LAPD assistant chief put on leave for alleged stalking

Los Angeles, CA - April 20: Los Angeles City Hall is reflected in the windows of the Los Angeles Police Headquarters on Wednesday, April 20, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called Wednesday for an 8.5% increase in the Police Department's operating budget, providing a major boost to overtime pay while also seeking to fill hundreds of vacant positions. Garcetti released his $11.8-billion budget for the coming year, which would increase the LAPD's operating budget by $149 million and take LAPD staffing up to 9,735 police officers by mid-2023, an increase of 29 positions compared with this year's budget. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
An LAPD assistant chief was put on leave for alleged stalking. Above, Los Angeles City Hall is reflected in the windows of the Los Angeles Police Headquarters on April 20, 2022. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A high-ranking LAPD official, Al Labrada, was placed on administrative leave Tuesday after allegations of stalking, Chief Michel Moore said.

Moore announced the move at Tuesday's meeting of the department's oversight body, the Board of Police Commissioners.

Labrada, one of three assistant chiefs who report to Moore, was the subject of an Ontario police report that alleged he used an Apple AirTag to track the movements of an LAPD police officer he was romantically involved with, according to law enforcement sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the ongoing investigation.

The officer who made the report against Labrada alleged that she discovered an AirTag — a small tracking device that can be attached to personal items — among her possessions, the sources said. After department officials learned of the allegations, they launched an internal investigation and took away Labrada's city-issued phone, sources said.

Moore told the commission Tuesday that he was limited in what he could say about the personnel matter, but that he was taking the allegations "very seriously."

"We will continue to cooperate with the outside agency as they continue their investigation, as well as conduct our internal investigation," Moore said. "That means consequences should these allegations prove to be true."

Commission President Erroll Southers said he had ordered the inspector general's office to monitor the LAPD's investigation "so we can ensure objectivity, impartiality, going forward."

Labrada has repeatedly denied the allegations against him and signaled he is considering legal action.

"To our understanding, what occurred today was a standard procedure and nothing further should be read in to it, other than that the matter is continuing to be investigated," his civil attorney, Jeremy Tissot, said in a statement. "We wish to jointly clarify that, in our opinion, what has been reported in the media thus far is false, as to the stalking allegations. The relationship and circumstances have also been mischaracterized."

In the statement, Tissot said that “we expect him to be fully vindicated of these allegations, and he is considering all potential legal remedies by and through my office, against responsible parties in relation to these false and defamatory allegations.”

Labrada also hired Andrew Leventhal for the potential criminal case.

The police report "mischaracterizes the nature of everything and it's unfortunate. He's a really good man, he's hardworking, he loves his kids, he loves his mom," said Leventhal, saying he'd advised Labrada to not speak with Ontario police for now. "There's no stalking, that's just a complete mischaracterization. That's untrue."

After The Times inquired about the Ontario police report last week, the LAPD confirmed it was conducting its own internal investigation into the matter and said Labrada would continue serving in his post.

Then, in an email that went out to all department personnel Monday, Labrada said he would be taking a weeklong "absence from command." According to the email, which was reviewed by The Times, Deputy Chief David Kowalski will assume leadership of the Office of Special Operations — which oversees most of the department’s specialized units, including the major crimes, gang and narcotics, and air support divisions — in Labrada's absence.

The move to administrative leave marks a dramatic turn for Labrada, considered by some to be a potential internal candidate to replace Moore, who has said he will not serve out his second five-year term as chief, according to several sources who requested anonymity to discuss the department's internal affairs.

Labrada was also the highest-ranking Latino in a department where more than half the officers identify as Latino.

The 30-year LAPD veteran is a member of Latin American Law Enforcement Assn., which advocates on behalf of Latino officers. His name was noticeably absent from the group's presentation Tuesday before the Police Commission.

Labrada is not the first high-ranking LAPD official in recent history to abruptly leave his post amid allegations of misconduct.

In 2018, another assistant chief, Jorge Villegas, retired abruptly after sources told The Times he was having an improper sexual relationship with a female subordinate. An LAPD surveillance unit caught Villegas and the subordinate apparently engaged in a sex act in a parking lot, the sources said.

Villegas’ case resurfaced this year in a court filing from a former LAPD commander who is suing the department for retaliation.

Apple AirTags, which are the size of a quarter and cost about $29, were introduced in 2021 as a way of helping people keep track of and recover lost personal items, allowing users to get notified when a device is nearby. They have drawn the concern of advocates for victims of domestic violence, who have warned that they can be used for monitoring someone without their consent.

Allegations of LAPD officers misusing the devices also surfaced recently in an investigation of a Valley-area gang unit, which is being investigated by the FBI for potential civil rights violations.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.