Police watchdog finds spying allegations against former LAPD chief 'unfounded'

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 07: LAPD Chief Michel Moore, left, accompanies Mayor Karen Bass at LAPD Police Academy on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Then-LAPD Chief Michel Moore with Mayor Karen Bass in December 2023. Two internal affairs detectives had accused Moore of ordering an investigation of Bass' ties to USC. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A months-long probe has cleared former LAPD Chief Michel Moore of misconduct, after he was accused by two internal affairs detectives of ordering an investigation of Mayor Karen Bass' ties to USC, the Los Angeles police inspector general's office announced Tuesday.

Florence Yu, the acting inspector general, said investigators from her office determined the complaint against Moore was “unfounded,” meaning they proved no misconduct had occurred. Yu announced the inquiry's results during a meeting Tuesday of the Board of Police Commissioners, a five-member civilian panel that oversees the department.

Greg Smith, an attorney for the detectives, called the investigation part of a cover-up effort by a commission that "has been politicized and protected Chief Moore for years." As proof, he said, investigators didn't even bother to interview his clients, the detectives who lodged the original complaint.

Moore said in an interview Tuesday that he was pleased by the outcome of the investigation into an allegation he described as "without any foundation."

"It didn't make any sense, and it was highly sensationalized," he said. "I'm glad to know the investigation found what I said from the beginning — [the detectives' complaint] was not true."

The allegations against Moore were first reported by the Los Angeles Times late last year after the two detectives filed the complaints with the inspector general's office contending that they were ordered to investigate Bass shortly after her election. Moore has strongly denied the allegations.

The two senior detectives who filed the claims said they were summoned to a meeting with then-Capt. Divyesh “John” Shah, the head of internal affairs, who relayed the request to investigate Bass and suggested the order had come from Moore.

In their complaints, the detectives said they found Moore’s alleged request troubling to the point that they ultimately refused the assignment. It’s unclear why internal affairs investigators would have been asked to handle such an inquiry.

Read more: Detectives claim LAPD chief sought investigation of Mayor Bass over USC scholarship

Shah has since left internal affairs after his promotion to commander.

While speaking to the commission Tuesday, Yu did not offer specifics about her office's investigation. Nor did she comment on the question raised by a whistle-blower claim about the possibility that Moore's underlings may have misinterpreted the chief's words and made the request to investigate Bass without his knowledge.

Questions about Bass’ $95,000 scholarship to USC’s social work school were raised by her opponent in the 2022 mayoral race, Rick Caruso. He criticized Bass, a former Assembly speaker and six-term member of Congress, for accepting it and later offering legislation that would have given USC and other private universities wider eligibility for federal funding.

Bass has long denied any wrongdoing. The House Committee on Ethics cleared her request to accept the tuition award.

Though federal prosecutors did not charge Bass, they said in court papers that her scholarship and her dealings with USC were “critical” to a corruption case involving the university and a top Los Angeles County elected official.

Read more: Karen Bass got a USC degree for free. It's now pulling her into a federal corruption case

Moore announced his abrupt resignation in January, saying he would not serve out his second five-year term so he could spend more time with his family. He and Bass have repeatedly said the allegations had nothing to do with his decision to retire.

Commissioner William Briggs said Tuesday it was clear from the inspector general's inquiry that “the allegations against former Chief Moore are completely false, they’re defamatory, in fact there’s not a scintilla of evidence” that he acted inappropriately.

“It’s unfortunate that we live in a time that individuals could make completely baseless allegations," Briggs said, while adding that “the motivations of those officers who made those allegations are the subject and will be the subject of” further investigation.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, interim Police Chief Dominic Choi said he could not comment on the matter because he wasn't privy to the investigation's findings.

A spokesperson for Bass didn't immediately respond to a text message seeking comment.

The findings were dismissed as political theater by Smith, the detectives' attorney.

"I can think of no instance when the IG or the Commission [ever] found any wrongdoing by Moore, it appears that they are protecting his image as opposed to investigating wrongdoing," Smith, said in a statement.

"Multiple officers complained that Moore wanted the Mayor investigated," Smith wrote, "now the Commission intends to retaliate against those officers in a blatant attempt to chill the rights of employees who wish to file complaints against high ranking LAPD officials who commit misconduct and abuse their positions."

He also said given Moore's close relationship with the recently departed inspector general, Mark Smith — who cited Moore as a reference when applying for a police watchdog job in Portland, Ore. — the investigation amounted to a conflict of interest.

Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.