Matthew Hunt, longtime LAPD leader, dies at 91

Matthew Hunt, a longtime Los Angeles Police Department chief known for his disarming Irish accent and willingness to deal with problems within the department, including publicly calling out his boss in the days following the unrest that followed the acquittal of the officers involved in the beating. of Rodney King, died Saturday. He was 91 years old.

He died at his daughter’s residence in Rancho Palos Verdes of complications from cancer, according to his son, Tom Hunt.

“He was ahead of his time,” said former city councilman and police chief Bernard C. Parks, praising Hunt for his dedication to creating a more diverse and transparent service. “He was really fussy and spoke up and didn’t shy away from talking about fairness. Hold people accountable, but fairly.

During his 31 years with the department – ​​a trajectory that began with graduating as valedictorian at the academy and led to him eventually being considered a finalist for the top job in the department. department – ​​Hunt rose to the rank of Deputy Chief. He spent many years with the department working in South Los Angeles, where he touted the importance of building relationships with residents.

“He was into the idea of ​​community policing before it was fashionable,” said David O’Connell, who met Hunt in the late 1980s when he was a pastor at St. Frances X. Cabrini, a parish in south LA.

O’Connell, now Regional Auxiliary Bishop of the San Gabriel Valley, added, “It wasn’t LAPD culture at the time, I would say, but he knew it was the only way to go. .”

Born Matthew Vincent Hunt in 1931, he grew up one of 10 siblings raised in a two-bedroom flat in County Cork, Ireland, where his father worked as a policeman. To help make ends meet, Hunt spent his summers picking root vegetables, and at age 14 he left home to apprentice in a department store.

She missed her family and often cried her way to sleep at night, but eventually found refuge in the books. For the rest of his life, he had an amazing ability to recite passages of literature from memory, occasionally spouting out Shakespeare’s stanzas on command.

During his apprenticeship, he met Kathleen O’Donnell, whom he would marry a few years later. After aging out of the work-study program, he spent some time in London and then New York, where Kathleen worked as a nanny. He got a job as a salesman in a bread company.

Hoping to speed up the citizenship process, he joined the military and was stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, where he had his first up-close experience with American racism. One night when he and a few buddies were out for a drink, the bartender refused to serve the black soldier in their group, Hunt later told his son. Appalled, the friends grabbed a six-pack and left, drinking the beers on the roof of their barracks instead. He never forgot the sound of his friend, the black military man, crying as they returned to base.

He was then stationed at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro long enough to fall in love with Southern California. In the early 1960s, shortly after getting married and becoming a citizen, he joined the Los Angeles Police Department. At the academy he broke his leg while running and a sergeant started taunting him, using a derogatory term for Irish people while shouting at him and implying that he had faked the injury to get out of training exercises.

Later in her career, Hunt helped oversee the department’s diversification efforts, focusing on bringing more women into the ranks, as well as more black, Latino, and Asian officers. In the early 1980s, when Jim McDonnell, who years later became LA County Sheriff, was a police rookie, he saw Hunt as the type of leader he hoped one day to be: tough but fair. , confident but humble.

“Someone who would do the right thing even when it wasn’t popular,” McDonnell said in an interview.

The temperature wrote a profile of Hunt in 1992, characterizing him as a respected but demanding leader who had won the support of many in South Los Angeles, but had critics within the department who felt he was being too hard on his officers.

The article detailed an incident several months earlier, in which a The officer who arrived at work with a Confederate flag and noose displayed on his van initially avoided an official reprimand. But Hunt later stepped in, suspending the officer for five days.

He received a lot of criticism from the police union at the time, his son recalled, as well as a phone call from then-chief Daryl Gates wondering if the punishment had been too harsh.

On the afternoon of April 29, 1992—about a month after Hunt’s profile was published—four Los Angeles police officers on trial for beating King were acquitted. The verdict shocked Southland, and crowds gathered on several city streets, but the flashpoint was at a single intersection in South Los Angeles, which was under Hunt’s supervision.

“I was going crazy,” he said in a meeting days later. “We just weren’t ready to deal with something of this magnitude in a very, very short time.”

In this interview, he revealed that he had already pressed Gates to devote more attention to preparation before the verdicts. But Gates had pushed him away, he said, ultimately leaving the department ill-prepared. (A deputy chief at the time backed up Hunt’s account, say in an interview“It got to the point where it was kind of embarrassing because Hunt kept hammering and the leader kept rejecting.”)

Hunt, who was among several finalists vying to succeed Gates, was ultimately not selected for the top job and retired soon after in 1993. But as long as he was at work, he approached it with a certain cheerfulness – “a happy warrior”, as Tom came to think of his father.

He would often hear his father’s alarm go off around 3 a.m., knowing that he was leaving their West Covina home and heading to work, often not returning until around 6:30 p.m. Tom said he once asked his dad if he cared about the long hours.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he replied. “I love my work.”

When he was growing up, Tom says, there was never too much emphasis on fun, but rather on wisdom and hard work. He still vividly remembers the advice his father gave him as a teenager, when he landed his first job as a burger turner at Tastee-Freez: “Think like an owner and you’ll do the right thing and make the right decisions.”

Over the past few years, Tom said, his father had channeled his characteristic man-on-a-mission energy into his new role as a caregiver, helping to care for his wife, Kathleen O’Donnell Hunt, who has Alzheimer’s disease. and passed away in 2019.

He is survived by his son and daughter-in-law, Tom and Tammy Hunt; his daughter and son-in-law, Colleen and Michael Cotter; several siblings and his grandchildren, Katherine Hunt, Matthew Hunt, Claire Cotter and Tim Cotter.

For more information about the memorial service, contact the family at rpvcotter@cox.net.


Los Angeles Times

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