Police chief finalist from Los Angeles speaks on facts surrounding civil lawsuit

photo Los Angeles Police Cmdr. Todd Chamberlain is shown in this AP file photo.

The Los Angeles Police Department commander who is a finalist for Chattanooga police chief and was mentioned in a civil lawsuit for allegedly failing to report racist behavior said significant parts of that lawsuit were false or misleading.

Todd Chamberlain, along with Chattanooga Police Department Acting Chief David Roddy and Assistant Chief Edwin McPherson, were criticized Tuesday by social justice group Concerned Citizens for Justice for various reasons. Both Roddy and McPherson declined to comment for this story.

Chamberlain, who is white, said many of the issues mentioned in the lawsuit filed by Earl Wright, a black LAPD officer, against the department happened either before he took command of the station or originated in the toxic culture of the station years before his time there.

"That unit had chronic problems for a long time," he said. "When you take on something that difficult, that wasn't a quick turnaround."

Chamberlain spoke on one incident specifically in which the officer complained about a text message he received from someone else at the station. The text message was a photo of a yellow duckling with its arms raised above its head, standing in front of five black ducklings with the caption "sup n - - ," the lawsuit claims.

Wright said he complained to Chamberlain about the officer's actions, the lawsuit says, but Chamberlain told him he would not open a formal complaint.

However, Chamberlain said Wednesday he immediately ordered an environmental check to review the workplace because he had been there for a matter of weeks and he wanted to solve internal issues of inappropriate behavior that had become commonplace.

"When I became aware of some of the issues, I immediately intervened," Chamberlain wrote in an email. "This intervention included a unit discussion, one-on-one discussions, an environmental work place audit and, ultimately, the generation of a personnel complaint conducted by internal affairs.

"The whole thing was a dysfunctional unit. Really it was kind of a regrowth of that organization," he said.

He said an incident in which Wright was given a cake with fried chicken and a slice of watermelon on top to honor his 20th anniversary with the LAPD happened a year before he got to the station and actually involved two black officers.

"Ultimately, and after almost two years, the investigation concluded and resulted in terminations, demontions [sic] and personnel movement," he wrote. "I did not tolerate a hostile work environment and I will not tolerate it in the future. My actions or involvement have been captured only from the perspective of those individuals involved, and those who have the most to gain."

"I believe in law enforcement, and I wholly support those individuals who serve others," Chamberlain wrote. "Although it's uncomfortable confronting sub-standard or unethical behavior, it is part of the job."

Chamberlain said he was never named as a defendant in the lawsuit, but Don Green, executive director for the law enforcement innovation center at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, said it's common for supervisors in law enforcement to be held responsible for the actions of those under their command.

"We've had supervisors disciplined in the past for failing to act when [their employees] have done something inappropriate, whether it's physical abuse or sexual discrimination or sexual harassment," he said.

He also said that while there isn't a uniform culture across police departments or law enforcement agencies, just like anywhere else, toxic cultures that allow inappropriate behavior over several years can be difficult to change.

"Someone comes in and tries to take some action and that generates some pushback," he said. "That can occur, but it can occur in any workplace. It happens in private factories and private corporations."

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at egienapp@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.