Frustration with Dishonesty

By: 
Stephen Downing

When Christopher Williams, a 35-year old African American, exited the Moonshine Club on Pine Avenue 15 to 20 minutes before its 2 a.m. closing on March 24, 2018 he saw a crowd gathering on the sidewalk near the parking lot just south of the nightclub.

Curiosity pulled. He joined them.

The Walk Through

Seventeen months later (August 23, 2019), while accompanying this writer on a walk-through at the Pine Avenue location, Christopher said that the crowd of perhaps 20-30 people was watching a fight-in-progress in the parking lot between two groups of African Americans, numbering five or six in each group.

Christopher said he stood with the crowd of onlookers and began to video the fight with his cell phone. He noticed as many as four uniformed police officers on the south end of the Pine Avenue lot watching the fight and doing nothing. He did not see any police cars but noticed that a LBPD police jail van was parked at the southeast end of the parking lot near the alley.

After watching the fight for a minute or so, Christopher said he moved with several individuals from the crowd of onlookers into the parking lot to get a better view.

It was at this time he noticed a young Asian woman he believed to be Cambodian. She appeared to be associated or supportive of one of the combatants when that same combatant was punched and fell hard to the pavement a few feet in front of him.

Christopher said he stepped forward from the group of onlookers to see how badly the man was injured and at that moment two uniformed police officers – who for purposes of the walk-though, he identified as White Officer #1 (WO#1) and Hispanic Officer #1 (HO #1) – approached him from behind.

HO #1 said something that made Christopher believe that he was being accused of assaulting the combatant on the ground.

“I turned around to face the officers and said, ‘I didn’t do it. I didn’t hit him.’ Then I pointed to the Cambodian girl and said, ‘Ask her,’” Christopher said.

HO #1 said, “Shut the f*** up. Put your hands behind your back.”

Christopher said he obeyed the order and moved both arms behind his back as HO #1 roughly grabbed his upper left arm, moved behind him, roughly twisted his right wrist and jerked his arm in an upward twisting motion (demonstrated to the Beachcomber and videotaped) at which time Christopher said he felt a painful “crack” in his elbow and cried out in pain, “You’re hurting me.”

HO #1 again told him to “Shut the f*** up,” locked the handcuffs onto his wrists and the two officers walked him across the parking lot to the jail van where HO #1 patted him down for weapons, confiscated his cell phone and wallet while, what Christopher described as a “really cool, nice Hispanic officer” (HO #2), checked his I.D.

He was then locked in the police van by HO #1.

Christopher said that while he was locked in the van the pain in his right arm subsided but noticed that he was unable to move his arm. He said it felt as if he’d had a stroke.

Christopher recalled that sometime later the van door was opened by an African American sergeant. Christopher said that he again professed his innocence and the sergeant shut the door without comment.

Christopher said the very nice and polite Hispanic officer, who he recalled checking his ID prior to being locked in the van, opened the door sometime later, told him that he was going to be released soon and shut the door.

Five minutes later, WO #1, the same officer who initially assisted HO #1 when Christopher was handcuffed, opened the van door, allowed him to exit the jail van, removed the handcuffs returned his wallet and cell phone and told him he was free to go.

Christopher said he asked, “Why did you do this to me?” and WO #1 replied, “You were right there standing over him, what’d you expect we’d think.”

Christopher asked WO #1 why HO #1 had treated him so roughly and complained about the injury to his arm, telling WO #1 that he couldn’t move it and that he needed medical treatment.

He said WO #1 did not respond, once again told him he was free to go and walked away.

The Document Trail

According to documents obtained by the Beachcomber from Christopher’s attorney, Narine Mkrtchyan, Esq. of Mkrtchyan Law in Glendale, Christopher checked himself into Torrance Memorial Medical Center where he was diagnosed with a fractured elbow, which forced him to take an unpaid four-month leave of absence from his job as a city bus driver.

On April 10, 2018 Christopher filed a formal citizen complaint alleging excessive force, unlawful detention and failure to provide medical treatment in a letter addressed to LBPD Chief of Police Robert Luna.

On May 7, 2018 Christopher received a letter from Commander Lloyd Cox of the LBPD Internal Affairs Division informing him that IA Sergeant Greg Brown was assigned to investigate his complaint and that, “The Police Department has also notified the Citizen Police Complaint Commission (CPCC), an independent investigative commission, of your complaint. The CPCC will conduct a separate and independent investigation of your complaint.”

