Known around the Los Angeles Police Department as “Capt. Hollywood,” Cory Palka played the part.
Tall and telegenic, the former police commander scored bit parts in Amazon Prime Video’s detective drama “Bosch.” He was a regular at Hollywood Boulevard star dedication ceremonies, where he mingled with such celebrities as Jack Black, Seth MacFarlane and Lynda Carter. He was once honored as a “Hero of Hollywood” by the Chamber of Commerce and picked up a lucrative off-duty assignment as a bodyguard for CBS’ former chief, Leslie Moonves.
His actions now are under scrutiny after New York Atty. Gen. Letitia James recently revealed that five years ago, Palka tipped off CBS executives to the existence of a confidential complaint alleging Moonves sexually assaulted a co-worker in the 1980s. Palka, then captain of the LAPD’s Hollywood station, worked closely with CBS to contain the allegations they knew could destroy Moonves’ career.
Moonves resigned from CBS under pressure in 2018 amid the widening sex scandal. That week, Palka sent the disgraced mogul a note: “I will always stand with, by and pledge my allegiance to you,” according to the attorney general’s report.
“This feels like a throwback to the 1930s when LAPD covered up Hollywood’s dirty deeds,” said Walter Katz, vice president of criminal justice at Arnold Ventures, a top policing oversight expert.
LAPD Chief Michel Moore this month opened an internal investigation to determine whether anyone still working for the department helped Palka conceal the 2017 police report about Moonves and if any other criminal investigations were tainted.
Last week, the Los Angeles Police Commission asked its independent watchdog to oversee the investigation. LAPD Inspector General Mark Smith told the civilian police commission that he would examine the “department’s practices” for handling sexual misconduct cases and take a close look at its guidelines for off-duty bodyguard work by officers.
Dist. Atty. George Gascon said he will weigh whether the results of the LAPD investigation merit prosecution. His office is checking to see if Palka was key to other cases.
The fallout continues to reverberate as former CBS sitcom star Leah Remini called on the department to dig into Palka’s dealings with the Church of Scientology, which maintains a base, and its Celebrity Centre, in the heart of Hollywood.
Remini said she is troubled that Palka tried to shield Moonves and wonders if other reports were concealed to protect powerful friends.
“The police are there to protect and to serve the public,” she told The Times. “And you cannot be doing the work for the public when you are in the pocket of any organization.”
Karin Pouw, a spokesperson for the Church of Scientology, said in a statement Remini had no credibility and has been “making a living attacking Scientology.”
Palka, who did not respond to requests for comment, retired from the department in early 2021 after a 34-year career.
Until this month, his tenure was punctuated by a scene that went viral on social media in 2020. As the LAPD struggled to control unruly protests and vandalism sparked by George Floyd’s murder by a police officer in Minneapolis, Palka sought to calm a crowd gathered on the Sunset Strip by “taking a knee” in solidarity with protesters.
No police or protesters were injured in that area that night.
A few days later, Palka recounted the fiery protests during an LAPD podcast. He described it as the “most intense, chaotic, crisis moment of my career” but said he was proud to serve his beloved community.
“I am the first to admit that I’m a flawed and broken man,” Palka said during the department’s podcast. “I struggle like everybody else, but I show up to work every day to give it the best I can with a warm heart, common sense and a guide to show respect for all.”
But his role in the Moonves matter has some observers likening the cover-up to a scene from “L.A. Confidential,” the James Ellroy novel about corrupt cops that inspired the 1997 Kevin Spacey movie.
The incident shines a harsh light on the sometimes cozy relationships that develop between officers and high-profile community members, some of whom hire off-duty officers for bodyguards.
Palka was part of Moonves’ security detail for the music industry’s Grammy Awards from 2008 to 2014, according to the attorney general’s report.
“Cops engage in secondary employment all across the country, but in Los Angeles it is a particular flavor which you don’t get anywhere else,” Katz said. “We have LAPD cops who hang out with entertainment industry moguls.”
The LAPD was unaware of James’ office’s investigation until last week, according to people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to comment.
