In the wake of one deputy's seventh on-the-job shooting, the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department is being urged to establish formal procedures for when a deputy removed from the field may be allowed to return.
The red flag was raised after an early morning confrontation between sheriff's deputies and a 23-year-old City Terrace man that ended with his shooting death Sept. 10.
The appropriateness of the use of force is still being evaluated.
What caught the attention of the Office of Independent Review (OIR) was the history of one of the deputies, who had been involved in six previous shooting incidents.
"Seven is a lot," said Michael Gennaco, the former federal prosecutor who serves as Chief Attorney for the OIR.
Most deputies go through their entire career without ever discharging their firearms in the field, Gennaco said.
He declined to name the deputy with the seven shooting incidents, but multiple department sources identified him as Anthony "Tony" Forlano, an 18-year veteran.
After Forlano's sixth shooting incident in October 2011, the deputy had been assigned to desk duty in the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Bureau. Gennaco learned the deputy was allowed to return to the field after his commanding officer met with then-Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.
By all accounts, the Sheriff himself, Lee Baca, was never informed that the desk duty order for the deputy had been lifted.
"There was no deliberation, no careful vetting of the deputy and whether he should come back to the field. And as far as we knew, he was still out of the field," Gennaco said.
As Gennaco sees it, the department needs a more systematic approach to determining when a deputy removed from the field may return.
"We would like to be involved. The Sheriff should be involved," Gennaco said.
Friday afternoon, Gennaco was to meet with Sheriff Baca, and discuss formalizing a protocol for such cases. Forlano was filling in at East LA Sheriff's station on an overtime shift at the time of the Sept. 10 confrontation with Carlos Oliva.
He had pointed a gun at deputies and a firearm was recovered, the sheriff's department reported afterwards.
In three previous shooting incidents involving Forlano, deputies had also reported seeing firearms, though in those cases none was found.
Oliva's sister learned of Forlano's history after it was first reported Friday in the Los Angeles Times.
"I did not have any idea," Bianca Oliva said. "Something has to be done."
In one previous incident involving Forlano, Los Angeles County agreed to pay a $150,000 settlement.
A lawsuit is pending in another shooting incident from 2011. In that case, Osvaldo Ureta was wounded at the end of a pursuit.
During an interview Friday, Tanaka emphasized he did not order Forlano be returned to field duty, but agreed to meet with Forlano at the request of his commanding officer, Capt. Robert Tubbs.
"After I was done, I told the Captain, 'If you want to put him back in the field, and there's no objection from your chain of command, I certainly have no objection. He's done his penance,'" Tanaka said.
Capt. Tubbs felt Forlano belonged in the field.
"We've had our bumps in the road with some of his tactics, but overall he's been outstanding – a great street cop," The Times quoted Tubbs as saying.
Tubbs was out of the office Friday and could not be reached for further comment.
Tanaka said he personally had placed Forlano on desk duty in 2011, and was not aware of any separate department order to keep him on desk duty.
In a department with 18,000 employees, many personnel decisions were made without notifying or getting the approval of Sheriff Baca, and Tanaka did not believe it necessary in this case, he said.
As Tanaka recalls, the Forlano matter came up in April. Long close allies, the relationship between Tanaka and Baca had frayed by then. A month earlier, Tanaka had given notice he would be leaving the department in August, and last month he announced his candidacy to challenge Baca for Sheriff in next year's election.
Tanaka's campaign website includes an endorsement statement from Captain Tubbs.
Tanaka rejected the suggestion his friendship with Tubbs may have influenced his judgment in the Forlano matter.
Deputy Forlano has returned to desk duty at the COPS Bureau, said Lt. John Voza.
Forlano is not commenting publicly, Voza said.