O.J. SIMPSON'S defense insists Mark Fuhrman is a racist who planted incriminating evidence. Beyond tapes on which Fuhrman allegedly uses racial slurs, other stories raise questions about how he operated in his years as a policeman.
LOS ANGELES - The defense insists former police detective Mark Fuhrman is the pivotal witness in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Believe him, and a bloody glove and a blood-stained Bronco link the defendant to the crimes. Doubt him, and the case crumbles.
The prosecution disputes that view, arguing that there is much other evidence to prove Simpson's guilt. But lost in the fray is just what kind of man Fuhrman really is.
Even when his controversial tape-recordings with a screenwriter are left out of the equation, there are stories that raise fundamental questions about how Fuhrman, now 43 and retired, operated in the 20 years he was a Los Angeles police officer. There are contentions he was unstable, racist and boastful, sometimes to the point of lying.
His career halted temporarily when at 29, he claimed he was too stressed to work. He spent almost two years taking art classes and loafing, immersed in depression.
When he returned to work after the city denied him a disability pension, he was contemptuous of black female officers, and there were tensions with black male officers as well.
In 1987 he swore he saw a knife at a black suspect's feet when another officer said it could not have been there. Earlier this year, the city settled for $100,000 a lawsuit over that shooting incident, in which the suspect contended Fuhrman and another officer fired at him when he was unarmed and had surrendered.
Two black detectives who worked with Fuhrman in West Los Angeles between 1984 and 1991 said they had no direct evidence he was a racist, nor did they know of any instance in which he ever planted evidence. But they also said that working with him, and a clique of officers he was friendly with, was fraught with racial tension.
Joseph Rouzan, now a security consultant, and one of only two African Americans among 40 detectives in the West Los Angeles Division in the mid-1980s, said Fuhrman was one of a group of white officers who caused problems for young black female officers. Two of those young officers talked to Rouzan.
Judge Lance Ito will decide this week how much of the tapes Fuhrman made over the last 10 years with a North Carolina screenwriter the jury will hear.
Fuhrman's lawyers have not responded to repeated requests for an interview with their client. Anthony Pellicano, a private investigator hired by Fuhrman's lawyers, said Fuhrman cannot grant interviews.
Born in Eatonville
The son of a truck driver and carpenter, Fuhrman was born Feb. 5, 1952, in Eatonville, Wash., a small town near Mount Rainier. He told psychiatrists during his pension fight that his father was an "insensitive and irresponsible" man who "doesn't mind hurting people that are close to him." He called his mother overprotective. His parents divorced when he was 7.
Fuhrman had an aptitude for drawing and for a time wanted to go to art school. But he chose the Marines, joining in 1970, and shipping out to Vietnam as the war was winding down. His view of his five years in the Marines is paradoxical. He told a psychiatrist he liked the military because things were "black and white." But during his last six months there, in 1975, he said he got tired of being defied by Mexicans and blacks who he thought deserved prison.
Fuhrman was recruited by the Los Angeles Police Department. After graduating second in his police-academy class, he spent 15 months on patrol in Watts, a high-crime, predominantly black neighborhood. He was then transferred to East Los Angeles, where he worked for four years on "Mexican gangs." That, he told psychiatrist John Hochman, who evaluated him for the pension, was his "low point . . . Those people disgust me, and the public puts up with it."
Hochman recounted how Fuhrman described outwitting internal-affairs investigators probing the beatings of four suspects. "He says, `You don't see, you don't remember and it didn't happen. Those are the three things you say and you stick to it.' " This incident appears to be the one at the Hollenbeck station in 1978 mentioned in the tapes. In the tapes, defense lawyers say, Fuhrman discussed how police beat suspects in the shootings of two officers "until their faces turn(ed) to mush" and how "internal affairs was so inept, and it is like a joke with them how they covered it up."
Why was he put back on street?
Why, after Fuhrman applied for the stress disability, did the Los Angeles Police Department put him back on the street, knowing the statements he had made to Hochman and other psychiatrists?
Chief Willie Williams said last week that management was not aware of the statements. But the records were public - part of a lawsuit when Fuhrman sued the city. Not only did Fuhrman return to the force, he was promoted.
Pellicano said Fuhrman's statements in the pension matter were, like his remarks to screenwriter Laura Hart McKinny, not indicative of the real Mark Fuhrman. "At that time, he wanted to get out of gangs," Pellicano said. "Your life is in danger every moment. It was just posturing."
But Fuhrman had moved out of gang work at least a year before his pension fight. When Fuhrman transferred to downtown foot patrol in 1980, Hochman wrote: "He describes his work as `more slimes.' He says that he would be `reckless' and he did not even care if he died. . . ."
Fuhrman's then-wife, his second, left him in March 1980. Fuhrman took a desk job a year later. He went to see a psychiatrist, and on Aug. 6, 1981, the doctor removed him from duty. For the following two years, Fuhrman worked out for two hours a day, went to his psychiatrist and took art classes at a city college. Hochman ultimately concluded there was some suggestion Fuhrman was "trying to feign the presence of severe psychopathology." Psychiatrist Ronald Koegler also said Fuhrman was "deliberately exaggerating his preoccupation with violence." But he also said the police officer was "narcissistic, self-indulgent and somewhat emotionally unstable."
Three other doctors declared Fuhrman unfit for further police work.
Patrick McKenna, a private detective working for Simpson's defense, said he has interviewed hundreds of people who have known Fuhrman. The common thread, McKenna says, is that Fuhrman is a very angry man who not only uses racial epithets but also "dominates the conversation, even if he doesn't know what your value system is."