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FUHRMAN ORDEAL SINKS EMBATTLED LAPD TO NEW LOW

Detective Mark Fuhrman's boasting about police brutality is just about the last thing the Los Angeles Police Department needs.

Understaffed, overworked and burdened with antiquated equipment, the 8,200-member force still hasn't recovered from the 1991 videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King, or three days of race rioting that followed the 1992 state court acquittals of four white police officers accused of beating King.Now, according to trial attorneys and transcripts of taped interviews reviewed by The Associated Press, Fuhrman, a key witness at the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, boasts of beating suspected gang members in 1978 until their "faces were just mush."

Fuhrman also spews racial epithets and sexist remarks during the 12 hours of tape-recorded interviews he had with a screenwriting professor from 1985 to 1994.

Fuhrman gave conflicting accounts of the beating in transcripts reviewed by the AP, and his stories have been debunked by a police sergeant who was at the scene in 1978. Nonetheless, the tapes are an embarrassment to the LAPD.

They threw Simpson's trial into chaos last week, and created a public relations nightmare for city officials and Police Chief Willie Williams.

"It is outrageous to paint the entire men and women of this department . . . with this broad brush of accusation, particularly based on a report that neither the commissioner nor myself has had the opportunity to read," Williams told reporters Friday.

He joined Police Commission President Deirdre Hill in demanding to hear the Fuhrman tapes. The judge limited their release to attorneys in the case, but partial transcripts have leaked out.

"Our officers say, `Let's do whatever's necessary to ensure the reputation that we are not a brutal, we're not a racist, an abusive organization," Williams said.

But just last month, the predominantly Hispanic neighborhood of Lincoln Heights erupted after police killed a 14-year-old boy who, officers said, pointed a gun.

Residents heaved rocks and bottles, claiming Jose Antonio Gutierrez carried only a flashlight. The shooting is under investigation.

And on Friday, the department was hit with another discrimination suit, on behalf of seven black officers, accusing the department of condoning racism by failing to stop retaliation "against its black officers who have complained about widespread, systematic racism with the department."

Also last week, a black police officers' organization even filed suit against the police union, calling it a "bastion of white supremacy" and claiming it routinely denies representation to black officers.

In May, a black sergeant filed a lawsuit claiming that, in over 21 years, he was repeatedly subjected to racial slurs and discrimination.

It's not as though the department is ignorant of its problems. It was given a mandate for reform by the Christopher Commission, an investigatory panel appointed after King's beating.

The commission uncovered evidence of widespread racism and sexism, including transcripts of radio messages in which officers called blacks "Zulus" and talked of raping women with police batons.

Four years later, many of the commission's recommendations for retraining officers and disciplining problem ones still exist only on paper.

"There is some frustration about implementation," department spokesman Tim McBride said last week. "But it's a very comprehensive training system and we'd rather do it right than do it in a substandard way."

The police union and many black community leaders refused to comment on the tapes.

"There is rumor, there is innuendo, but we haven't heard the tapes," said Police Protective League President Dennis Zine. "We're not making any comments until we hear the tapes. To do so would be very irresponsible."

Rank-and-file officers seemed to take news of the Fuhrman tapes in stride, though some were reluctant to talk about it.

"I don't even think about it," said a Hispanic officer at the 77th Street Division who refused to give his name.