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A top LAFD official fled a crash but got rewarded instead of disciplined

Paul Pringle, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Long delays in the disciplinary process have created a "crisis" backload of more than 70 cases pending a hearing before a Board of Rights, according to the report.

"The result is few people are being held accountable for misconduct, sending a message that discipline is rarely imposed," the report stated.

That message was underscored in the Fortman case, say the critics, including representatives of organizations of nonwhite and female firefighters. They say that when a member of the brass is accused of bad behavior, the department's top administrators often either look the other way or slow-walk disciplinary proceedings until the LAFD statute of limitations expires or the officer facing punishment retires.

Fortman, who denied being drunk at the time of the crash, retired days after his hearing was about to be placed on the calendar. He departed with a payout of about $128,500 in what the LAFD termed unused sick leave and vacation time. His annual pension is more than $214,000, city officials said.

Jimmie Woods-Gray, president of the Fire Commission, a civilian panel that oversees the LAFD, condemned the department's actions in the Fortman case.

"It shouldn't have happened the way it did," said Woods-Gray, who has publicly criticized the department's disciplinary system. "I hope it never happens again."

 

Through his attorney, Michael Raab, Fortman declined to be interviewed. Raab said in an email to The Times that Fortman received "no favorable treatment" from the LAFD and that "his discipline proceeded according to all appropriate rules and regulations."

LAFD spokesperson Cheryl Getuiza defended the department's handling of the Fortman episode. She said in an email to The Times that the disciplinary process was delayed because the LAFD's "investigatory practice is to wait for a criminal case to close before moving forward with our administrative investigation," and because Fortman "was deemed critical to the success of the Covid testing and vaccination effort."

Getuiza said the department also had waited until after Fortman completed the terms of an agreement he struck with the court to resolve the criminal charges, which included community service.

But records obtained by The Times show that the department's Professional Standards Division began its investigation soon after the hit-and-run and reached its conclusion six months before Fortman arrived at his deal with the court.

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