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Former top LAPD official accused of tracking woman with AirTag alleges cronyism by ex-chief

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - October 17: LAPD assistant chief Al Labrada, right, held a news conference with his lawyer Jeremy Tissot regarding allegations of him stalking a lower-ranking officer he was romantically involved with. Photographed at Tissot Law Firm on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023 in Beverly Hills, CA. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
Al Labrada, right, at a news conference on Oct. 17, 2023, in Beverly Hills. (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

After rising to become one of the highest-ranking Latinos in the history of the Los Angeles Police Department — once a possible candidate to be the city's next chief — Alfred "Al" Labrada was demoted and recommended for firing in the span of a few weeks.

Labrada's precipitous fall came amid allegations last year that he had inappropriately monitored a female colleague with whom he was romantically involved. But in a new claim filed against the LAPD, Labrada argued former LAPD chief Michel Moore showed a double standard by not taking similar action against another top police official who had an inappropriate relationship with the same woman as Labrada.

In a March 5 court filing, the one-time assistant chief again denied the allegations of LAPD officer Dawn Silva, who said he placed an Apple AirTag under the bumper of her car in order to track her movements while the couple was in the process of dissolving their domestic partnership. But Labrada's sharpest barbs were saved for his old boss, Moore, whom he accused of violating his due process rights by publicly discussing his case before it was resolved.

Silva has sued the city, alleging department officials failed to protect her from backlash after she accused Labrada. She has a temporary restraining order against him, which a judge on Wednesday agreed to extend for another year. As a condition of the order, Labrada is barred from possessing any firearms unless he meets certain conditions.

After a police investigation into the AirTag allegations — which stemmed from a report filed in September with San Bernardino County authorities — prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against Labrada, 53, citing insufficient evidence.

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Labrada was downgraded to his civil service rank of commander and remains relieved of duty, pending the findings of an administrative panel that will determine whether he will be fired. That hearing has been rescheduled to later this year.

In his claim, Labrada accused Moore — who retired at the end of February, but said he would continue working for the LAPD as a consultant — of leading a campaign to block his career advancement, saying his former boss felt threatened at a time when he faced criticism over a drop in morale and staffing shortages. Labrada also cited an alleged culture of cronyism at the LAPD under Moore that involved looking the other way when the chief's allies were accused of misconduct.

As an example, Labrada accused Moore of covering up for another one of his assistant chiefs, Jorge Villegas, who was caught by an LAPD surveillance squad engaged in a sex act in a car with Silva — the same officer Labrada later became romantically involved with. Villegas retired soon after the incident.

Moore did not respond to a phone call and a text message seeking comment.

LAPD spokeswoman Capt. Kelly Muniz said in a brief statement that the department had investigated "all allegations raised by this former assistant chief over the handling of the investigation" with oversight from the inspector general's office. She said she couldn't comment on any specific claims made in Labrada's filing.

"The Department maintains procedural safeguards to ensure a thorough and fair investigation for specific complaint types, including those involving members of command staff or those involving potential workplace concerns," Muniz said.

Labrada is among the highest-ranking officers to publicly accuse the LAPD leadership of favoritism and bias, and his case has deeply divided the department, with factions forming between those who agree with some of his allegations and those who find his condemnations self-serving. Others have argued that the internal backlash against Silva was symptomatic of the way some women in the department are treated.

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Labrada has found support among some current and former high-ranking Latino LAPD officials who have privately lobbied on his behalf, circulating copies of the city's response to Silva's lawsuit and posting messages of support on social media, according to several department sources. The sources requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal matters.

Labrada's attorney, Luis Carrillo, said Wednesday that Moore "played dirty" and deprived his client of his right to due process enshrined in a state law aimed at protecting the privacy of officers.

"In my opinion, he didn't want Al Labrada to become chief of police," Carrillo said.

In February Silva sued the city for sexual discrimination, harassment and retaliation, claiming her romance with Labrada from October 2017 to July 2023 ended "because of the toxic nature of their relationship."

She alleged that Labrada kept messaging her, even after a highly publicized Oct. 7 press conference during which he vehemently denied the allegations she made against him. Labrada said at the time that news coverage of his case had caused him “significant emotional and physical distress."

"Whatever disgraced Chief Labrada claims, none of it justifies what he did to one of his subordinates, my client, Dawn Silva," said Matt McNicholas, an attorney for Silva in her civil case against the city. "The irony is that he claims that he was abused by Command, when it was in fact he was Command that was abusing Officer Silva."

In its response, the city attorney's office said it was unclear what "adverse employment action" Silva allegedly suffered.

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"The LAPD undertook a prompt investigation into the allegations," the city wrote in a court filing, adding that "corrective measures" had been taken against Labrada.

Silva said she found the tracking device called an AirTag on Sept. 3 during a getaway with friends at a hotel in Palm Springs. She said she made the discovery after receiving an email from Labrada that made her suspect that he was monitoring her movements.

When Moore announced last year that he wouldn't serve out his full second term, Labrada's name began circulating around the department as a possible successor. On occasion, he served as acting chief while Moore was out of town. Moore suggested that Labrada was being groomed for the top job in an interview with The Times last year when he expressed his disappointment in "recent events" involving "people... you thought were qualified for taking the reins."

That changed after Silva filed a report with Ontario police. But when they took the case to the San Bernardino County district attorney's office, prosecutors declined to file charges.

A confidential declination memo obtained by The Times shows that a prosecutor involved in the case said she had doubts about Silva's account of events, including the officer's claim that someone found the tracking device on her car "within a couple moments" of looking for it.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Gina Florick wrote of Labrada and Silva in the memo: "there is no evidence suspect is actively tracking her." Florick said Labrada "never shows up at her location, unannounced, or confronts her with information potentially received from the AirTag." The prosecutor also said that she found it "incredibly problematic" that Ontario police had allowed Silva to review a draft of the initial police report.

After The Times reported on the Silva allegations last September, Labrada said, Moore used that as pretext to remove him from his position of assistant chief.

He said Moore also took the unusual step of publicly announcing Labrada's demotion at a Police Commission meeting and issuing a news release about the department's internal probe before the criminal investigation against him had been completed. Moore then ordered him to a board of rights hearing, indicating that the chief wanted to fire him.

Read more: Officer claims LAPD failed to protect her after alleged AirTag monitoring by assistant chief

Those who operated within Moore's orbit had not been subjected to the same treatment in the past, Labrada said.

As an example, Labrada cited Moore's handling of a romantic encounter involving Silva and Villegas, bringing to light an episode that years later remains a topic of fascination and controversy around police headquarters. Villegas had come under suspicion in 2018 and was placed under surveillance by Internal Affairs, who were tipped off by former police commissioner Steve Soboroff that Villegas may have been seen driving under the influence.

A team of detectives tailed Villegas to the parking lot of a bar in Pomona, where officers caught him engaged in a sex act inside Silva’s white Honda Accord, Labrada alleged. When Moore was informed of this, Labrada said, he reportedly "called off" any further surveillance. And instead of disclosing the potential violation of the department’s policy against sexual relationships between senior staff and lower-ranking officers, Labrada alleged, the chief allowed Villegas to retire quietly — without suffering the embarrassment of his alleged improprieties playing out in the press.

While department sources detailed the episode to The Times, Moore and other officials declined to comment.

Labrada also alleged anti-Latino bias, particularly in the department's higher ranks. While the LAPD is more than half Latino, Labrada pointed to a lack of representation within Moore's inner circle, alleging a "pattern and practice" of Moore promoting white men into positions at the expense of "highly qualified" Latinos.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.