CITY HALL — Superintendent Tim Cuneo expressed his gratitude to City Hall Tuesday when he discovered a correction to the Office of Independent Review report stating that he did not give the Santa Monica Police Department a video of school board member Oscar de la Torre at a fight between two teens.
City Hall posted the two-page correction on March 24, a day after the City Attorney’s Office received it. It was also put on the SMPD website.
According to the letter, signed by OIR’s lead attorney Michael Gennaco, the office was asked to revisit a portion of the report which identified Cuneo as the individual who had given a cell phone video capturing the fight de la Torre broke up.
“As a result of our subsequent review, we no longer have reason to believe that the superintendent was the individual who supplied the video to the police department,” Gennaco wrote in the statement.
The discrepancy came to light “a couple of weeks ago,” Gennaco said Tuesday, and the OIR revisited its notes and interviewed new sources inside and outside the SMPD before concluding that its original information had been incorrect.
Cuneo, who saw the correction Tuesday morning, said that although he knew that the matter was under review, he had not been told of the findings.
“I’m pleased that it was looked into, and it is clear that the report was inaccurate,” Cuneo said.
The correction does not affect the overall thrust of the report, which found that although the SMPD was right in pursuing the investigation, its lead investigator on the matter mishandled the proceedings, Gennaco said.
“One, (Cuneo) didn’t give it to them, but two, if he had, God bless him,” Gennaco said, restating the importance of getting the video to law enforcement.
Gennaco would not reveal who had turned in the video, and would only say that “several people” had requested that his office look into the misstatement.
The footage helped launch a four-month investigation to determine whether or not de la Torre waited too long to split up the two 17-year-old combatants in a fight that occurred on March 16, 2010 near the Pico Youth & Family Center, which de la Torre runs.
The District Attorney’s Office declined to file child endangerment charges in the matter, but City Hall agreed to bring in the OIR Group to investigate allegations that the SMPD investigators had acted inappropriately during the course of the investigation.
The OIR Group’s review revealed that unusual interview techniques were used and that the final report by the investigator contained “an unusual mix of facts and advocacy.”
It also included a number of suggestions on how to fix the problems found in the review, including: developing a detective’s manual, training on interviewing witnesses, establishing a standard report format, creating a report writing manual, considering witness bias in investigations, being cautious when offering advice to witnesses and implementing a more robust review process.
At the Feb. 22 City Council meeting, City Manager Rod Gould accepted full responsibility for the missteps, and announced that a progress report would be issued in 90 days examining the work done to put those suggestions into practice.
Neither de la Torre nor a SMPD spokesperson could be reached for this article.