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Published: Friday, 12/1/2006

L.A. fire chief retires amid furor over discrimination lawsuit


LOS ANGELES The city s fire chief announced his retirement today amid a furor over a black firefighter s claim that he suffered racial discrimination when his spaghetti was spiked with dog food.

Chief William Bamattre, whose predecessor left abruptly a decade ago during a similar racially charged crisis, told Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in a letter that he will step down Jan. 1.

In a statement, the chief did not directly address the controversy but said he was very proud of the dedication, courage and extraordinary commitment and efforts of our firefighters.

The city controller released an audit almost a year ago that concluded discrimination, hazing and harassment persisted in the department despite a zero-tolerance policy for such behavior.

But the issue blew up last month after the City Council approved a $2.7 million settlement to firefighter Tennie Pierce, who claimed racial discrimination after being fed the spaghetti.

A department investigation had suggested it was a prank prompted by Pierce s references to himself as the Big Dog. The council approved the settlement on advice of the city attorney before photos surfaced showing that Pierce himself engaged in crude firehouse hazing.

The mayor vetoed the settlement, and a council majority refused to override it despite an emotional plea by Pierce, backed by black community leaders. Pierce s lawsuit is now headed to trial.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com

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