January 15, 2015

 

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou 

City News Service 

 

The Los Angeles Police Commission, the citizen panel that oversees the police department, held a community meeting in South Los Angeles Wednesday night and in Canoga Park on Thursday to discuss the development of rules governing the use of body cameras. Mayor Eric Garcetti recently announced a nearly $10 million plan to purchase 7,000 body cameras by 2016, equipping all LAPD officers with the devices to document interactions with the public. The city has already purchased about 800 body cameras for officers in the Newton, Mission and Central divisions.

 

Police officials said they do not plan to use the cameras until a policy is in place mandating where and when the devices will be used and what should done with the recordings.  Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union published a blog post Tuesday saying officers involved in fatal shootings or other uses of force should not be allowed to view the body camera recordings prior to giving statements to investigators.

 

“Any detective would be the first to say that it’s hardly a solid investigative practice to let the subject of an investigation view the video evidence you have over and over before you even ask them what happened,” attorneys Peter Bibring and Jay Stanley wrote in the post.

 

They added that “if an officer is inclined to lie or distort the truth to justify a shooting, showing an officer the video evidence before taking his or her statement allows the officer to lie more effectively, and in ways that the video evidence won’t contradict.”

 

The ACLU attorneys noted that LAPD officials use a similar rationale when withholding autopsy results of a person killed by police officers, contending that the release of such information would taint the testimony of witnesses who have yet to come forward. Some jurisdictions, such as Oakland the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Depart­ment, already bar officers from viewing recorded footage ahead of time, Bibring said. Oakland, where body cameras have been in use for four years, has a policy that prohibits officers from viewing the footage before being interviewed by investigators, while the Sheriff's Department also recently adopted a policy for jail cameras that requires deputies to write their reports before viewing the recordings.

 

The LAPD’s 2009 policy for in-car digital cameras, which could serve as a model for the body camera policy, recommends officers involved in use-of-force incidents review footage whenever possible before being interviewed by investigators. The Youth Justice Coalition, a group that represents people whose family members were killed by police, has come out against the use of body cameras by the LAPD. Kim McGill, a spokeswoman for the group, said the plan does not serve the public, who “will not own the footage.” Rather, the recorded evidence “goes through the police department, which collects it, stores it, analyzes it and sometimes distorts it or erases it,” she said.

 

The cameras would only add “another layer” of policing and surveillance already experienced by “communities of color,” McGill said.

 

The group also believes that the nearly $10 million price tag for body cameras could be better spent on parks, playgrounds, intervention workers and other services, she said. The Los Angeles Police Commission, which can be reached by calling (213) 236-1400, also circulated a survey on body cameras, with public input due by Friday. The survey was emailed to at least 1,000 people who are signed up to receive agendas and other information from the commission, as well as participants of Community-Police Advisory Boards.

 

The questions were:

 

• When should officers turn the camera on and under what circumstances should they turn them off?

 

• Are there instances or locations where you believe recordings should not take place?

 

• How should the LAPD protect the privacy of those individuals who are recorded on video?

 

• Do you believe officers should be able to view the video prior to writing the necessary reports?

 

• Do you believe that department supervisors should regularly review the video captured to ascertain opportunities for improved training?

 

• The survey also asks for any other comments that respondents would like to provide and questions they believe the Police Commission should ask the LAPD as the development of the policy is reviewed.

Category: News

January 08, 2015

 

City News Service 

 

 

A prosecutor told jurors Wednesday that eyewitnesses linked a reputed gang member to the Halloween 2010 killing of a 5-year-old boy shot to death in his back yard while wearing a Spider-Man costume, but a defense attorney said there’s no physical evidence to connect her client to the crime. The Los Angeles Superior Court jury is the second to hear the case against Leonard Hall Jr., now 25, who is charged with murdering Aaron Shannon Jr. and trying to kill the boy’s grandfather and uncle, who were wounded in the 1000 block of East 84th Street in South Los Angeles about 2 p.m. on Oct. 31, 2010.  A mistrial was declared in March 2013 after the first jury said it was deadlocked 9-3, with the majority in favor of guilt.

 

In her opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Sarika Kim showed jurors a photo of the boy – taken minutes before the shooting – showing off the Spider-Man costume his grandfather had bought for him. Hall and another reputed gang member, Marcus Denson, allegedly went into rival territory in the midst of a gang war and initially passed behind the family’s back yard via an alleyway, according to the prosecutor. Eyewitnesses subsequently identified Hall as the man who returned to shoot the tot and two of the child’s relatives, who had no gang affiliations, Kim told jurors.

 

Hall’s attorney, Carol Ojo, countered that the issue was “who fired this shot and what the evidence shows,” telling jurors that there was “absolutely no physical evidence” linking Hall to the crime.

 

The defense attorney also questioned eyewitnesses’ identification of Hall as the gunman as well as why he would have been with Denson, saying that the two did not get along with each other. Hall is charged with one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder, along with gang and gun allegations. Denson, now 23, previously pleaded guilty to one count of voluntary manslaughter and two counts of attempted murder and is facing 25 years in state prison.

Category: News

January 08, 2015

 

Thandisizwe Chimurenga 

LAWT Contributing Writer 

 

Activists have remained in front of LAPD headquarters on West First Street with an encampment called #OccupyLAPD since Dec. 29 in protest of the Ezell Ford shooting. Ford’s autopsy results were released earlier on that day, prompting the group – known as #BlackLivesMatter-LA – to demand a meeting with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck to fire Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas, the two officers involved in the Aug. 11, 2014, shooting of the 25-year old Ford.

 

On Jan. 5, the protestors were forced to move their tents and other belongings by officers who cited their presence as a nuisance.  The next day, Jan. 6, two women were arrested as they attempted to deliver a letter from the group formally requesting the meeting with Chief Beck.

