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Detective suspended for epithet

A police detective honored for heroism last year has been suspended for using a racial epithet in remarks inadvertently recorded on tape.

Detective Frank Sauer, a 15-year veteran, was off-duty with his wife about 1:30 a.m. June 29 when he saw two teenagers he thought were stealing a bike near 52nd Street and First Avenue S.

He called police with his cellular phone, then chased the pair while continuing to talk on the phone.

Toward the end of the unsuccessful chase, not realizing he was still on the line with the communications center, he cursed and was quoted as using a racial epithet, "n-----," to describe the two teenagers.

The call, like others to the dispatch center, was recorded.

Sauer, 39, was suspended Wednesday without pay for 30 days after a disciplinary board heard the case.

"The racially disparaging remark uttered by Detective Sauer is language that I consider blatantly offensive and certainly will not be tolerated," said Chief Darrel Stephens, who issued a departmentwide memo on the incident.

"Unfortunately, when a member of the department makes such a statement, it casts a shadow over all of our employees," he said.

Sauer has worked as a bike patrol officer and has been active in efforts to crack down on prostitution. In 1992, he was assigned as a community policing officer to the neighborhood from 34th Street S to 49th Street, between 18th and 22nd avenues.

Last year, he received a Meritorious Service Award after he and another officer saved a pair of boaters stranded in a storm.

The night of the chase, he was angry and agitated, an internal affairs report shows.

Sauer had been at Ferg's Sports Bar & Grill and was on his way home with his wife when he started chasing the two teenagers, at least one of whom was black. The teenagers were on bikes and together were towing a third bike.

"We figured they just ripped it off of somebody because it's 1:30 in the morning . . . I mean, let's be realistic," Sauer said later.

Sauer was still on the line with Stacey Wright, a complaint writer in the communications center, when he used the racial epithet. It caught her by surprise.

"Are you still there?" she said.

"Oops," he said, "I forgot you were on the phone."

"You better be careful what you say," said Wright, who is white.

"Sorry about that," Sauer said, "I was talking to my wife."

He later called Wright back to apologize, though it appeared he was apologizing more for yelling and being loud during their conversation than for the specific comment.

His remarks came to light partly because of Sauer himself. That same night, he complained an officer sent to investigate the possible bike theft didn't seem to take it seriously. Sauer demanded to talk to a supervisor.

During a review of that complaint, his own racial epithet came to light, police spokesman Bill Doniel said.

However, police said Wednesday they were confident he would have been disciplined anyway because his comments were noticed by employees in the communications center and they already were discussing it as inappropriate.

Sauer also was faulted by the disciplinary board for arming himself during the chase with his wife's .25-caliber handgun, which had been in the car's glove box, police said. That too was against department policy, partly because he had been drinking, the board found.

Sauer told internal affairs he had three or four gin-and-tonics, but did not feel impaired. The board concluded he was not drunk and his actions were not as a result of drinking.

_ Times staff writer Tim Roche contributed to this report.