Posts Tagged ‘LAPD’

The U.S. Supreme Court has put police stations all around the country on notice: if you withhold evidence you can be sued.  The court let stand a civil jury verdict against two LAPD detectives who concealed evidence that kept an innocent man in jail for more than 2 years awaiting trial.  The justices turned down an appeal from the LA city attorney who contended that because the man was freed before trial, the police officers could not be sued for hiding evidence.

Michael Walker, who is now deceased, was standing in a store in the Crenshaw neighborhood of LA in August of 2005 when a store clerk thought he looked like a middle-aged black man who had robbed the store a few days earlier. Police were called and Walker was arrested. He agreed to be interviewed and have his belongings searched.

No evidence was ever discovered linking him to the robbery, but detectives saw him as a prime suspect in not just one robbery, but more than a dozen in the area. Each time, the thief gave the clerk or cashier a handwritten note demanding money. Usually the note misspelled the word “start” as in “start shooting.”

Walker maintained his innocence. Two detectives, Steven Moody and Robert Pulido still believed they had the right man. They held Walker in jail pending investigation. To justify his detention and $1 million bail, they filed a report telling prosecutors that, “Since the arrest of Walker, the crime spree caused by the ‘Demand Note Robber’ has ceased.”

This was in fact untrue.

Two days after Walker was arrested, a man matching the description robbed the Golden Bird restaurant presenting a note to the cashier. Later that same day, a Burger King was robbed in the same manner. The notes both misspelled “start”.

The detectives later admitted under oath that they knew the robberies continued and didn’t tell anyone, including prosecutors. In other words, that Walker couldn’t have committed them. So why did they lie to keep an innocent man in jail? That may never be known.

When attorneys representing Walker learned that his fingerprints were not found at the store where he was arrested, they asked the LAPD for information on other robberies. The LAPD refused saying it was too burdensome to the department.

Later, a judge ordered the information to be disclosed. That is when defense attorneys learned that another man matching the description had been apprehended fleeing a robbery and that his fingerprints were found at the scene of the store Walker was arrested in.  When prosecutors learned of this, they dropped the charges against Walker.

A judge later pronounced him innocent of the crimes. Walker sued the LAPD and the detectives for violations of his constitutional rights and deprivation of his liberty without due process. A jury awarded him $106,000.  The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the verdict, ruling that the Constitution protects suspects from “prolonged” pre-trial detention when concealed evidence could have demonstrated their innocence.

The city attorney’s office appealed to the Supreme Court. They argued that the constitutional ruling involving withheld evidence should only apply to a right to a fair trial not to arrest or pretrial detention.

The high court simply denied their appeal (Moody v. Tatum) without comment or dissent.  Mary Tatum is the administrator of Walker’s estate.

Walker died in 2011 from alcohol-related health problems. John C. Burton, who represented Walker in the civil rights case, said Walker’s health deteriorated after his release from jail. At one point, Walker became homeless. Burton said the jury award, which did not include any punitive damages, was relatively low because Walker was poor and could not show he suffered major economic loss.

The award is expected to be inherited by his mother.

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The Los Angeles City Council voted last week to pay $5 million to the family of Brian Beaird, an unarmed disabled man who was shot and killed by police on live television.  The council voted 12-2 in a closed session to approve the settlement to end a federal civil rights lawsuit.  Beaird (below) was a 51-year-old National Guard veteran.  He had been discharged in 1988 after undergoing brain surgery for a tumor removal.  He led authorities on an hour long chase after police attempted to pull him over for reckless driving.  Beaird ran red lights and stop signs in his silver Corvette before crashing into a car in an intersection.  The other driver was injured.  His vehicle spun onto a sidewalk.

Billy Beaird, his father, watched on live television as his son staggered out of the car, raised his hands, and was gunned down by police.

The family’s attorney, Dale Galipo, said, “[This vote] implicitly says they acknowledge that the shooting was inappropriate and should not have happened.  It seems to take a video [to get justice in a case like this].”

The attorney went on to say that Beaird was suffering from emotional problems and severe paranoia as a result of his brain surgery.  He was also suffering due to the death of 6 of his friends in a military helicopter crash.

“He couldn’t understand why the police were chasing him, and he didn’t know what to do,” Galipo said, “He called his family during the pursuit and asked what he should do. And they told him he should pull over…and he said ‘I’m afraid’.”

