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Earlier this month, former LAPD commander Cory Palka made headlines for purportedly conspiring with CBS and its former CEO to prevent an explosive sexual assault allegation from going public. But long before the onetime head of the Hollywood Division began working behind the scenes to suppress claims against Les Moonves, he had revealing associations with the entertainment business and was the subject of multiple in-house LAPD investigations.
Palka’s complicated past was glimpsed in the settlement between New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office, CBS and Moonves that first disclosed his private-sector work on behalf of the once-powerful network head. Palka had previously served as a “security aide” to Moonves at the Grammy Awards (distributed by CBS) between 2008 and 2014, the Nov. 2 settlement showed. But Palka, the son of an aspiring actor and onetime industry grip, also moonlit in his early days as an actor, and by his own admission, he was no stranger to LAPD’s Internal Affairs division, having himself been the focus of at least two earlier probes during his 34-year tenure on the force, and then working for the IA division himself.
As captain of Hollywood Division — one of the highest-profile positions at the LAPD, where he was a fixture of Walk of Fame ceremonies, posing with inductees like Jack Black and Lynda Carter — and, later, a commander overseeing multiple stations, Palka seemed to radiate honor and duty. One long-tenured celebrity manager observes, “I thought he was a man of the highest ethical standards.” Michael Connelly, executive producer of Bosch, an Amazon procedural set at a fictionalized Hollywood Division, tweeted in June 2021, “He opened a lot of doors to our production. Good guy.” (Connelly didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story.) One of Palka’s own colleagues had long been less enamored: “Cory was a PR guy, no doubt about it. He wanted to shine.”
Now, the LAPD has initiated an inquiry into Palka’s involvement in the Moonves matter: “What is most appalling is the alleged breach of trust of a victim of sexual assault,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore said in a statement. “This erodes the public trust and is not reflective of our values as an organization.” Meanwhile, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office declared it “dismayed” by the revelation, noting an examination was underway of past cases involving Palka as a witness, to determine whether its prosecutions might’ve been compromised.
“His actions undermine the credibility of the entire department, especially with some of the most vulnerable victims,” says former Los Angeles Police Commissioner Matt Johnson, who’s also a founding partner at the entertainment law firm Johnson Shapiro Slewett & Kole. “It doesn’t really get much worse than what this high-ranking officer did.”
How did Palka, a champion of relationship-based policing, come to allegedly betray a purported victim of sexual assault? “I’m the first to admit I’m a flawed and broken man,” he told a departmental podcast in 2020. “I struggle like everybody else, but I show up at work every day to give it the best I can.”
Palka, who declined to speak to The Hollywood Reporter at the direction of his attorney, grew up with eight siblings in a Westside housing project, Mar Vista Gardens. As he told the departmental podcast, while a Catholic schoolboy he qualified for a federally funded lunch program. His father, who’d first moved to L.A. from the East Coast to chase an acting career, worked as a janitor and, at one point, as an industry grip on titles including Road House and They Live, per his IMDb page.
Palka made it to Sacramento State. Then, after joining the LAPD and pursuing concurrent off-duty acting gigs (he landed some TV commercials), he eventually married and raised two children in the Conejo Valley, about an hour west of Hollywood.
On the force, he worked across the city, on patrol, in gang units and with the vice squad, everywhere from Brentwood and downtown to South L.A. Just before he turned in his badge, he recalled the dichotomy and dissonance of a job in which he found himself involved in the Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre as well as clergy-led candlelight vigils in alleyways for homicides in low-income neighborhoods. “Even though we’re a few miles apart, how far apart we are,” he noted to KABC.
By 2014, Palka had ascended to captain at Hollywood Division, one of the most prominent positions in the department. His jurisdiction included the Walk of Fame, the Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood Sign and the Chateau Marmont. Then there’s the density of industry constituents, both corporate (Netflix, Technicolor, Sunset Gower) as well as individual (entertainment elites residing from the Bird Streets to the west to the Outpost Estates in the east).
During his tenure, Palka worked with the local business improvement districts to crack down on unpermitted sidewalk vendors and street performers. “He was very affable — and always made it a point to be available,” says one approving longtime member of the neighborhood’s business community, observing that predecessors who led Hollywood Division could be comparatively remote.
Palka also targeted and closed several nightclubs catering to what he referred to as “an urban crowd” with the stated purpose of countering gang activity he connected to crime. In 2018, Palka told the Los Angeles Times: “There are billions of dollars invested in Hollywood and there is a concentrated effort by the police to keep that area safer. … I’d rather have the customer willing to pay $10 for a beer over the customer who pays two bucks for a beer.”
