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LAPD lieutenant who re-tweeted anti-drunk-driving message charged in felony DUI

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 01: Los Angeles Police Headquarters located at First and Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles July 1, 2020 as Los Angeles City Council voted to cut hiring at the LAPD, pushing the number of sworn officers well below 10,000 and abandoning a budget priority once seen as untouchable by city leaders. LAPD Headquarters on Wednesday, July 1, 2020 in Los Angeles, CA. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
A Los Angeles Police Department spokesperson confirmed that the lieutenant had been arrested. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

An off-duty Los Angeles Police Department lieutenant who has posted anti-drunk-driving messages online was charged with felony DUI on Wednesday in connection with a crash on the 605 Freeway in Santa Fe Springs that injured at least one person over the weekend.

Matthew Ensley was arrested at the scene late Sunday by the California Highway Patrol on suspicion of felony driving under the influence. His blood alcohol level was .20, more than twice the legal limit, according to a report by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office.

It wasn't immediately clear whether Ensley had been relieved of duty following his arrest.

An LAPD spokesperson confirmed Ensley had been arrested and that his most recent assignment was to the transit division, but declined to comment further.

Ensley remained in custody until Wednesday, when he made his initial court appearance at Bellflower Courthouse. Ensley, who wore a black puffer jacket, said little during the brief hearing — other than to acknowledge that he understood District Court Judge Warren Kato when the judge discussed his next court date.

Ensley's attorney, Bill Seki, asked Kato to lower his $100,000 bail, pointing to the officer's roughly 20 years of public service and "community ties."

"Mr. Ensley has never been involved in anything like this before," Seki said.

But Kato declined to set the bail amount any lower. Jail records show Ensley was released on bond Wednesday afternoon.

"The court is obviously always concerned with public safety. Obviously I understand that he is a respected member of the community," said Kato. But, he said, he couldn't make exceptions just because of Ensley's status as an officer.

Seki declined further comment after the hearing, saying he hadn't had a chance yet to fully review the police report.

A CHP report said that Ensley was driving drunk north on the 605 in Santa Fe Springs, just south of Spring Avenue, when he rear-ended another vehicle. The report listed two injuries — with one person complaining of head pain and another suffering a broken arm — but didn't specify whether the injured were all occupants of the vehicle that Ensley struck, according to CHP Officer Bob Whittenberg.

The incident occurred around 10:25 p.m.

After joining the department in 2004, Ensley was seen as a fast riser, earning a reputation as a hard-working cop who worked anti-gang assignments in Hollenbeck Division. In 2009, Ensley and another officer opened fire on an armed man while on patrol in the Ramona Gardens housing development, injuring the suspect.

More recently, he was mentioned in a lawsuit by an LAPD detective who alleged he and others were sexually assaulted by fellow members of the LAPD’s amateur football team, the Centurions, as part of a long-standing hazing ritual. Ensley was named as being present during a locker room hazing incident, but not accused of participating. Ensley and his attorney have not responded to the allegations.

Alcohol abuse is a persistent issue in the LAPD, with many officers investigated each year for drunk driving or other alcohol-related incidents.

Over the years, city officers have been accused of a variety of offenses while drunk, ranging from shooting people and getting into crashes to yelling racial slurs at bouncers.

The problem, and the department's supposedly lenient handling of such cases, has received scrutiny in the past by the Police Commission. The civilian oversight body voted to tighten the department's alcohol policy, lowering the acceptable blood-alcohol level for an off-duty, armed officer to 0.04% in some situations.

The commission revisited the issue of off-duty drinking in response to a 2021 Times report suggesting that the department has failed to develop clear policies despite multiple cases in recent years in which officers who were off the clock and armed allegedly caused trouble, broke laws and shot people after drinking.

An account on the social media site X associated with Ensley appeared to have been taken down after his arrest. In December, according to a screenshot of his account, he re-posted a message from another user about the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving joining with police and local leaders to "drive down fatalities from DUI drivers" during the holiday season.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.