The Times has filed a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles seeking to force Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office and the fire department to release numerous internal records in the case of a senior fire official who was allegedly drunk. in service during a major event. blaze but faced no discipline and retired with a $1.4 million payout.
Filed Monday night in Los Angeles Superior Court, the lawsuit alleges the city violated California public records law by denying the newspaper’s requests for an investigative report and other documents relating to former Deputy Chief Fred. Mathis, who was the highest administrative commander of the department.
Mathis was reportedly under the influence during the Palisades fire last May while overseeing the department’s operations center at East City Hall. Critics of then-fire chief Ralph Terrazas claimed he and other officials tried to cover up the incident by not filing a complaint about Mathis’s conduct for three days and allowing someone to one to make a retroactive entry in the city’s timing records to show that he was ill. when he was allegedly intoxicated at work.
The episode was kept secret until The Times revealed it in a July article, which sparked a furor inside and outside the department. Rather than conduct its own investigation, City Atty. Mike Feuer’s office assigned an investigation into Mathis’ behavior to a private law firm, a move that critics say was also meant to keep the public in the dark.
The Times later reported that Mathis accessed the department’s complaint tracking system while he was under investigation. The system contained sensitive information about his case, including the names of witnesses. The question of whether Mathis misused this information became part of the law firm’s investigation.
The investigation dragged on until January and the city refused to release a full report on its findings, clearing Mathis. Days after the investigation was concluded, Mathis retired with an annual pension of about $225,000 and received nearly $293,000 in what the department said was unused sick, vacation and vacation time. . He raised about $1.1 million that the city set aside while he was enrolled in a controversial program that aims to keep police and firefighters on the job past retirement age.
Critics had predicted that the city would “run out of time” on the investigation until Mathis left, that he would face no discipline and that the report would be buried.
Mathis told The Times in an email that he did nothing wrong and was treated unfairly by the department.
The city argued that the records sought by The Times are legally exempt from disclosure because their disclosure would violate Mathis’ privacy rights and attorney-client privilege. In its lawsuit, however, The Times says the exemption does not apply in the Mathis case.
“Under a body of law that dates back nearly 45 years, public agencies, including the city, must release government records reflecting substantiated allegations of misconduct against public employees such as Mathis and Terrazas,” says the 18-page file.
Kelly Aviles, a lawyer representing the Times, said: “The public has the right to monitor how the government responds to these issues and agencies cannot evade disclosure requirements by vague claims for exemptions.
The lawsuit is known as a motion for writ of warrant and declaratory judgment. He is asking the court to order the immediate release of the records and to order the city to pay the Times’ legal fees.
In addition to withholding the records, Garcetti and his representatives declined to answer many questions about the Mathis case, as did Feuer and his spokesperson, Rob Wilcox. Feuer is running for mayor and Wilcox is running for city comptroller.
Wilcox said in an email Tuesday that Feuer’s office would review the Times lawsuit “and have no further comment at this time.” Garcetti’s office and the LAFD did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Leaders of three organizations representing black, Latino and female firefighters say the city’s handling of the Mathis case reflects a deep-seated pattern of preferential treatment for department heads, particularly if they are white or male, and a lack of transparency in these areas. Much of their criticism was echoed by two of the five members of the Civilian Fire Commission – Rebecca Ninburg and Jimmie Woods-Gray.
Terrazas, who retired last month, denied that Mathis or other chefs received special treatment. Among the questions he did not answer is whether Mathis had to undergo a urinalysis for alcohol or drug use, as required by department rules.
The law firm’s rationale for clearing Mathis outraged department insiders. The company, Yasinski & Jones of Pasadena, concluded that Mathis “was technically off work when he was likely intoxicated because he had taken ill” that day, according to a brief summary of the findings published by the department in February.
Mathis declined to be interviewed. In a written response to emailed questions from The Times, he said: ‘All of the allegations you have presented to me are false and unsubstantiated thanks to the investigation initiated by the department.
He admitted he was battling alcoholism at the time, and he said his privacy was violated and his reputation damaged when Terrazas discussed his need for treatment with other department officials and the union. firefighters. In an email response, Terrazas said, “At no time was confidentiality breached during this investigation.”
Mathis spent his last seven months with the LAFD on paid leave for what the department called “continuing trauma to one extremity.” The nature of the trauma was not specified. Worker’s compensation records for Mathis are among those the Times is looking for.
Besides the full investigative report, the city denied the newspaper’s request for the original complaint against Mathis; the LAFD vehicle identification numbers assigned to it; vehicle entry and exit logs and security camera footage for the East City Hall parking structure; and security camera footage of interior and pedestrian entrances and exits to LAFD operations and dispatch centers. The Times requested this material to determine precisely when Mathis and his vehicle were at East City Hall during the Palisades fire.