Before he was publicly connected to Moonves, Palka became a more positive media sensation in the middle of L.A.’s summer of 2020 unrest following the police killing of George Floyd. At the urging of racial-justice activists, Palka had repeatedly taken a knee to help calm the crowds. The image of this square-jawed, gray-haired epitome of the LAPD’s history as a dominion of white male power — he bears more than a passing resemblance to Kurt Russell — made its rounds on television and social media. In an exit interview with KABC, he reflected, “I did it to create community,” adding, “I’m a peacekeeper first and foremost.”
In February 2021, around the time he retired, Palka sat for a revealing conversation with a podcast about mental health and resilience. He opened up about his own career challenges, including struggling with promotional exams and navigating multiple previous Internal Affairs investigations in which he was, as he put it, “in the so-called LAPD ‘penalty box'” after accusations were lodged against him. In one case, he described how an ex-girlfriend, an NFL cheerleader, accused him of stealing (“She used the Internal Affairs system to strike back at me”) after he had won a case against her in small claims court and in another, he was accused of mismanaging an estate to his benefit. “Often,” he explained, “we turn on each other in the organization.”
Later, Palka himself worked for Internal Affairs, which he credits for his subsequent career advancement. “I ended up becoming a major case investigator and investigated some of the biggest cases at that time and it put me in front of bosses in the organization who knew of my history, who knew of my struggles,” he said. Now, per an LAPD spokesperson, Internal Affairs will conduct the administrative side of the Palka probe with oversight from LAPD Inspector General Mark Smith, an independent investigator. Internal Affairs is set to work with the California Attorney General, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office “for the criminal investigation,” the spokesperson added.
Palka has come under fire for his relationship with the Church of Scientology, which maintains an extensive real estate portfolio within the boundaries of Hollywood Division, including its Celebrity Centre. In recent years Scientology detractors have highlighted a series of incidents that they contend reveal the commander’s inappropriate judgment — and the department’s awareness of it.
Scientology has long cultivated Hollywood Division. Along with inviting officers to barbecues and other events, the church raised close to half a million dollars for the division’s Police Activities League, which runs youth development programs for the community, through its Celebrity Centre’s “Christmas Stories” benefit, which has featured everyone from Jenna Elfman and John Travolta to Juliette Lewis and Danny Masterson, currently on trial in Los Angeles on multiple counts of rape that allegedly occurred at his Hollywood Hills home. At one event, Palka himself accepted an oversized $20,000 check on behalf of the Hollywood PAL.
Author Tony Ortega, who chronicles Scientology at his website The Underground Bunker, explains that this is established church protocol in action. “[Founder L. Ron] Hubbard had a policy he called ‘safe-pointing,'” he explains. “You safe-point opinion leaders out in the community — most often, local officials. He wanted to curry favor.” During his tenure, Palka held an off-site event for some of his staff on church property, assisted Scientology in getting ahold of Detroit’s police chief ahead of the organization opening a facility in that city and allowed a church informational kiosk to be installed inside Hollywood Division itself. (It was quickly removed after the head of the Police Commission learned of it.)
Scientology said in a statement that “the Church of Scientology has proudly supported the LAPD for 30 years across all of its divisions,” developing relationships with more than 50 senior law enforcement officers from various agencies across the region, and has worked with the LAPD and community groups for decades. It added, “We provide a neutral meeting ground for members of all religions, all races, everybody.”
Actress Leah Remini says she first encountered Palka years before she broadcast her A&E series Scientology and the Aftermath, while attempting to follow up on a 2013 missing-person’s report she’d filed about Shelly Miscavige, the wife of church leader David Miscavige. She’d felt frustrated by a lack of clarity on its status. Remini contends she was alarmed by what she perceived to be Palka’s closeness to Scientology — she recalls him focusing on its good works, including its donations, as well as its assistance in helping to solve local crimes by providing surveillance footage from its properties — which she felt undercut the LAPD’s independence.
“I believe Cory Palka has been in the business of protecting institutions that didn’t need his protection,” she says. The LAPD insists detectives assigned to its Missing Persons Unit “went to Shelly Miscavige’s location and personally made contact with her,” closing the case. The department also explained in a statement that Miscavige “was not investigated by Hollywood Division personnel,” including Palka. For its part, Scientology contends “there is nothing unique about a church supporting local law enforcement,” and that, due to Remini’s Nov. 10 “hate tweets” about the missing person’s report, the LAPD had to increase patrols around its facilities. (The department affirms that, in response to “derogatory social media posts,” it added patrols.)
