Photo: FLLewis/A Writer’s Groove — Burbank City Councilman David Gordon and Vice-Mayor/Council Member Anja Reinke at the Tuesday November 3, 2009, council meeting.
Reverberations from last Tuesday’s Burbank City Council meeting are still shaking the town and probably will continue to do so for some time. That should really come as no surprise to anyone who was there or watched it on TV. It was an explosive event with huge ramifications.
Things really got cooking when Councilman David Gordon declared publicly what many in this city have been talking about and hoping for. Boldly, Dr. Gordon called for his fellow council members to consider an emergency action to discuss putting Burbank Police Chief Stehr on “administrative leave.”
Gordon cited the “stress and tension” in the department brought on by Stehr’s questionable leadership, Sergeant Neil Thomas Gunn’s death, and a slew of investigations and lawsuits. Stehr has been named in some of those lawsuits and is more than likely being questioned as well in the FBI’s secretive probe into misconduct by the BPD.
All around me, wild applause broke out in the city council chamber. Members of Sergeant Gunn’s family and their supporters, which included a larger number of Burbank police officers, filled the seats and lined the walls of the chamber. Many of the Gunn supporters still carried the candles that were used earlier in the evening at a vigil for the veteran Burbank police officer.
Photos: FLLewis/A Writer’s Groove —Gunn supporters walked from the vigil at Burbank Police and Fire Headquarters to city hall for the city council meeting.
On October 29, the body of 50-year-old Burbank Police Sergeant Neil Thomas Gunn, Senior was discovered beneath a cluster of trees, near the De Bell Golf course at the intersection of Sunset Canyon Drive and Harvard Road. According to a Burbank Police/Burbank City press release, Gunn died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Photo: FLLewis/A Writer’s Groove —Sunset Canyon Drive and Harvard Road.
Rumors about Sgt. Gunn’s death have been flying fast and furious around Burbank for days. Gunn was reportedly one of the officers named in that FBI investigation. In a news advisory, a newspaper interview, and at a news conference on the steps of city hall Tuesday night, Gunn family members claimed the police officer’s suicide was a result of “the treatment” he received from the Burbank Police Department.
“My brother was a victim of retaliation for defending officers who had been wrongly accused…” charged Chris Topolovich who spoke for the family at the news conference. Sources say documents or notes left behind by Sgt. Gunn leveled an accusing finger at Chief Stehr. Topolovich ended his remarks to the media by pleading for “.. no more dead bodies in the city of Burbank.”
Photo: FLLewis/A Writer’s Groove — After the news conference, a distraught Chris Topolovich is comforted under the glare of media lights by Gunn’s son, Neil Gunn Junior.
Councilman Gordon characterized the situation in the BPD as a “health and safety” issue and told his colleagues “we cannot close our eyes” to the problem. However, close their eyes is exactly what the four other council members did. How could they be in that position, live in this city, and not see and hear what is going on?
Reinke ranted she did not “…have enough facts” to consider “discharging” the police chief. Interesting, Gordon never used the word “discharge” or anything close to fire. He said “administrative leave.” Several Burbank police officers, whose guilt or innocence has not been determined, are on administrative leave. Topolovich confirmed during the news conference that Sgt. Gunn had been on administrative leave as well.
Councilman Jess Talamantes said “I don’t have all the facts” and described the matter with the police chief as merely”… a personnel issue.” Talking about missing the magnitude of the situation.
Mayor/Councilman Gary Bric joined with Talamantes and Reinke in saying he too was in the dark. Gee, now didn’t the mayor read that controversial statement on September 29, 2009 (supported by all of the council members) that claimed to be in the know about the lawsuits, investigations, and problems in the BPD.
Mayor Bric said:”There have been a number of lawsuits and claims filed that contain multiple allegations of improper conduct ranging from wrongful termination, discrimination and retaliation to abuse of force and various forms of covering up such activities. These are all very serious allegations and I think it is clear to everyone that the police department is facing some major challenges. All of these allegations have arisen from sources within the department or from former members of the department.”
Also, Bric stated: “While we know the entire community is disappointed to know that there are issues within the police department, please rest assured that the City Council is taking every step possible to make sure all of the issues are identified and that steps are taken to make sure that any problems that are identified are dealt with in a manner that insures they are never repeated. This may mean some severe consequences for any persons involved in misconduct, but we believe the integrity of our police department is extremely important to this community and is our paramount concern.”
And then Councilman Dave Golonski accused Gordon of “grandstanding” and said, “I don’t believe there is an emergency.” Golonski’s comments and those of some of the other council members were greeted with jeers and hisses from the audience.
A frustrated Burbank resident tried to convince the council members of the seriousness of the situation by shouting, “It happened near my house!” in reference to the Sgt. Gunn tragedy. Well, when the homeowner would not be silenced the mayor ordered him removed from the chamber. Instead, the man got up and stormed out. Gordon’s motion died when it did not receive one vote from his fellow council members. However, the issue is still very much alive.
It’s time for serious change in Burbank. At the top of the list, Police Chief Tim Stehr needs to step aside or be put on administrative leave for the good of the department, the city, and the citizens of Burbank.