CITY HALL — City Manager Rod Gould publicly acknowledged Tuesday that the Santa Monica Police Department mishandled the investigation of school board member Oscar de la Torre, and committed to a list of reforms meant to improve procedures within the agency.

During the meeting, Gould assured the City Council and the audience — which included de la Torre, his friends and family — that he took full responsibility for the failings noted in the report issued by the Office of Investigative Review.

“This matter upsets me,” Gould said. “I am well aware of how any potential abuse of government authority, including police power, however perceived or real, however great or small, can tear at a community’s fabric, and erode trust in government.”

The issue arose over a March 16, 2010 fight between two 17-year-olds in an alley.

de la Torre broke up the fight, but video evidence caused some to question whether or not he had waited too long to do so.

An investigation was launched into the matter by Sgt. Dave Thomas.

Although the OIR report confirmed that the SMPD was right in pursuing the investigation, the agency questioned the method by which the investigation was carried out.

In an effort to improve, Police Chief Tim Jackman has committed to implementing the seven recommendations in the OIR report: To develop a detective’s manual, train on interviewing witnesses, establish standard report format, create a report writing manual, consider witness bias in investigations, be cautious when offering advice to witnesses and implement a more robust review process.

Gould committed to providing a progress report on those seven goals within 90 days.

The police department will also conduct its own internal review into the matter, to determine whether any additional actions would be called for.

Gould refused, however, to bend to pressure to hold a public inquiry into the detective responsible for the report that became a flash point within the community.

“Conducting an inquiry in a public forum into an employee’s conduct could run afoul of constitutional rights,” he said. “We must be concerned with everyone’s constitutional rights.”

At the conclusion of Gould’s presentation, the public was given the opportunity to speak.

Maria Loya, de la Torre’s wife, described the fear she lived with, dreading the possibility that her husband would be arrested.

“What would I do if he was arrested?” she asked. “How would I post bail? How would I explain it to my children?”

de la Torre also spoke. He thanked the City Council for ordering the review, and praised the work of the city manager.

He lambasted the police department, however, which he believes targeted him.

“The intent behind the investigation was malicious,” de la Torre said. “It was to ruin my career. First to put me in jail, make me a felon, force me to defend myself and leave me bankrupt and in the end to defame my character and the character of my organization.”

Each of the council members expressed their condolences, and praised the city manager for his efforts in cleaning up the matter. They said the reputation of the police department had been damaged and said the community will need time to regain trust in the SMPD.

“We sit here and look you in the eye in sober compassion,” said Councilman Kevin McKeown.

After the meeting, de la Torre acknowledged that he would look at other options, possibly litigation.

“We will seek other forms to bring remedies forward,” he said.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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