James’ report came five years after Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb, then 81, walked into the Hollywood station to report that Moonves had sexually assaulted her in the mid-1980s. She was inspired by the #MeToo movement, which reached a peak in the autumn of 2017 after the New York Times and New Yorker magazine published accounts of abuse by former film producer Harvey Weinstein.
Tawdry allegations surfaced about CBS’ morning news anchor, Charlie Rose, and Moonves and CBS News executives shoved the legendary newsman out the door. At NBC, former “Today” show anchor Matt Lauer was toppled by allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.
Golden-Gottlieb, who died this year, in 2018 told The Times about her encounters with Moonves and her decision to report the incidents to police. She lived in the Park La Brea community, so the Hollywood station was nearby. A watch commander at the station told Palka about Golden-Gottlieb’s complaint that day, said a person familiar with the situation.
That night, Palka left a voicemail for his contact at CBS, Ian Metrose, who was the network’s senior vice president for talent relations. The following day, directed by his boss, Metrose asked Palka for a copy of the confidential complaint. Palka obliged, sending an unredacted version that contained Golden-Gottlieb’s name, address and other identifying information, the AG’s report said.
Moonves pressed for a huddle with the police captain.
“Would [he] meet me for a cup of coffee?” Moonves asked Metrose, according to the report, which outlined a $30.5-million settlement agreement reached by CBS’ parent company, Paramount Global, Moonves and James, the New York attorney general.
“It is uncomfortable, I understand. I just want clarity,” Moonves added. “I will meet him today near where he lives …”
The trio — Palka, Moonves and Metrose — met at a restaurant and vineyard in Westlake Village.
The Los Angeles police sexual crimes detective handling the investigation knew nothing of his actions, sources said. But Palka promised to keep Moonves apprised of the victim’s interactions with the LAPD and the district attorney’s office.
Palka then worked to keep Golden-Gottlieb quiet, according to the AG’s report, even telling Moonves’ attorney, Blair Berk, and Metrose that the officer investigating the incident would “admonish the accuser tomorrow about refraining from going to the media and maintaining ‘her’ confidentiality … and honoring the integrity of the investigation.”
Because of Moonves’ VIP status, the case was handled by the LAPD’s elite Robbery Homicide Division sex crimes section. Palka told the CBS team that he reached out to his contact in the division and made sure (Moonves’ lawyer) was “the first and only point of contact regarding the investigation,” the AG’s report said.
Within days, Palka texted Metrose that the case was “a definite REJECT” and would not lead to prosecution.
“This is a complete and utter ethical lapse,” said Ed Obayashi, a Northern California deputy and police lawyer who teaches police ethics classes for the state. “This is as bad as it gets from a law enforcement ethical duty. … It is hard for corruption to get worse than this.”
Obayashi added: “You’ve got a potential obstruction of justice, you’ve got witness intimidation and tampering possibly occurring. It seems he was undermining the fundamental investigation of the police department.”
Police Commission President William Briggs this last week called the incident “a stunning example of what some refer to as old-school cronyism.”
“It goes to the heart of corruption,” Briggs said. “This absolutely puts our city, this department, in a bad light nationally, that in this day and age that type of corrupt abuse of power is still going on and it revictimizes” the victim.
Through a spokesperson, Moonves declined an interview request. Moonves has previously denied mistreating women, saying his relationships were consensual.
Palka was one of nine children, raised in Mar Vista Gardens, an L.A. housing project. His father had moved the family from New York to Los Angeles in part to pursue an acting career, but he ended up supporting the family by working as a janitor at a Catholic School when Palka was young.
His mother was a homemaker, Palka said in the podcast, adding that he was an altar boy who attended Venice High School.
His father eventually landed a career in Hollywood — as a grip — and worked on shows such as “Star Trek Generations,” a Paramount production.
“My parents raised us with the values of respect with a core value system of treating your neighbor as yourself and of working hard to make a difference in this world and to to give back,” Palka said in the podcast. “I’m so proud that I have given my heart, my soul for 34 years to this incredible city.”
Palka joined the LAPD in 1986 and worked his way up the ranks, serving as patrol officer and a vice officer in Hollywood.