As proof of the problem, those who scrutinize Scientology point out that Hollywood Division was considered so coopted by the church that the multiple accusers of Masterson — then still Scientologists — interviewed with detectives from LAPD’s downtown headquarters rather than Hollywood Division. When the investigation became public, Palka emailed a colleague, seemingly surprised by the news. (Several tranches of the commander’s communications have been released after an open-records activist learned Palka had been utilizing his private email for official business.)
According to the New York State Attorney General’s settlement, in his role as a “security aide” for Moonves at the Grammys for multiple years, Palka was hired by CBS senior vp talent relations and special events Ian Metrose and paid by CBS. (THR has learned this role typically entails escorting VIPs in and out of crowded events.) During some of these years, while still a lieutenant, his total pay on the force — including overtime and benefits — topped out at slightly more than $150,000; as a commander in 2020, his full compensation was just over $400,000, according to Transparent California, a public pay and pension database.
Similar to how off-duty and retired police officers work for film and TV productions, law enforcement can work on security assignments for entertainment companies during their off hours. Says a veteran publicist who’s familiar with the world of private security, “If you’re an executive of Les Moonves’ stature, you go through a private security company, and they may work with off-duty police officers, but you don’t commission somebody directly who’s a captain of the LAPD to work with you. I’ve never encountered that.” CBS declined to answer questions about how Palka was employed.
This system, in which law enforcement officers earn extra income while working off-duty, is problematic, according to Randy Lippert, professor of criminology at the University of Windsor in Canada. “It’s putting police officers in a situation on a regular basis to potentially look the other way because they know who’s funding their gig,” he says. (In his research for his 2022 book on the intersection between private capital and police activities, Police Funding, Dark Money, and the Greedy Institution, Lippert says he and his co-author asked the LAPD for records about officers’ off-duty security-sector work and “we never got them,” though cities like Boston and San Francisco did disclose that information.)
The LAPD’s policy manual leaves decisions pertaining to officers’ “secondary employment” largely at the discretion of their supervisors, who must determine if a work-permit application could potentially conflict with the requestor’s oath of honor. The key explicit prohibition is that cops can’t also work as private investigators, or on their behalf.
The settlement brokered between the New York State Attorney General, CBS and Moonves charges that Palka — unnamed in the settlement, later identified by the LAPD— initially tipped CBS off that a Moonves accuser had filed the report. The captain purportedly later provided an unredacted version of the report to the company that revealed the accuser’s name. “Over the next few days and months,” Palka covertly kept executives up to date on the LAPD’s investigation, directed an investigating officer to “admonish” the alleged victim not to speak with the press and even met Moonves in person in Westlake Village, not far from Palka’s home, to privately discuss the investigation.
Despite the backdoor attempt to keep the investigation a secret, eventually multiple claims against Moonves came to light: Two New Yorker stories chronicled Moonves’ alleged sexual misconduct in the summer and early fall of 2018, with the network head eventually resigning in September. The same day, Palka told CBS’ Metrose, “I’m so sorry to hear this news Ian. Sickens me. We worked so hard to try to avoid this day. I am so completely sad,” according to the report.
It remains unclear why Palka, so close to the end of his career, took it upon himself to go to bat for Moonves. But someone who worked under him at Hollywood Division says it’s unsurprising. “Cory’s reputation was as a schmoozer, an ass-kisser,” the officer explains. “I think he did it because [Moonves] is a player and it was potentially a connection to get a good gig [after retirement]. He pandered to people in power.” Major corporations’ in-house security departments as well as top risk-management firms often look to hire, at least on a consultative basis, former members of law enforcement agencies who possess significant resumes.
In the podcast interview in which he mused on his history with Internal Affairs, Palka contemplated setbacks. He recalled a highlight of his acting career, which was also a humiliation: When the former pitcher played one in Space Jam. Palka, a onetime college player who was out of practice, threw poorly in his face-off with batter Michael Jordan. As the attempt to get a good shot stretched on, a stand-in eventually took over for Jordan. “I’m, like, oh my goodness, I am standing amongst failure at the biggest limelight right now, and now Ivan Reitman’s screaming because we’re losing light.” Palka remembered having to just “fight my way out” of the situation, all eyes on him. “My life has been a series of failures, a series of missteps,” he explained. Palka also said: “Every day you have a choice to look up and look forward or to live in regret.”
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