More officers allege sexual hazing on LAPD football team

Two more Los Angeles police officers have come forward to allege they were sexually assaulted by fellow members of the LAPD’s amateur football team, the Centurions, claiming in court filings that department leaders failed to act on the team’s long-standing hazing culture.

The officers are represented by the same attorney but filed separate legal claims last week. They each said their assaults happened years apart at the same Boyle Heights high school where the team practices. Both alleged the incidents happened after a practice in their first year with the team, when they were herded into a locker room with other rookie players and forced to walk through a gantlet of other officers, who groped them and shouted homophobic slurs.

The officers filed a type of claim that typically acts as a precursor to a lawsuit, echoing allegations made last month by a veteran LAPD detective. The two officers were not named in court filings, and The Times is not identifying them or the detective in keeping with its policy on reporting about alleged victims of sexual assault.

The detective, whose story was first reported by The Times, alleged that he was sexually assaulted amid a group of 30 to 40 LAPD officers during a hazing ritual for rookies on the Centurions. Several of the alleged abusers, he said, are now supervisors with the department.

The detective said he kept the assault secret for a long time, telling only a few family members and friends, until a chance run-in years later with one of the officers who was present during the hazing. He reported the alleged assault to the L.A. Police Commission’s inspector general office in March. When he didn’t get a response to his initial complaint, he sent the office a follow-up email in April, which also went ignored, his claim said.

In a statement released Monday, Inspector General Mark Smith denied having received the complaint, saying his office “has not identified any email or other record of such contact.”

An LAPD spokesperson said the department had not seen the latest claims and declined to comment. The Los Angeles city attorney’s office, which defends all city departments against legal claims and lawsuits, said through a spokesperson that it doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Part of the LAPD’s athletics program, the Centurions team has more than 50 players on its roster and generally plays against squads from other local police agencies.

The two officers’ claims say the alleged abuse was an open secret among the department’s leadership that was allowed to continue for “many years”

“Many senior members of the LAPD were Centurions, but never took any action to stop sexual assaults by LAPD Centurions against rookies before Claimant was sexually assaulted in 2009,” one of the claims said. “Instead, LAPD supervision covered up this egregious conduct and, in fact, enabled it by using their positions of power and authority to permit this barbaric behavior to continue.”

Michael Morrison, an attorney representing the two officers and the detective, said he hoped the claims would encourage others to come forward and counteract what he called an “effort to discredit” the first among them to speak out.

Within days of the first claim’s filing, several of the detective’s relatives received letters “in a harassing fashion,” from the department referencing an investigation into unspecified allegations, Morrison said.

“We believe that the department is inappropriately investigating plaintiff and his family members,” he said. The correspondence, he said, was “unrelated to the Centurions and appears to be in retaliation for the initial complaint.”

The department is conducting a separate inquiry into the sexual assault allegations, led by a detective on loan to the Robbery-Homicide Division, according to Morrison.

Morrison also dismissed allegations circulating in the department that the detective had been given coveted assignments in an effort to keep him silent about the abuse he endured. Most officers who played for the Centurions were told that playing for the team would fast-track their careers, he said, with perks such as days off to practice and travel and postings in specialized units.

“My client earned everything he got,” he said. “He is a model officer.”

Morrison said that his firm has been in contact with other alleged abuse victims from the team, who are afraid to speak up.

“There is a great deal of fear for individuals to come forward,” he said. “They believe that if they are members of their department that they will be retaliated against, and that if they come forward they will be signing a death warrant for their careers.”

The statute of limitations for criminal charges has expired, but officers remain able to pursue civil claims. The latest officers to come forward both allege their assaults occurred after a practice at Bishop Mora Salesian High School in Boyle Heights, where the team practiced. In each instance, the claims said, the victim officers were herded into a locker room, where they were forced to strip down and walk a gantlet.

The first incident was said to have happened in February 2006; the second in February 2009.

In the earlier incident, the alleged victim said that his assault occurred on the final practice of “hell week,” a grueling stretch in the team’s preseason during which players were put through two-a-day practices.

A former high school football player, the officer said he didn’t join the Centurions until several years into his career, when he was working in the department’s West Bureau. On the day of the assault, his claim says, he and the other rookie players were locked into a small training room that was connected to the locker room. After some time, an officer let them out and told them to take a “shot of an alcoholic beverage” and form a line. Other Centurions players entered the room, one after another, and blindfolded the rookies before leading them into the next room.

He recalled being led into the other room filled with whooping and hollering senior Centurion members, who demanded he strip naked. The other players whipped him with towels, groped him and grabbed at his hands which were covering his genitals, he said. He was ordered to walk onto a small platform, with the blindfold still over his eyes, and get into a trash can filled with ice water.

The officer said he was then ordered out and forced to stand in front of the other officers, who ridiculed his genitals “shrunken” by the cold water and screamed homophobic slurs. While standing in humiliation, he was forced to recite his name and serial number as the other officers “continued to ridicule and abuse him,” the claim said.

The officers sang a “coordinated chant,” the claim alleges, that ended with them “repeatedly yelling ‘F— You’” at the new recruit. At the end, the legal filing said, the officers offered to let him stay to watch the rest of the officers go through the gantlet. He refused, and instead drove home. The officer said he continued playing on the team until 2011 but never participated in any of the hazing rituals.

In the other claim, the alleged victim officer said he decided to join the Centurions at the urging of several senior officers at Newton Division, where he completed his probationary period as a rookie cop.

The officer, who joined the department in March 2008, had played football in high school and remained active with the sport while serving in the Marine Corps. He described a similar ritual of being made to disrobe and get into a trash container filled with icy water in a room full of jeering teammates. He was then forced to stand on a box and sing “The Marines’ Hymn” while his teammates snapped towels at him and called him homophobic slurs, he alleged.

The claim said the young officer felt “completely demeaned and objectified … as if he was a piece of property being auctioned off.”

The officer said he felt pressured to stay on the team and to not report the misconduct.

When he finished singing, he said, one of his teammates threw him a Coors Light beer and told him something the effect of, “You’re one of us now.”

He recalled another officer telling him: “We will get you where you want in the Department, but this stays within the Centurions.”

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