City Manager Whitewashes Chief Luna’s Misconduct

By: 
Stephen Downing

Tom Modica

Nov. 5, 2020 "super-spreader event"

On the morning of Dec. 14, 2020 a letter alleging misconduct by Chief of Police Robert Luna was filed via email with the Citizen Police Complaint Commission (CPCC) by a coalition of community organizations: https://beachcomber.news/content/cpcc-complaint-letter

The complaint alleged that on Nov. 5, 2020 Luna, along with members of his senior command staff, ordered an indoor gathering of police officers that allowed a COVID-19 super-spreader event to take place.

Carlos Ovalle, executive director of People of Long Beach, and Ian Patton, executive director, Long Beach Reform Coalition, filed the personnel complaint jointly.

People of Long Beach is a local organization that identifies as “a non-partisan, non-profit, non-secular group of long-time Long Beach residents concerned with improving the political welfare of our city.”

The Long Beach Reform Coalition is an umbrella advocacy organization for six other local neighborhood and political groups that joined as signatories to the misconduct complaint.

The community-based petition alleged that Luna and senior members of his staff ordered “approximately 300 police personnel from field assignments across the city to congregate inside the Long Beach Convention Center where they allowed the assembled officers to occupy the indoor venue without requiring compliance with Health Department mandates associated with social distancing and masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, thereby knowingly and willfully ordering a super spreader event to take place.”

The full story and background of the incident orchestrated by the chief published by the Beachcomber on Dec. 17 can be read here: https://beachcomber.news/content/lbpd-event-called-assault-healthsafety-community.

CPCC Commissioners Make Finding

On Aug. 12 the CPCC Commissioners made a finding on the allegations and sent their recommendations to the City Manager for final adjudication.

On Aug. 18 the Beachcomber reported that the CPCC Commissioners voted 5-3 on Allegation No. 1 - Unbecoming Conduct for First Officer accused and 8-0 on Allegation No. 2 - Unbecoming Conduct for Second Officer accused;” That story can be read here: https://beachcomber.news/content/cpcc-holds-second-investigation-review-super-spreader-event

Complainants Request Updates

On Nov. 17 both Carlos Ovalle and Ian Patton wrote emails to Modica alerting the City Manager that, “it’s getting close to a year since the complaint was filed and we’ve yet to hear the outcome.”

On Nov. 19 the city manager responded to the complainant’s emails writing: “Thank you for your message. We are in the process of finalizing the review of this complaint and will communicate the final disposition to the complainants, any impacted city personnel, and the public within the established legal parameters for sharing information on personnel matters.”

Sources Predict a Whitewash

On Nov. 19 the Beachcomber followed up with City Manager Tom Modica to inquire as to the pending disposition of the allegations against Luna.

The email read, in part, as follows:

“It would also be appreciated if you would provide the Beachcomber with an explanation or comment as to why your decision in this matter has taken so long.

The complaint was filed on Dec. 14, 2020, the CPCC adjudicated the matter and sent you their findings four months later (April 8, 2021) and more than seven months has passed since with no action by your office in spite of the fact that the city advertises that adjudication of citizen complaints average between three and six months and Chief Luna has publicly admitted the allegations, saying: “It’s on me."

Modica did not respond to the Nov. 19 request for information or to the content of the email in which it was reported that Beachcomber sources alleged the City Manager planned a whitewash of Luna’s misconduct.

Ovalle Predicts a Whitewash

On Dec. 22 Ovalle wrote another email to Modica, stating:

“It has now been over a year and what ought to have been an easy case to decide is still a mystery to the public. Here are the undisputed facts:

  • Chief Robert Luna held a super spreader event with the Long Beach Police Department on Nov. 5, 2020
  • The event was publicized in the local press on Dec. 8, 2020
  • There is photographic proof of the event.
  • The event, the dates and the location have never been disputed
  • Chief Robert Luna has admitted to the maskless event
  • We filed a complaint on Dec. 14, 2020
  • The CPCC investigated the event, reached a conclusion and made recommendations to your office

Given a clear lack of action and lack of transparency to the public, the only possible conclusion is that the case is being stonewalled by your office and will be buried immediately following Chief Luna's retirement, clearing an obstacle for his campaign for L.A. County Sheriff and a stain on Mayor Garcia's run for Congress.

Your obligation is clear, you have a duty to the residents of Long Beach and to no one else.”

Modica Responds

Modica responded to the complainants on Dec. 30 with a 3-page letter that included five pages of attachments – all of which can be read here: https://beachcomber.news/content/superspreader-event-0

The city manager’s letter was divided into four sections including a Summary of Allegations, Results of Investigation, Additional Information of the City Manager’s Response to the Incident and the key section that announced a whitewash of the entire incident titled, “Delay in Response.”

The Whitewash Rational

Under the “Delay in Response” heading Modica wrote that the “Police Officer Bill of Rights provides a one-year period for discipline to be taken. Where the initiation date was originally thought to be Dec. 6, 2020 when this issue was reported in the Long Beach Post and city management became aware, upon further legal review it has been determined that the one-year period of this incident started on Nov. 5, 2020, the date of the incident. Therefore, the one-year window for the city to render a disposition in the CPCC case ran through Nov. 5, 2021, a fact that just recently came to light.”

