Tigertext Review: Investigation or Cover-up?

Stephen Downing

Following confirmation that the Los Angeles District Attorney has opened an investigation into the Long Beach Police Department’s illegal use of the self-deleting messaging application – TigerText – in response to a Sept. 18 story published by the Beachcomber and developed with the aide of Staff Attorney Mohammad Tajsar of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Jeremy Young, senior producer for the media giant Al Jazeera, the Beachcomber has learned that the forthcoming “review” LBPD Chief Robert Luna announced in statements to the media has taken place in at least one meeting with his top staff.

Sources informed the Beachcomber that the “review” was in fact not a review, but rather a high level staff meeting designed to further legitimize use of the instant messaging (IM) platform by the police department and to discuss legal rationales that would allow the LBPD to escape administrative or criminal responsibility for adopting, distributing, instructing use in and the actual use of the auto-destruct IM application.

Elements of discussion in Chief Luna’s high-level staff meeting were provided to the Beachcomber by two separate inside sources, both of who asked for anonymity fearing retaliation.

The first source said the central theme of the meeting centered on the availability of proof accessible by the agencies that would be investigating the department’s use of the app.

That source said, “They are really circling the wagons, trying to figure out a way to get around criminal or administrative responsibility. They came up with the idea that no one can prove that any evidence was destroyed because there is nothing they (the agencies) can find to prove what was destroyed because the app took it out. The app destroyed everything.”

The source said that the high-level staff meeting summed up the solution to their problems by concluding, “They can’t prove we violated any laws.”

The second source confirmed the content of the meeting and when asked if any of the discussion addressed the elements of criminal conspiracy, which does not require commission of the crime, but only an overt act, the source was unable to comment other than to say, “All I know is they are pretty satisfied knowing the app destroyed everything and there’s no way of proving that retention records or Brady stuff was ever in any of the texts that were destroyed.”

Both sources independently stated that the high level staff meeting did not address the civil or criminal jeopardy individual officers have been exposed to over the four-year period the LBPD brass has required officers to use the TigerText app during investigations.

In emails to Lt. Jim Foster, president of the Long Beach Police Officer’s Association (LB POA), as well as each of the ten members of the POA board of directors, the Beachcomber asked for comment and response to the following:

  • Was the POA president or any of the POA directors issued a city cell phone with the TigerText app and, if so, was it used for matters other than personnel issues?
  • What concerns does the POA have for the civil and criminal liability imposed upon their membership by the chief and his top brass by requiring use of TigerText?
  • Has the POA begun preparation of a legal defense fund for its affected members?
  • Does the POA support an independent inquiry by the Citizen Police Complaint Commission or the “partnership” review announced by the city attorney and city manager?
  • Will the POA continue to fund the mayor’s campaign initiatives to extend term limits (Measure BBB) in light of his administration’s assault on the rule of law and the jeopardy it has imposed upon its membership?

Neither the POA president nor any of the ten board members responded.

George Aliano, a 32-year retired veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department who served for 12 years (seven as president) with the LAPD police union (LAPPL) said, “Well, quite a mess. The union is behind the 8 ball for not being involved in the negotiations and not getting a legal opinion from the city or their own union attorneys on the legality of this destruction of texts. Now they’re going to have to represent those officers.”

Aliano added, ”The mayor nor any city official should be involved in the investigation that the people are calling for. This went on for four years so many people knew about it.”

Since the top level LBPD staff meeting was held a “partnership agreement” between City Attorney Charles Parkin and City Manager Pat West announced that the pair would insure an “independent outside review” of the TigerText affair.

A few days later, Parkin announced that former public-corruption prosecutor, Gary W. Schons, would lead the probe.

Schons heads the Government Policy & Public Integrity practice at the 245-attorney Best Best & Krieger (BB&K) law firm.

According to the BBK website, “Best Best & Krieger has built its reputation on a unique, long-lasting commitment to clients. We have worked with some of our clients for decades, and we look forward to decades more…. We efficiently, intelligently and meaningfully assist our public agency clients with complex, multi-disciplinary issues and provide creative solutions.”

The City of Long Beach is one of those clients.

The most recent services rendered by BBK lawyers for the city was reported in the Beachcomber on Sept. 13 following community notifications that the law firm had filed a preemptory writ of mandate in an unprecedented action by City Hall to compel the mayoral appointed opposition writer, Juan Ovalle, to water down the ballot arguments he filed opposing Mayor Robert Garcia’s Measure BBB initiative to extend term limits.

In response to the Beachcomber’s inquiry as to whether the BBK attorney, Gary Schons, attended the high level staff meeting held by Chief Luna, Kevin Lee, a spokesperson for City Manager Pat West, wrote: “Mr. Schons has not participated in any past meetings with the Police Department regarding Tiger Connect.”

The Beachcomber asked Lee who the BBK attorney would report to, to whom the final report would be presented for review and editing prior to presentation to the city council and the public and asked if the city manager gave any consideration toward insuring the independence of the review by assigning oversight to the Citizen Police Complaint Commission (CPCC).

Lee responded, “The city manager in conjunction with the city attorney called for an independent outside review. The selection was made by the city’s independently elected city attorney, who selected Mr. Schons, who is independent and has the legal experience to conduct the review. Mr. Schons will provide a report to the city attorney’s office once his review is complete.”

