A Los Angeles firefighter who hit a reluctant inmate in the head – and pulled a towel tightly around his face, telling him to shout, "I can't breathe!" – Accepted an internal 12-day ban on its actions, according to internal fire department records audited by The Times. The development comes as a new video reveals some details of the incident.
Derek Farrow, who was working as a paramedic at the time of the incident in March 2019, told officials that he would accept the punishment from a union official on Aug. 26 – the day after The Times published a story about Farrow for which he wrote continues to work for almost a year and a half without punishment.
Farrow had previously refused the suspension, telling the department that he intended to tackle the punishment before a disciplinary committee. He said the inmate bit a police officer and spat on medical personnel.
Such a trial would have opened the case to broader public scrutiny at a time when tensions are high in Los Angeles and elsewhere over the use of force by the police. Farrow is white and the man he's accused of hitting is black.
The handling of the incident has raised questions within the fire department and the entire city government about how firefighters are disciplined when they breach guidelines, and what guidelines and rules keep such incidents away from the public.
The Farrow case came to light because The Times received a tip and was then able to access internal documents, including a report that said the firefighter's actions may have violated state law.
The records provided a rough sketch of what had happened, but left out many details. In the past few days, and especially after The Times published an article on the case, fire officials have been more open and started posting more public records.
Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center's surveillance camera video on March 20, 2019, released this week for The Times, captures part of the action. It shows Farrow standing over Earl Hatton's stretcher and wrapping a towel around Hatton's head and face in two different places – once to forcibly pull Hatton's head onto the stretcher.
An unidentified Los Angeles Police Department officer throws in the towel on Hatton's face.
The video doesn't show Farrow hitting Hatton, but other videos captured by LAPD body cameras show the firefighter beating Hatton, according to fire department records obtained from The Times. The newspaper requested copies of the police's camera footage two weeks ago. The LAPD has not yet published it.
Farrow referred questions about the case to his union spokesman Domingo Albarran Jr., who said Farrow claims he didn't do anything wrong but "doesn't feel like he's going to get a fair" disciplinary hearing after the case is made public and given the " social climate at the moment around all things ".
Like other cities in the US, Los Angeles was rocked this summer by major protests against police brutality towards blacks. Protesters called for stricter penalties for officials who harm prisoners or others on the street.
Farrow told fire department investigators last year that he hit Hatton "in a split second" to stop the man from biting a police officer. This is evident from fire department documents released to The Times this week. Farrow said he put the towel on the inmate's face to protect himself and others from Hatton, who he said spit aggressively.
He also said Hatton screamed and screamed racist slurs that he had multiple communicable diseases and wanted to make sure he infect the firefighters and police around him.
The hospital videos, published Thursday in the Times, have no sound and do not show Hatton biting an officer.
Descriptions of separate LAPD body camera footage in fire department records state that these videos capture an officer who says he was bitten and show him "rolling up his uniform sleeve to look at his left arm." The records state that Farrow also "rolled the towel around Hatton's head" and Farrow hit Hatton twice with his right hand.
The incident occurred after Farrow transferred Hatton from LAPD's 77th Street Station to the County USC Prison Department. Hatton sustained a small cut on his forehead from deliberately banging his head in a police car, the LAFD records say.
Hatton, 24, was arrested that morning on suspicion of attacking a woman with a brick and resisting the arrest. He was later convicted and sentenced to four years in prison – where he stays. He could not be reached for comment and the public defense office that represented him refused to comment.
Firefighters did not comment in detail on the Farrow case, saying it was a personnel matter. However, they released documents and the county USC video this week in response to requests from the Times for public records.
Farrow's 12 day suspension covers six shifts due to the nature of the fire department schedules.
Fire department records show that an investigation by the department's professional standards department revealed a preponderance of evidence that Farrow used unauthorized force against Hatton, who was handcuffed to leg rests and strapped to a stretcher. According to fire department records, the incident was reported to officials the same day it occurred.
Farrow told investigators that Hatton had bitten through two spit hoods. He admitted wrapping a towel around Hatton's face in violation of the department's guidelines and said he once used an open hand to stop Hatton from biting the police officer, according to an investigation report.
After showing footage of the incident in which he was held with his fist closed, Farrow admitted beating Hatton, the report said.
Farrow also told investigators that he would wrap a towel around a patient's face again if a similar situation prevails, the report said.
"Farrow said if a towel were his only option, he would again use a towel to prevent a patient from spitting on LAFD staff and potentially spreading disease," the report said.
Investigators rejected Farrow's explanations of why he hit Hatton, calling the use of force "excessive and unauthorized". They also denied his reasons for using the towel, calling it "inappropriate" and "a problem relating to proper patient care".
Albarran said Farrow responded to the Hatton strike "in the true tradition of the Los Angeles Fire Department" because he "felt he was protecting someone."
While using a towel on a patient's face is not a sanctioned practice, firefighters use it that way "as a last resort," Albarran said.
Another firefighter at the scene, Abraham Cuervo-Mitchell, said in a statement to The Times that Farrow "did what he knew, given the extreme circumstances of the situation."
Farrow's use of the towel prompted the department to instruct firefighters in the Farrow Fire Department on how to properly deal with excited patients, Farrow told investigators. Police investigators were reviewing the case – although the LAPD would not disclose its results – and it was also reported to county officials overseeing the city's paramedics.
Dr. Marc Eckstein, commander of the fire brigade's rescue service, wrote a letter to the district's health director, Dr. Marianne Gausche-Hill, expressed his own concerns about Farrow's actions, and wrote that the firefighter's actions may have violated the state's law against patient abuse.
District officials said logs require fire departments to alert the district emergency response center to allegations of wrongdoing against rescue workers so they can assess the appropriateness of sentences. The agency has the power to suspend a firefighter's EMT certification.
In a statement to The Times on Friday, Gausche-Hill said she had reviewed the circumstances of the Farrow case, including the fact that he had no record of wrongdoing prior to the March 2019 incident, and found that "no additional action was taken in Regarding its certification are displayed according to state guidelines. EMS will close this matter from further investigation. "
Some say the handling of the case highlights major structural issues in the way firefighters are disciplined.
Fire Commissioner Jimmie Woods-Gray said the Farrow case underscores the need for reforms in the department, such as requiring firefighters to wear body cameras and creating an independent agency to investigate allegations of wrongdoing.
She also accused the department of only informing the commission of the allegations against Farrow after The Times reported on them.
"None of the commissioners were aware of this problem," she said. "It was very worrying for us Commissioners that we had never heard of it."