Los Angeles' embattled fire chief is stepping down. Chief William Bamattre's resignation comes amid allegations of racial discrimination, hazing and harrassment in the department.
Bamattre had planned to retire in 2008, but during an emotional press conference Friday afternoon, he said it was clear to him that he was becoming a liability to the city's fire department, an agency he was extremely proud of.
"I have become the focus of the debate," Bamattre said, "and that is to to the detriment of the LAFD and I will not allow that to continue."
The debate the chief referred to has been a very public one, as the city has been consumed by the racially charged case of Tennie Pierce. Pierce, who is black, said he was the victim of racial discrimination when white colleagues laced his spaghetti with dog food.
Firefighters said the incident was just a prank, part of firehouse culture.
But shortly after Pierce settled a lawsuit against the city for $2.7 million, photos of him surfaced on a conservative talk show's Web site. Pierce was pictured participating in hazing fellow firefighters.
That prompted Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to veto the settlement. Supporters of Pierce unsuccessfully tried to rally the city council to overturn the veto.
Mayor Villaraigosa says it's time for new leadership to come in and change the department's culture.
"We want a change agent, someone that will not tolerate discrimination," Villaraigosa said. "The idea that a woman, a black man, a Latino anyone, a white man, who ever it is, should be discriminated against, subjected to a harassing environment, is unacceptable."
The city's fire department has long battled allegations of discrimination. Los Angeles fire houses were segregated until the mid 1950s. It wasn't until the '70s that a federal consent decree led to increases in minority hiring.
And recently, the city auditor found that women and minorities were still being passed over for promotions — and that a large percentage report suffering harassment on the job.