Lieutenant Sues Chief Alleging Retaliation

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TORRANCE, Calif. – A veteran Torrance police lieutenant has accused the city’s police chief of interfering in an internal investigation and retaliation. He says the retribution denied him a promotion, according to a recently filed federal lawsuit.

Lt. Hector Bermudez, a 22-year member of the Torrance Police Department, accused Chief Mark Matsuda of ordering him to halt a widening probe into possible criminal conduct by other members of the department, reported the Los Angeles Times.

The problems for the chief appear to be mounting. He was temporarily suspended from the department in the South Bay earlier in the year following an internal investigation.

He was unavailable for comment to the Times. Moreover, deputy city attorney Tatia Strader said the city would not comment because of the pending litigation.

Bermudez’s suit was filed Tuesday in Los Angeles. Its’ origin traces to the alleged retaliation in 2014 when he was overseeing the internal affairs unit. He began to probe into unlawful use of a state law enforcement database that includes criminal histories.

During the inquiry, Bermudez learned that others may have committed violations. According to the lawsuit, he says a police captain told him not to pursue those leads, citing Matsuda’s orders.

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.

Bermudez filed his complaint regarding the captain with department leadership. He says the next year he was passed for two of the open captain positions.

“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 an email.

The outcome of Bermudez’s internal investigation is not clear, and none of the other police officers was identified in the lawsuit.

In February, Matsuda was suspended amid allegations that 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, reported the Los Angeles Times.

“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 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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