With the “statutory-limitations” explanation firmly established Modica then proceeded to outline a wholly manufactured conclusion, stating: “Unbeknownst to me, this case was not presented for closure prior to the deadline. No additional disciplinary action is allowed once a case passes the 12-month window, absent extraordinary circumstances that justify the delay.”

Translation: Patton and Ovalle were entitled to receive a letter – like hundreds written each year by the city manager – that informed them of a sustained finding that would have made Chief Luna’s misconduct a permanent part of his official personnel file.

Legal research proves that Modica misrepresented the language of the law in framing his whitewash.

The Police Officer Bill of Rights states: no punitive action, nor denial of promotion on grounds other than merit, shall be undertaken for any act, omission, or other allegation of misconduct if the investigation of the allegation is not completed within one year of the public agency’s discovery by a person authorized to initiate an investigation of the allegation of an act, omission, or other misconduct.”

Modica did not “discover” Luna’s Nov. 5, 2020 violation that endangered thousands of lives until – by his own admission – Dec. 8, when the Long Beach Post published the pictures.

And even after his discovery Modica did not initiate an investigation into the incident, but rather on Dec.8 – as reported in his letter, “expressed through verbal reprimand my severe disappointment that the Health Order was not followed…”

The investigation was formally and legally initiated on Dec 14, 2020 when Ovalle and Patton filed their complaint with the CPCC.

Saved from POST Decertification

By now that date too has passed and Modica has insured that Luna’s misconduct cannot be officially made a part of his disciplinary package or be used by the Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training to review the seriousness of the chief’s conduct in endangering the public and decide if he should be decertified as a peace officer, which would prohibit him from assuming another job in law enforcement.

Patton Responds to Finding

On Dec. 30 Ian Patton wrote the following reaction to Modica’s letter:

“This letter from City Manager Tom Modica represents a staggering level of incoherence and incompetence which it seems is only considered normal and acceptable in the insulated halls of inept municipal bureaucracy.

The city manager at once admits to being responsible for a complete failure to address a complaint properly reviewed and sustained by our city's Citizens Police Complaint Commission, by failing to address it within the one year limit under state law, and to blame the failure on an unnamed (and presumably undisciplined) "Deputy City Manager."

He goes on to at once agree with all the undeniable facts of the case and do nothing about them. He agrees that the chief both failed to order his men and women to comply with City Health Department COVID mandates, during the mass indoor (pre-vaccine availability era) gathering, and that he attempted to cover up his knowing recklessness by insisting the officers don masks, only momentarily and only for the purpose of a photo for the press. As the city manager puts it, the chief "did direct the officers to put on their masks for the photo" (emphasis added).

This is tantamount to an admission that Chief Luna thought so little of mandatory city health regulations that he believed they only mattered for show, that they only existed for public optics. Little did Chief Luna realize there was another photo taken of the officers unmasked, conducting themselves as the chief clearly felt they should and could, and indeed were, conducting themselves throughout most all of the indoor event.

Modica denies none of this and tacitly admits to it all. Yet he clearly never had any intention whatsoever of disciplining his police chief for endangering the public.

And indeed that's exactly what his chief did, as there was a departmental outbreak of COVID in the wake of this event, which undoubtedly spread to the public (the disingenuous assertion that contact tracing bore no evidence of spread is likely evidence of a lack of sufficient contact tracing, which would only have served the city as a self-incriminating endeavor).

The bottom line from this exercise in attempted accountability is that we have achieved one depressing thing: We have proven that, in Long Beach, public health is clearly secondary to public relations. The goal, successfully achieved, was to stonewall and deflect the matter from public attention until it could more easily be swept under the cover of the Long Beach City Hall rug. It's a rug bulging beyond recognition as a floor covering, after decades of the overuse of its underside.

This turgid City floor mat also contains the fact that in a city where, since last July, all city employees have been required to be COVID vaccinated (or pass a weekly COVID test), nearing half our police force has resisted vaccination.

And this chief, now a candidate for county sheriff no less, whom the city manager insists learned his lesson about ignoring city health mandates from this 2020 incident, has still passively allowed the mass violations and endangerment of the public to persist.”

Carlos Ovalle read Patton’s letter and stated: “I have nothing to add to what Ian stated very well.”

 

Stephen Downing is a resident of Long Beach and a retired LAPD deputy chief of police.

stephen.beachcomber@gmail.com
 

(Editor’s Note: Ovalle announced his candidacy for City Council District 7 on July 17 and Ian Patton announced his run for the District 5 Council seat on Dec. 9).

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Comments

The city of LB, along with the LBPD has now clearly and unequivocally shown us that without a doubt it is a criminal organization that covers up and conceals its misconduct with no fear that these criminals will be held accountable. Why isn't the DA investigating this criminal organization?

I disagree with Mr. Patton’s statement that City Manager Modica’s response “represents a staggering level of incoherence and incompetence.” In my opinion, the city manager’s response was the end result of a carefully crafted conspiracy among upper management, including the mayor’s office, to utilize the statute of limitations as a way to avoid justified political and legal consequences.

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