In May, while the Los Angeles Fire Department was battling the Palisades Fire, Chief Ralph Terrazas received a report that his senior administrative commander appeared to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs while that he was on duty at the agency’s headquarters, where he oversaw its operations. center, the Times has learned.

LAFD rules require agency officials to quickly deal with employees suspected of being under the influence, but records and interviews show the complaint about Deputy Chief Fred Mathis’ medical condition was not filed. before three days, a delay that the department did not explain.

The complaint states that Mathis admitted he had been drinking. Terrazas did not respond to a question from The Times asking whether Mathis had been ordered to submit a urine sample for testing, as required by LAFD rules.

Meanwhile, a retroactive entry was logged in the city’s timekeeping system a few days later to show Mathis was ill on the same day a co-worker reported the chief deputy to be intoxicated at the work at the department’s downtown office at East City Hall, interviews, and a record at The Times.

The incident – and the secrecy surrounding how it was handled – has drawn fierce criticism from within the agency and revived longstanding accusations of racial bias.

Two department officers who represent black and Latino firefighter groups said Terrazas’ handling of the Mathis case violated LAFD policy. They said Terrazas gave Mathis, who is white and one of the department’s two senior deputies, special treatment not given to nonwhite employees accused of similar misconduct.

“It’s a total cover-up and a double standard, and the chief is protecting his own,” said Deputy Chief Patrick Butler, who wrote a letter to the Fire Commission about the matter in his capacity as chairman of the fire commission. Los Bomberos, an organization of Latino firefighters. “We want the standards to be applied consistently across the organization.”

Butler also said, “The only reason the complaint was filed was because the incident became public knowledge at department headquarters and Mathis was missing critical meetings.”

Captain Robert Hawkins, executive vice-president of the Stentorians, a black firefighting group, said: “Chief Terrazas knew about this and broke policy. It’s a lack of accountability and a lack of integrity. People get special privileges based on rank and skin color.”

The Stentorians also sent a letter to the Fire Commission saying Terrazas was “giving special treatment” to Mathis.

Terrazas and Mathis did not respond to interview requests. Terrazas also did not respond to several written questions the Times emailed him.

Commission President Delia Ibarra declined to be interviewed, but said in an email to The Times that she called for an investigation after receiving the letters from Los Bomberos and the Stentorians.

“I have requested that the department submit the matter for disciplinary investigation by the City Attorney’s Office, or by another entity at the discretion of the City Attorney,” Ibarra wrote.

Private company to investigate

A spokeswoman for the LAFD said in a statement to The Times: “Upon notification of the situation, the Fire Chief immediately directed that appropriate action be taken in accordance with [with] department policy that includes an entry into our complaint tracking system for investigation. »

Spokeswoman Cheryl Getuiza declined to comment when asked about the three-day delay in filing the complaint. She said Mathis “was never assigned to the Palisades fire”.

But Butler, who is a member of the Terrazas management team, said Mathis had a supervisory role in managing personnel and equipment for the fire as the department’s duty officer.

In his statement, Getuiza said Mathis’ complaint was forwarded to the City Atty. Office of Mike Feuer for investigation. Feuer, who is running for mayor, did not respond to an interview request made through his spokesperson, Rob Wilcox.

Wilcox, a candidate for city comptroller, said the investigation would be conducted by a Pasadena law firm, Yasinski & Jones, which did not respond to questions from The Times.

Butler, who testified for the LAFD as an expert in disciplinary proceedings, said in his previous work on personnel investigations he had seen the department use law firms to conceal findings and thwart the public scrutiny on the basis of solicitor-client privilege.

“When you outsource a public personnel matter to a private company, there’s no public scrutiny,” Butler said. “It’s another way to hide things.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office denied a request from the Times for extensive documents related to the allegations against Mathis, a denial that open government experts say was a violation of the California Public Records Act.

The Times obtained copies of Mathis’ complaint and Mathis’ timing file from a source within the department.

Chief deputy ‘granted special privileges’

As commander of the department’s administrative office, Mathis is responsible for responding “to major emergencies and other incidents as the leader of an incident management team” and conducting “pre-disciplinary hearings and making appropriate recommendations.” to the fire chief on corrective action,” according to the agency’s website. His salary is more than $350,000 a year, according to city records.

The complaint, which was filed electronically, states: “It is alleged that on or about Tuesday, May 18, 2021, Battalion Chief Stacy Gerlich saw Chief Deputy Fred Mathis exhibit signs of intoxication, while that he was on duty at City Hall East. In addition, Chef Mathis allegedly confessed to Chef Gerlich that he had been drinking alcohol.”

Gerlich did not respond to interview requests.

Deputy Chief Jaime Moore said in an interview that another employee told him Mathis appeared drunk. Moore said he went to Terrazas’ office in the middle of this week to relate this information, and “he assured me he would take care of it.”

The Times copy of Mathis’ timing log shows he was on sick leave on May 18 and 19, entries that were made on May 22.

“They changed a timing record after the fact, which is neither policy nor procedure,” Butler said.

Five days after the incident, Butler wrote to the Fire Commission on behalf of Los Bomberos. Referring to Mathis, he said in the letter that the Terrazas command staff “may have granted special privileges to this high-ranking member to circumvent the investigation process, including timely notifications. timely and deviations from policies that would have included mandatory testing.”

A letter from Gerald Durant, chairman of the Stentorians, to the commission said Mathis “was deemed unfit for duty and granted special privileges to remain in office without proper due process of the allegations made against him”.

Durant, a fire inspector, also wrote that “we question the honesty, integrity and fairness of the LAFD”.

In an interview, Hawkins, the captain who is also vice-president of the Stentorians, cited the case of a black former firefighter who quit under pressure this year. Hawkins said the firefighter, whom he declined to name, was falsely accused of lying on a document that said he attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. He said the firefighter had to attend the meeting due to a drunk driving arrest many years ago.

“He fell victim to the good old boys club,” in which firefighters are treated based on “the color of their badge and their skin,” Hawkins said. Leaders receive gold badges.

In response to the Times’ request under the State Public Records Act, Garcetti’s office released only the letters from Los Bomberos and the Stentorians. Among other things, the newspaper had asked for the complaint, the identification numbers of Mathis’ town car and the security camera recordings of the entrances and exits to the parking lot of the Hôtel de Ville Est. The latter two were sought in an effort to determine when Mathis was at work on the day he was allegedly intoxicated.

A lawyer in the mayor’s office, Rachel Teitelbaum, said in a letter to The Times that the records withheld by the city were exempt from disclosure on the grounds that they were “pre-disposition and advisory in nature” and that their release would result in ” unwanted invasion of privacy.”

Teitelbaum also cited an exemption that states that “the public interest served by the retention of records clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure.” She did not specify which exemption applied to which file.

David Snyder, executive director of the San Rafael-based First Amendment Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for transparency in government, said the city’s stance on the records “doesn’t hold water.”

“California law is clear that the public has a right to know when someone as high-ranking as [Mathis] was accused of something so serious, especially _____

©2021 Los Angeles Times.


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