 

The women, Melina Abdullah and Sha Dixon, had just participated in a press conference citing their demands for action by both Chief Beck and District Attorney Jackie Lacey.  They were arrested for attempting to cross barricades that had been set up at the entrances to LAPD headquarters.

 

“They first arrested us for trespassing; it’s a public building!  And they were allowing others to walk into the building, but they chose not to let us in,” said Dixon, a producer and single mother.  “They changed [the charge of] trespassing to disturbing the peace; then changed it again to failure to disperse. None of those charges are accurate or true,” Dixon said.

 

Abdullah, a professor at Cal State LA and mother of three, said the letter to Chief Beck was requesting a specific time to meet about the group’s concerns.  “We wanted to meet with him at 9 a.m. on Wednesday,” said Abdullah.  “We’re aware that there are procedural considerations [to firing Wampler and Villegas], but the ultimate authority rests with Chief Beck’s recommendations and we are demanding that murderous police not be left on the payroll borne by taxpayers,” Abdullah said.

 

Ford’s autopsy results, released on Dec. 29th, showed he was shot once in his right arm, in his side abdomen, and in the back.  The fatal wound to his back had a “muzzle imprint” – the tip of a gun barrel – on it which has been interpreted to mean the shot was at close range while he was face down. 

 

LAPD reports state that Wampler and Villegas conducted an investigate stop of Ford near his home in the area of West 65th Street and South Broadway on Aug. 11.  A struggle ensued, police say, with Ford grabbing one officer and attempting to grab his gun from its holster.  This prompted the other officer to fire on Ford.  Eyewitnesses at the scene state Ford was laying down on the ground and not resisting when the officer shot him in the back.

 

 According to Dixon, the group contacted the LAPD to request a meeting with Chief Beck as soon as Ford’s autopsy results were made public but were told that Beck was on vacation. “They told us he would be back on Monday [Jan. 5] and we let them know we would be occupying this area until his return,” Dixon said.  “We wanted to make sure we were the first faces he saw once he came back to work.”

 

Media Relations Officer Rosario Herrera told the Sentinel that metal barricades in front of LAPD headquarters have been in place for a few weeks and were not placed there in response to the #OccupyLAPD encampment. “It is a public building, however if the law of no entry is being enforced, a person can be arrested for trespassing,” said Herrera.

 

“I’m astounded that taking an act as benign as attempting to deliver a letter to a public servant would result in my arrest,” said Abdullah.  “These unjust arrests will only fuel the intensity of the movement because they underscore how little our lives mean and how committed they are to silencing our voices,” Abdullah said.

 

In addition to demanding that the LAPD fire the officers responsible for Ford’s death, the group has also demanded that charges of murder be filed against Wampler and Villegas by District Attorney Lacey.

 

A spokesperson for the district attorney said that the LAPD is still investigating the case and has not passed it on to their office for review.

 

“Roll out teams do parallel investigations [of officer-involved shootings] but by state law, we have to wait until police agencies complete their investigations,” said Jane Robison, public information officer for the L.A. County District Attorney.

 

#BlackLivesMatter-Los Angeles (#BLM-LA) is the local chapter of the national Black Lives Matter movement, which describes itself as “an organization fighting to end state-sanctioned violence against Black communities throughout the world.”  The group originated in protests after the killer of Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, was acquitted in 2013.  The organization gained greater visibility during protests following the failure of local grand juries to indict police officers for the deaths of Eric Garner in Long Island, NY and Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO. 

 

Damon Turner, a dj and spoken word artist who is also a member of the local group, observed the arrest of Abdullah and Dixon on Jan. 5 and said the actions of police had affirmed for him why he joined the group in the first place. The father of a 9-year old, Turner said “It’s for the lives of those who are invisible in this country, primarily Black women, Black children, queer and trans folks, and Black men.”

 

Meanwhile, members of the group have remained in front of LAPD headquarters overnight and say they will continue to camp out there until justice is received.

Category: News

January 01, 2015

 

City News Service 

 

 

A reputed gang member accused of shooting at an LAPD patrol car in South Los Angeles, prompting a citywide tactical alert and an hours-long manhunt, was charged with multiple felonies on Tuesday December 30. Christopher Taylor, 18, was arraigned on two counts each of shooting at an occupied vehicle and assault on a peace officer with a semi-automatic firearm, and one count of assault with a semi- automatic firearm, according to the District Attorney's Office.

 

A second suspect remained at large. The shooting occurred about 9:25 p.m. Sunday near 62nd and Hoover streets. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said the officers were in their patrol car when they “observed muzzle flashes and heard gunshots coming from two male pedestrians.”

 

“The officers believed they were the object of an attack and returned fire,” Beck said. “Neither the officers nor the suspects were struck by gunfire and a suspect was captured after a search of the area. A pistol, a rifle and multiple shell casings were also recovered.”

 

Prosecutors said Taylor and the second suspect were actually trying to shoot rival gang members who were in a car nearby, but they opened fire just as the patrol car came through the area. Taylor faces up to life in prison if convicted, according to the District Attorney's Office. The shooting came as police across the nation were on stepped-up alert in response to the Dec. 20 killings of two New York City police officers who were sitting in a patrol car in Brooklyn. The gunman, who later killed himself, said he was exacting revenge for the death of black men killed by police in Staten Island and in Ferguson, Missouri.

 

The LAPD went on tactical alert for more than eight hours following the South Los Angeles shooting. The alert was later modified to affect only the Southwest area stations of 77th Street, Southwest, Southeast and Harbor. A tactical alert allows officers to be kept on duty after the scheduled conclusion of their shifts.

 

A perimeter was set up from Gage Avenue to 61st Street and between Hoover Street and Vermont Avenue.

Category: News

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