That’s all Bruno could say. He was speechless as he watched the City Council Wednesday approve paying two white Fire Department captains $1.6 million alleging reverse discrimination for being suspended over spaghetti laced with dog food being fed to black firefighter Tennie Pierce as a bad taste joke.
Pierce got $1.5 million for the prank, alleging racial discrimination. Total bill to the public with lawyer’s fees: $5 million plus — a small portion of the costs of lawsuits over misconduct in the LAFD.
And the City Council certainly did its best not to speak about it, nor did it give much of a clue in the online Council files. The video, complete with Bruno barking angrily in the background, shows how the CAO’s office, City Attorney’s office and the Council avoid rf any mention of what the case was about before voting to approve the payoff. The online files for Item 27 hardly give a clue.
Who can blame them? The Tennie Pierce case symbolizes all that’s broken in City Hall: Lack of workplace discipline, total mismanagement, complete disregard for taxpayer money, the incompetence of the political leadership.
Go back to October 2004 in Fire Station 5 in Westchester when Captains Chris Burton and John Tohill the 12-member platoon under their command had some fun playing beach volleyball and then returned to the station for dinner and some high jinx.
For a prank — what else is there to do in a Fire Department where racial and gender discrimination were rampant and the average salary is more than $100,000 with 90 percent pensions after 30 years — dog food was put in the spaghetti served Pierce.
The captains, earning more than $200,000 each, loved a station house where there crew was having fun through the endless boring hours waiting for emergency calls.
“Pierce was a big-time, and politically incorrect, prankster himself,” Chris Pelisek in the LA Weekly reported, “spraying water into the face of one strapped-down firefighter, smearing
shaving cream around the groin area of another, and gleefully laughing
at a third who was wrapped in a sheet on which hazers had scrawled, “Oy
Vey! I’m Gay!”
“At the (captains) trial, Pierce — noticeably peeved by the proceedings — admitted
that he participated in pranks, most notably one two days before the
dog-food debacle in which a firefighter was strapped down and doused
with A.1. sauce. Pierce, 52, also told the jury that he was at first
suspected of being the perpetrator behind “Ratgate,” in which a dead rat
was put into another black firefighter’s locker.”
The captains bought the dog food, they claimed, as a “joke trophy” because Pierce proclaimed himself “big dog” for triumphing in the volleyball games. Firefighter Jorge Arevalo slipped some of the dog food into Pierce’s spaghetti.
By the third bite, Pierce thought something was wrong with the meat sauce and saw everybody laughing. He stormed out angry and everyone, including the captains, apologized.
Just another prank, end of story? Hardly.
Pierce, who told a black colleague on the day of the incident he didn’t think it was racial, found a lawyer who sued for racial discrimination and City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo worked out a settlement that the City Council merrily approved. The sum: $2.7 million plus attorney fees that pushed it past the $3 million mark.
As editor of the Daily News I jumped all over the story. It was outrageous and I told the mayor so after lunch at a Valley deli, challenging him to veto the settlement if he wanted to have any credibility at all.
He did three days later, fueling the media uproar, but eventually signed off on the $1.5 million settlement with Pierce plus legal fees that took the total cost back to nearly $3 million.
Because City Hall sways in the political winds without integrity, Fire Department brass were pressured to take disciplinary action when the cover-up unraveled after the Pierce lawsuit came to light.
Arevalo got a six-day suspension, Burton 30 days and Tohill 25 days. The captains also were fined $10,000 each. They sued, claiming they were discriminated against on the basis of race and won every appeal, including two to the state Supreme Court.
They offered to settle for $250,000 each but the city, represented by private lawyers because the City Attorney’s office is inherently conflicted when city employees sue, turned them down.
And so it came before the City Council on Wednesday to approve paying Burton $592,000 and Tohill, the senior caption, $1.052 million.
No discussion. No transparency. No accountability. No shame.