On May 15, 2018 Christopher received a boilerplate letter from CPCC Special Investigator Patrick Weithers confirming notification from Commander Cox that the complaint was filed, assuring him that “We would like to conduct as thorough an investigation as possible.”

Weithers further informed him “it may be several months before the investigation is complete” and assured him that “you will be notified of our findings, once the inquiries are complete.”

On August 8, 2018 CPCC special investigator Patrick Weithers interviewed Christopher by telephone.

The phone call was recorded with permission from both sides.

Following the telephonic interview Christopher’s attorney, Narine Mkrtchyan, emailed Weither’s the medical records and the video Christopher took of the fight and police activity at the Pine Avenue location prior to his detention.

Review of Transcript

The Beachcomber reviewed the interview transcript (recorded by Mkrtchyan) a year later (August 2019) prior to conducting the Pine Avenue walk through.

Applying 20 years of police experience as an investigator, supervisor and police executive with a deep understanding of the police personnel complaint investigation and adjudication process this writer concluded the CPCC interview by Weithers was incompetent and absent any real effort to determine the truth.

The interview should not have been conducted by telephone, but in person, with a walk-through of the parking lot scene and a show up of LBPD personnel photos so that Christopher could properly identify HO #1, WO#1, WO #2, HO #2 and the police sergeant; establish parking lot positions, collect measurements, sight lines and distances so that probability analysis could present a contextually accurate representation of the fight scene and establish who was able to see what and when, as well as videotape a reenactment of the physical manner in which Christopher was handcuffed in order to establish the “mechanics” of his broken bone.

The Beachcomber obtained a radio log of the incident. Of the 12 officers documented at the scene six had Hispanic surnames.

Two of the Beachcomber’s inside sources reviewed the radio log and each stated that between the first two Hispanic officers to arrive at the scene, both have reputations for being overly aggressive and long complaint histories including excessive use of force.

The sources said that the officer who appeared to best fit the physical description of HO #1 provided by Christopher has an extensive complaint history including “twisting people up,” failure to report use of force and insubordination.

Contrary to LBPD boilerplate verbiage related to the so-called “Independence of Investigations” between the LBPD and the CPCC, Christopher was never contacted by IA Sergeant Greg Brown or any other investigator from LBPD Internal Affairs.

The Beachcomber is familiar with the discredited city policy that forbids a CPCC investigator from interviewing LBPD officers, thereby leaving CPCC investigations to corrode from lack of investigative continuity and fail to accomplish what the city promises the complaining citizen – a “thorough and independent investigation.”

The Beachcomber determined through public records that CPCC investigator Patrick Weithers submitted his so-called “independent” investigation for review and recommendation by the CPCC commissioners on April 11, 2019.

Christopher was not notified of the hearing as is the established CPCC practice and was thus denied the opportunity to address the civilian commissioners prior to their secret deliberations on his complaint.

An analysis of the CPCC minutes (designed by the city to conceal specific case comparisons to the commission vote) indicate that the citizen commissioners voted 7-0 to exonerate the officer’s conduct.

It is not known what materials the civilian commissioners could see – including the medical records. But it is known that the CPCC does not conduct a full and complete investigation.

Instead, CPCC staff “cuts and pastes” from IA reports into CPCC investigation reports, which misleads the civilian commissioners into believing they are receiving a completely “independent” investigation.

Seventeen months have passed since Christopher filed his letter of complaint with Chief Luna and five months have passed since the CPCC commissioners heard the matter and forwarded their recommendations to City Manager Pat West, with whom the final adjudication authority (weighing the IA and CPCC “independent” investigations and recommendations) lies.

To date, Christopher has not received notification from the city manager – as promised in Weither’s original boilerplate letter that stated: “Please be assured that you will be notified of our findings once the inquiries are complete.”

Public Records Request

In order to fill in the blanks of the investigation, confirm the identity of HO #1 and examine just how credible, honest or dishonest the police department and city is with regard to complaints of this kind, the Beachcomber filed a public records request on July 1, 2019 using the authority of Senate Bill 1421, legislation made effective on Jan. 1, 2019, that gives the public the right to access records related to “any incident where a law enforcement officer used force that resulted great bodily injury or death.”

Seven days later the LBPD Records Center notified the Beachcomber that the investigative records were being withheld.