Retired Orange County Superior Court Judge James P. Gray said, “It is the absolute obligation of all police officers to try mightily to do the right thing for the right reason – every time. And that means following laws and procedures with which they might not agree. So if anyone in the Long Beach Police Department is knowingly destroying documents covered by the non-destruction of documents regulations – much less being in a supervisory position and encouraging such destruction – that is a serious business. And those who may be involved should/must be held accountable.”

Thomas Beck, the distinguished civil rights attorney who has won millions in law suits against the LBPD said of the investigation initiated by the district attorney, “My observation is that they (City/LBPD) now understand the destruction of communications connected to any criminal investigation they have done since 2014 leaves someone open – or perhaps all of them in the loop – to prosecution under 135 PC. But I also doubt the district attorney would ever file such a charge. It’s too embarrassing to the brass. That’s my cynical view but it's the voice of experience speaking.”

People of Long Beach Executive Director Carlos Ovalle said, “The independent review is about as independent as the Dodgers bringing their own umpire to the game or a defendant bringing his own judge to the trial.”

On Sept. 28 Michael Clements, the program organizer for the Liberation Brewing Company’s “Beer & Politics” discussion group announced that Chief Robert Luna will appear on Oct. 11 to “discuss how the use of TigerText and the subsequent review can affect the department and its relationship with the community.”

In an email message sent the next day Clements wrote: “My guest for our Oct. 11 event was the police chief to talk about the recent TigerText issues. However the city manager* has instructed him not to participate, requesting that he wait until the investigation is over*.”

Just prior to publication the Beachcomber received a news release announcing that multiple neighborhood, civil rights and family organizations have scheduled demonstrations in front of City Hall on Oct. 2 to present a list of seven demands, including the removal of City Manager Pat West and Police Chief Robert Luna.

The Beachcomber will update the TigerText story as new developments occur.

[* Editor Note: Italics correct an earlier version of this story stating "city attorney."]

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






I think the city of Long Beach, CA needs an Audit by State Auditor!

So much corruption in the Long Beach Police Department. The writing was on the wall when they covered up for the drunk and abuser, Jeannine Pearce. I am a long time resident of Long Beach and I've lost all trust in the LBPD. I truly belive that Robert Garcia's hand are dirty in all of this because his name always seems to pop up whenever there is scandal in City Hall or with the Long Beach Police Department. Furthermore, I will not support measure BBB. We do not need to see any type of dictatorship in city government. Measure BBB will give the Mayor and Council members too much power. And don't let me have to call some of my hardcore activist friends from the Crenshaw district to come help me create a scenes in City Hall with our chants, marches and Red, Black, and Green Flags. I have no doubt plenty of evidence has destroyed during the arrests of Black people as we always seem to the target in this type of corruption. Keep playing these games and city hall will be looking like Wakanda Forever when crenshaw comes to town. Time permitting, I just might attend the next City Council meeting and loudly voice my opinion. I will specifically direct my attention on Mayor Robert Garcia, City Manager Pat West and police chief, Luna, if he dares to show up.

This corruption and good ole boy system has been rampant for years. The beach comber has been telling this to us for years but we didn’t listen Liars like Steve James were running this mafia for many years and he groomed and hand picked Foster as the next Don and that’s why the POA didn’t check anything. The POA is just a puppet for the Chief to use and abuse. Will the POA stand up and issue a vote of NO CONFIDENCE IN CHIEF LUNA. No of course not. Instead they will come up with bs reasons that Tiger Text was used to somehow help the officers.
This Mafia needs to be disbanded. West, Luna, should by fired and all the brass involved in this should be demoted right down to officer. We need change now not after some long drawn out investigation to tell us what we already know....

Typical that the city of Long Beach would use a contact law firm that the city has attorney client privilege with. No facts will ever be made public! The city council and Mayor should join with the ACLU and ask the CA Attorney General and DOJ do a public investigation !

Is this happening in Long Beach, California? It sounds more like something that would happen in Acapulco, Mexico, where state and federal forces recently disarmed corrupt, local police. In Acapulco, corrupt cops look the other way when crimes are committed and collude with criminal gangs. The difference between Acapulco and Long Beach is that state and federal forces in this country don't seem to care how bad things are getting in Long Beach.

The culture of cover-ups in Long Beach should make every good citizen wonder why -- why do the police need to destroy communications? Why do they need to meet with each other to reassure each other that no one can hold them accountable for illegal activity? What are they so desperate to hide? Could it be that, much like their counterparts in Acapulco, powerful people in Long Beach are involved in extortion, drug trafficking, prostitution, and assassination? (If you scoff at "assassination," just remember that Long Beach police leaders have already engaged in character assassination toward critics in the press and activists, and remember that officer-involved shootings usually go unpunished.)

Citizens would much rather believe that the Long Beach police are incompetent. This is the biggest cover-up of all. Don't mistake police criminality for innocent stupidity.

just read this comment said by corrupt Chief Luna on another article talking about one of his officers that he fired. what a hypocrite!!!

"When we take our oath of office, we assume a tremendous responsibility which includes upholding the values and maintaining the integrity of our police department and profession," Long Beach police Chief Robert Luna said in a statement. "When an officer betrays the public trust we have worked so hard to cultivate, they must be held accountable."

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