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|Santa Monica City Council Considers de la Torre Investigation Report|
By Jason Islas
February 24, 2011 -- An independent report of a police investigation of School Board member Oscar de la Torre's alleged failure to break up a fight between two teens last October was met with mixed feelings at Tuesday's city council meeting.
“This matter upsets me,” City Manager Rod Gould said, referring to the Office of Independent Review’s (OIR’s) report of the Santa Monica Police Department's investigation. He went on to say that this is an opportunity to improve, while offering his word that “this situation will not reoccur.”
“We've committed to publishing a report within 90 days on progress toward implementing all seven recommendations” of the OIR report, Gould added. There will also be an internal investigation conducted by the Santa Monica Police Department, he said.
In response to calls for the City Council to lead a public investigation into the matter, Gould said “Conducting an inquiry in a public forum could run afoul of constitutional rights. We must be concerned with everyone's constitutional rights.”
Personnel inquiries – like any that might be taken in regard to the police officer whose investigation was the subject of the OIR report – must be done through the city’s supervisory hierarchy, Gould said.
To do otherwise would be to run the risk of politicizing the matter, and, in any event, isn’t allowed under Santa Monica’s form of government, he said.
The OIR report is a 22-page document which, at Tuesday's meeting, Council member Kevin McKeown called, “some of the most difficult material about my city that I've ever had to read.”
While the report says there was “probable cause” to investigate de la Torre, it goes on to say that the investigator engaged in questionable tactics, such as “advocating a certain point of view and feeding the witnesses information.”
The police officer's final summary of his investigation was “an unusual mixture of facts and advocacy, and was not a dispassionate rendering of the facts.”
The investigator's report “does not focus on the purported crime nor its elements, but instead emphasizes a theory that Mr. de la Torre holds unacceptable beliefs.”
The OIR report also says that the investigating officer ignored potential witness bias, failed to follow up with witnesses who were present at the fight, and included unsubstantiated rumors about potential witness tampering by de la Torre without looking into their truth in his final summary.
However, the OIR maintains that there is “no evidence to suggest any ill motive behind the employment of these techniques.”
De la Torre sees it differently, calling the report's claim of no ill intent “ridiculous.”
“The intent was to ruin me,” he told the Lookout on Wednesday.
Though this point remains controversial, everyone seemed to be pleased with the police department’s responsiveness and willingness to work with the OIR.
Council member Bobby Shriver, addressing Gould, expressed his confidence in how he and Police Chief Tim Jackman handled the situation.
Council member Terry O'Day echoed Shriver's sentiment, adding, “Although I was very distressed by many of the things that were written in that report, I think the way that the city has moved forward in addressing the concerns many of us felt has been commendable.”
The OIR report recommendations include: train police investigators in objective interviewing and reporting techniques, establish a standard report format, “consider witness bias and document it,” and “do not mix the investigator and counseling roles of officers.”
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