The lawsuit alleged that the police were inadequately trained, used inappropriate and excessive force, committed battery, and were negligent.

Two council members dissented, Mitch Englander and Joe Buscaino, a former L.A. police officer.  Buscaino told the media that he felt as though due to the length and dangerousness of the chase the city could have challenged the case, “It’s very unfortunate on everyone’s part…”

Leroy “Lee” Baca is currently being investigated by Internal Affairs and in the midst of resigning his post.  Baca, the head of the LA County Sheriff’s Department, which itself is no stranger to controversy, began his personal list of controversies less than a year after taking office in the late 90s.  Baca created the “special reserves program”, which according to the LA Times was intended to give celebrities, executives, athletes, and other “notable people” special treatment.  Within a month of Baca swearing in his first celebrity reserve deputy, one of his recruits, Scott Zacky was relieved of duty for brandishing a firearm outside a home.  The program was soon suspended.  Six months later, another “special reserve” deputy was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of international money laundering.  Only 20 wealthy individuals participated in the program and no Hollywood celebrities joined.

The same year the program was discontinued, Sheriff Baca and then-LA District Attorney Steve Cooley created a policy to keep inmates in prison longer.  The early release policy intended to ease overcrowding, prevent over-sentencing, and reward rehabilitation was changed to require inmates to serve 25% of their sentence before becoming eligible for “early release”.  Redondo Beach City Attorney Michael Webb seemed to think this would force people to take plea deals, “Defendants will no longer be able to routinely turn down offers that involve alternative sentences such as Cal Trans or other forms of community service.”

Also in 2006, Mel Gibson was famously arrested for drunk driving.  The LA Sheriff’s Department initially told reporters that Gibson was taken into custody without incident or special treatment.  It was subsequently leaked to the media that Gibson made several controversial comments.  It also was revealed that prior to his arrest, Gibson filmed a PSA for Baca dressed as a sheriff.  Baca denied trying to cover up Gibson’s behavior when confronted by the LA Times about celebrity favoritism.

A year later, Paris Hilton was taken into custody to serve a 45-day prison sentence.  The sentence was reduced to 23 days for good behavior.  Despite early release before 25% of the sentence is completed being against Baca’s personal policy, but common in California due to severe overcrowding, Hilton was controversially released after only 79 hours (or a little more than three days) and her sentence was reduced again to 40 days house arrest.  The decision to change her sentence was made by Baca without consulting the judge or the prosecutor.  Reigniting the accusations of celebrity favoritism.  Further complicating matters, the judge specifically noted in his ruling that Hilton would not be allowed to serve house arrest instead of jail time.  The situation led the city attorney to file a petition suggesting that Baca should be held in contempt of court.  The judge did not pursue any legal actions.  Baca reversed his decision and Hilton returned to jail.  Baca later said that he made the decision to release Hilton because she had a psychological break that was life threatening and left her incoherent.  Baca claimed in a hearing with the LA County Supervisors, that he did contact the judge in order to get the information on Hilton’s doctors to obtain her medications so they could be administered by the jail, but the judge allegedly responded, “She’s faking,” and hung up.

In 2010, he was elected for the fourth time to be sheriff, but soon, more controversies followed.  Most shockingly, the American Civil Liberties Union has amassed an extensive report of unprecedented levels of inmate abuse,

“the long-standing and pervasive culture of deputy hyper-violence in Los Angeles County jails—a culture apparently condoned at the highest levels -cries out for swift and thorough investigation and intervention…”

The abuse includes the systematic rapes of inmates by guards.

Baca’s decision to retire comes just a few weeks after Andre Birotte Jr., the U.S. Attorney for California’s Central District, announced charges against 18 current and former deputies assigned to the Los Angeles County jails in connection with “a wide scope of illegal conduct” including unjustified assaults on inmates and obstructing a federal investigation.  The charges of obstructing a federal investigation stem from allegations that the deputies attempted to hide an FBI informant.  The informant was being housed in the Men’s Central Jail and had been assisting the FBI with their investigation.

When the deputies learned of this, they allegedly altered records to make it look like the informant had been released.  Then they rebooked him under a pseudo-name and told him to stop talking to the FBI and the U.S. Marshals.  Additionally, two of the sergeants charged allegedly confronted an FBI agent at her home in order to intimidate her into divulging details about the investigation.   (more…)