By Alene Tchekmedyian and Cindy Chang, latimes.com
A top Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department official forwarded emails with jokes containing derogatory stereotypes of Muslims, blacks, Latinos, women and others from his work account during his previous job with the Burbank Police Department, according to city records.
Tom Angel, who is Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s chief of staff, sent the emails in 2012 and 2013 when he was the No. 2 police official in Burbank, hired to reform a department reeling from allegations of police brutality as well as racism and sexual harassment within its ranks.
“I took my Biology exam last Friday,” said one of the forwarded emails, which were obtained under the state’s public records law. “I was asked to name two things commonly found in cells. Apparently ‘Blacks’ and ‘Mexicans’ were NOT the correct answers.”
Another email ridiculed concerns about the racial profiling of Muslims as terrorism suspects. A third included the subject line, “How dumb is dumb?” and listed 20 reasons “Muslim Terrorists are so quick to commit suicide,” including “Towels for hats,” “Constant wailing from some idiot in a tower” and “You can’t wash off the smell of donkey.”
In an interview, Angel told The Times he did not mean to embarrass or demean anyone and said it was unfortunate that his work emails could be obtained by the public under the state’s records laws. Asked about the “Biology exam” email, which made light of high incarceration rates in some minority communities, he described himself as Mexican.
“Anybody in the workplace unfortunately forwards emails from time to time that they probably shouldn’t have forwarded,” Angel said. “I apologize if I offended anybody, but the intent was not for the public to have seen these jokes.”
A longtime sheriff’s official, Angel arrived in Burbank in 2010 as part of a new leadership team consisting mostly of Los Angeles Police Department veterans. He rejoined the Sheriff’s Department last year to work for McDonnell, who was elected in December 2014 on a promise to clean up the agency amid an FBI investigation into corruption and misconduct in the county jails.
McDonnell said he was disappointed by the emails but had no immediate plans to discipline Angel, since the messages predate Angel’s current employment with the Sheriff’s Department.
“Everybody’s got their own take on humor. This was divisive and nonproductive,” McDonnell said. “It’s a shame the whole thing happened at all.”
After viewing the emails at the request of The Times, local Muslim civil rights advocates criticized Angel, saying the messages perpetuate dangerous biases that all Muslims are terrorists.
“It’s very concerning when they have such biases against the constituency that they have to police,” said Haroon Manjlai, a spokesman for the greater L.A. chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
In a meeting with McDonnell and Angel on Monday, Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, sought assurances that sheriff’s officials are not unfairly targeting Muslim communities. Angel should be disciplined and the Sheriff’s Department should hold a meeting with community groups as well as hold cultural awareness seminars for its staff, Al-Marayati said.
The Angel emails echo recent controversies in other cities. In San Francisco and Ferguson, Mo., police officials who sent racially derogatory emails or text messages have been put on leave or fired.
Angel’s Burbank emails were first released in 2014 in response to records requests filed by a Los Angeles attorney on behalf of a client. The Times recently learned of the requests, which sought various records, including four years’ worth of emails to and from top-ranking Burbank police officials containing derogatory language about Islam, African Americans, Latinos and others. The attorney, Travis Poteat, did not return calls for comment.
The Times asked for the same records he obtained. In its response to the newspaper, the city did not initially include the emails forwarded by Angel until a reporter asked why they were missing. City officials said the emails were in a batch of records that were inadvertently overlooked.