That same day (July 9, 2019) the Beachcomber contacted City Attorney Charles Parkin’s deputy in charge of SB 1421 legal guidance for the LBPD and asked to understand the legal opinion applied to the denial.

The deputy city attorney (DCA) replied: “For a use of force to be eligible for release under SB 1421, the use of force must result in either great bodily injury or death. Case CIT2018-0017 (Christopher’s complaint #) is not eligible for release under SB 1421 because the alleged use of force did not result in great bodily injury.”

The Beachcomber wrote the DCA back and asked: “May I clarify: it is the city attorney’s opinion that a fractured elbow is not considered to be “great bodily injury”?

The DCA responded, “A bone fracture or broken bone would be considered eligible for release under SB 1421 as “great bodily injury.” To reiterate, the use of force alleged in CIT2018-0017 did not result in great bodily injury and therefore is not eligible for release under SB 1421.”

The Beachcomber emailed the DCA again and emphasized the fact that the city had been in possession of Christopher’s medical records for months and that the hospital x-rays clearly established his elbow was fractured.

A copy of the medical record was attached to the email and a request to release the records was made once again.

The DCA replied: “Thank you for sending the attached document. This document was not previously provided to the city. As such, the LBPD is looking into this document and whether the alleged use of force resulted in great bodily injury. I do not have an estimate of how long it will take to obtain a determination.”

It took 12 days and 11 more email exchanges before the DCA informed the Beachcomber of the city’s final “rational” for denial.

The Decision to Sue

The DCA wrote, “Based on the record you provided and the mechanism of injury that Mr. Williams describes, Mr. William’s injuries are also not consistent with the type of force alleged.”

The DCA continued, “Additionally, there was no contemporaneous report of pain at the time of the alleged force. Thus, we cannot make a finding that the alleged use of force resulted in great bodily injury.”

The Beachcomber filed a lawsuit to obtain the public records.

The first court hearing will be held in Department 82 of the Los Angeles Superior Court at the Stanley Mosk Court House, 111 N. Hill Street in downtown Los Angeles on Jan. 7, 2020 at 9:30 a.m.

Part 2 of this two-part series will tell the story of a second SB 1421 related records denial by the city that involves “the dishonest character of peace officers, along with the willful (serial) embezzlement of public funds in a corrupt overtime scheme which resulted in unearned public funds being paid to members of the Long Beach Police Department.

Stephen Downing is a resident of Long Beach and a retired LAPD deputy chief of police. stephen.beachcomber@gmail.com.

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Comments

Welcome to the most corrupt city and police department in the entire USA. Where the city attorney's office and the JOKE of the CCPC helps hide police misconduct. I agree with Stinger Buzz after so many tax payer payouts and no one being held accountable, I to wonder why these corrupt people are still allowed to run the city and why are these corrupt cops allowed to get away with this type of behavior!! we need the FED's to come in and we the LBC need to remove this pice of Sh.t city government. LBPD RISE UP, we deserve a corrupt free city government

The ONLY reason this police corruption is ALLOWED to continue is because the Mayor and City Council condones it. City Council could change this behavior in a flash if they chose to. But that would mean they would ALL have to ignore the hundreds of thousands of dollars and police support they received from the police union to get themselves elected.

What's it going to take before Long Beach citizenry becomes outraged enough to contact their elected representative and demand change?

As long as the POA operates as an independent business separate from the city, we will have problems. These are police. They operate inappropriately serving their own interests. The POA have picketed downtown businesses who complained about police abuse and not one city council person has ever raised the issue that this appears to be out of their purview. This has scared people from complaining about bad treatment. In what other police jurisdiction would this happen? What other union would have their president sit in on administrative meetings as a high ranking manager to make manager/employee decisions and then change hats to represent the rank and file. It is absurd and most likely against the law. If not it should be. It appears to be a huge conflict of interest. The city manager controls what is investigated, how much, and the cutoff point of complaints. He controls if the complaints get to the commission. It is a stacked deck.

What Stinger Buzz said!
"Not only is there crystal clear evidence of corruption within the ranks of the PD, but city council members and the mayors office are cut from the very same cloth of corruption and secrecy."

If I were selected to sit on the jury, I'd find the City of Long Beach guilty and then award Mr. Williams a very substantial amount of money for his physical and mental pain along with the loss of pay that he lost for his time off work...

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