(AP) The city's fire chief, given his job a decade ago with a
mandate to stamp out racism and sexism, is leaving amid controversy over
a black firefighter's claim that his white colleagues served him
spaghetti with dog food.
Chief William Bamattre announced Friday that he will retire on Jan. 1.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa praised Bamattre as a "class act" and
dedicated firefighter. But at the same time he indicated he had lost
confidence in the chief's leadership, calling Bamattre's departure a
Bamattre, 54, issued a statement saying he stands on his record with the
department, but is "a political realist."
"Over the past few days I have come to the appreciation that these
current issues have political implications beyond the scope of the Fire
Department. I have become the focus of the debate and that is to the
detriment of the LAFD," he said.
Bamattre, a firefighter for 31 years, was promoted to chief in 1995 when
predecessor Donald Manning suddenly resigned, citing "false allegations
and innuendoes" about claims of discrimination in the department.
On Friday, Bamattre quoted from his first communication to the
department 11 years ago in which he said: "Discrimination and/or
harassment of any type _ ethnic, gender, rank _ whether overt, subtle or
unintentional, will not be tolerated."
The race issue blew up last month after the City Council approved
payment of a $2.7 million settlement to firefighter Tennie Pierce, who
claimed racial discrimination after being fed the dog food pasta at a
firehouse meal in October 2004.
Pierce, 51, said he was victimized because of his race.
But others say the doctored dinner was part of the department's
well-documented culture of bawdy jokes and hazing. A department
investigation suggested the incident was intended to be a prank to
"humble" Pierce after he referred to himself as "the Big Dog" at a
The department disciplined two white captains and one Latino
The mayor vetoed the settlement after photos surfaced showing that
Pierce himself had engaged in crude firehouse hazing _ smearing mustard
and dumping water on restrained colleagues.
Pierce's lawsuit is headed to trial.
The department is 12 percent black, 29 percent Latino, 52 percent white
and Asians or others account for 7 percent, according to city
statistics. In 1994, it was 11 percent black, 24 percent Latino and 60
percent white, with Asians or others accounting for 5 percent.