The self-described fan of the Dodgers and musicians Neil Diamond and Bruce Springsteen became the deputy captain at the Hollywood station in 2013. He was transferred to South L.A. the following year but returned to Hollywood in 2016 to run the station.
As Hollywood captain, he often appeared on the red carpets as new plaques were unveiled along Hollywood Boulevard. He remains an honorary member of Hollywood Chamber of Commerce board, according to its website.
After letting the Amazon LAPD detective series “Bosch” film in parts of the Hollywood station, Palka even appeared in an episode as himself.
Book author Michael Connelly, who created the fictional Bosch character, said in a tweet this month: “Commander Palka is Cory the real commander of Hollywood Division. Retired now, he opened a lot of doors to our production. Good guy #BoschAmazon.”
Colleagues say he quickly tried to ingratiate himself with the biggest players in the area, including the Church of Scientology, which had long been a financial supporter of the division’s Police Activities League.
“The church does indeed work with law enforcement all over this country and in foreign countries around the world,” Pouw said. “Around our churches, we assist police in investigating crime. Some of the lowest crime areas in the country are those in the circumference of the Churches of Scientology.”
Remini was raised a Scientologist but has had a long-running battle with the church since her departure in 2013. In an interview with The Times, she recalled an encounter with Palka about eight years ago. Remini said she had gone to the brick station on Wilcox Avenue about a missing persons report she filed in an effort to locate Shelly Miscavige, the wife of Scientology leader David Miscavige, whom she hadn’t seen in years.
“On his desk, I see a letter from Celebrity Centre,” Remini said, adding that Palka acknowledged the letter contained a gift certificate for the church’s Renaissance restaurant. Remini said she demanded to know why he associated with the church.
The answer she received, Remini said, was that the church was supportive of the department’s youth programs.
“I said, ‘I’ll double the money right now for you not to work with them,’” Remini said. “There are a lot of people who would donate to the Police Activities League for children. But he just laughed.”
Late Friday, the LAPD said in a statement that detectives in 2014 “went to Shelly Miscavige’s location and personally made contact with her and her attorney. Detectives found her to be alive and safe, and subsequently closed the missing persons investigation.”
Pouw labeled Remini’s missing persons report “a despicable publicity stunt.”
She accused the actress of trying to advance a “false narrative” about the church during her trial testimony on behalf of Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis. Last week, a jury found Haggis liable for a 2013 rape of an industry publicist and ordered him to pay the woman $7.5 million. “Remini has now been exposed as having no credibility,” Pouw added.
Remini and others have expressed deep misgivings about the handling of allegations of rape by Scientologist Danny Masterson, an actor from “That ‘70s Show” who currently is on trial in Los Angeles. He has been charged with raping three church members in the early 2000s, and the women allege the church had initially discouraged them from bringing their allegations to police.
The Church of Scientology declined to comment on the pending criminal matter but has previously said the religion has no policy against reporting crimes committed by Scientologists to law enforcement. Masterson has said his encounters with the women were consensual.
In 2017, when news outlets reported that the LAPD was investigating Masterson, Palka sent an email, which was viewed by The Times, to then-Hollywood Lt. Richard Gabaldon, asking if the case was “ours?”
Sources familiar with the Masterson investigation said the Robbery Homicide Division went to lengths to keep the information under wraps — and away from officers at the Hollywood station — because of concern their investigation might be compromised.
Remini produced an A&E docuseries, “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath,” that prompted threats of violence on the church.
A church executive reached out to Palka, who promised to provide the church with “an officer, who is available to you directly that can document these incidents,” according to an email unearthed in a public records request filed by a group of L.A. government activists.
A Scientology Media Productions executive thanked Palka: “We are 1000% on your team always :)”
There was another Scientology controversy around that time. In 2018, the church was allowed to install a large electronic kiosk with a video screen, interactive touch panel and free publications promoting Scientology in the lobby of the Hollywood station when Palka was in charge.
The display was removed after the American Atheists group complained to the Police Commission, saying the department’s promotion of religious materials violated 1st Amendment protections that prevent state-sponsored religion. American Atheists requested LAPD records about the Scientology display but was told there were no records, according to the organization’s blog post about the incident.
Times staff writer Libor Jany contributed to this report.