bike was in the LASD sheet metal shop for five days—from June 23, to June 28. According to Grable, it was transported to the county shop by a county worker and worked on for a minimum of four hours with county tools. Grable says he took the photos and submitted them to the fraud unit immediately upon learning about presence of the bike in the sheet metal shop. After a few days passed with no word, and the bike still being worked on, Grable called to check the status of his complaint. He was told that the county didn’t handle LASD investigations, and that his complaint had been forwarded to the LASD Internal Affairs Bureau. Upon learning that IA would be involved, Grable told his immediate supervisors about his complaint.
“Within 30 minutes,” he says, “the bike was gone. The same employee who’d brought it in put it on the trailer and took it away.”
That, however, was the last Grable heard on the matter: “IA never contacted me. I was never interviewed.”
It is Grable’s understanding that the men who worked on the bike received some kind of minor citation. Waters, however, to his knowledge, was never disciplined. That is because, sources tell me, IA never launched a formal investigation. After the County Office of Investigations passed Grable’s complaint to IA, it was sent to Administrative Services to be handled in-house. In other words, the Division that Waters oversaw was reportedly given the task of investigating an ethics violation by its commanding officer. A preliminary investigation was opened, but the case never went any further.
According to one longtime LASD Internal Affairs investigator whom we presented with details of the case, this was a major breach of protocol.
“This should have been formally investigated by IA. A commander was alleged to have been involved in the potential criminal theft of county materials and the use of county equipment on county time. That’s a big deal.”
The reason IA was especially needed in this case is that unit-level investigations are typically handled by a sergeant or a lieutenant—who would have been forced to investigate a vastly higher-ranking supervisor. For obvious reasons, this simply isn’t supposed to happen. Under extremely extraordinary circumstances, a Chief could potentially sit in on the interviews to prevent bigfooting. But Waters is the highest-ranking sworn officer in the Administrative Services Division.Victor Rampulla, a civilian, is the director in charge.
“[Rampulla] is not a policeman,” says our IA source. “He doesn’t know how to conduct an investigation.”
Whoever did conduct the preliminary investigation certainly didn’t dig too deeply. Protocol dictates that the starting point for any investigation is to speak to the source of the complaint.
“The fact that the complainant was never interviewed, although clearly identified in his original letter of complaint, suggests someone wanted this to quietly go away. There are a number of questions that have not been answered because they apparently were never asked. That is the purpose of an IAB investigation, to get to the truth and discover the facts so the decision maker, Mr. Rampulla or above, can make an appropriate assessment of what did or did not happen.”
We were not able to confirm whether or not Rampulla was briefed on Grable’s complaint. The division director could not be reached for comment, as he has been out for months on an extended medical leave.
Late last week I called Mike Gennaco at the Office of Independent Review to get his take on Grable’s complaint. Gennaco said he was unfamiliar with the case, but would look into it. This past Wednesday, we spoke again.
“Our review of [Grable’s] initial inquiry led the OIR to contact the Internal Affairs Bureau,” he told me. “Based on those discussions, a formal investigation has been launched.”
In other words, due to WitnessLA’s reporting, Waters will now be made the subject of an official IA investigation.
Waters, incidentally, is said to be closely aligned with Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, and has been donating to Tanaka’s Gardena mayoral campaign since 2002. As we reported in Dangerous Jails Part 4, Tanaka took unilateral control over IA on May 15, 2011—weeks before Grable’s complaint made its way to the unit. Whether or not the undersheriff had any influence on the fact that IA did not investigate the motorcycle issue itself, is unknown.
Commander Waters was unavailable for comment.