Beachcomber Sues Long Beach Police Department

By: 
Stephen Downing

On Sept. 11, the Beachcomber filed a Petition for Writ of Mandate with the Superior Court to enforce its right to receive previously denied public records from the City of Long Beach as provided in Senate Bill 1421, which became law effective Jan. 1, 2019.

Thomas E. Beck, Esq. of the Beck Law Firm, representing the Beachcomber, served the legal action on the city on Thursday, Sept. 12.

The petition disputes the city’s refusal to produce records related to two serious LBPD misconduct investigations.

The first involves records sought that “reflect directly on 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.”

The second is related to a citizen who initiated a complaint alleging unidentified Long Beach officers used excessive force during a temporary unlawful detention that “caused him great bodily injury by fracturing his arm and subsequently failed to provide medical aid.”

A Short History on Police Disciplinary Secrecy

SB 1421, effective at the beginning of this year, drilled a small but important opening into the wall of secrecy erected by police unions (POAs) over 50 years ago to conceal acts of police misconduct from the public.

In the 1970s POAs across California – as well as the rest of the Nation – began to realize that their substantial treasuries provided a powerful and effective lobbying tool for achieving the kind of legislation that would benefit their memberships as well as their “in-the-bubble-tough-on-crime” attitudes aimed at shaping how their communities should be policed.

The unintended consequences of POAs marketing their thin-blue-line jingoism along with a continuous flow of campaign cash attached to unsavory political bargains over the past five decades has seen the criminal justice system unravel, the rate of Americans incarcerated unequaled in the world, an unprecedented number of police shootings, salary and pension costs taking state and local governments to the brink of fiscal insolvency and the structures of transparency that assure integrity, trust, healthy relationship-building and public confidence in law enforcement severely broken.

SB 1421 – the new legislation upon which the Beachcomber’s legal action is based – was a first small step aimed at undoing the 1970s records secrecy laws that prevented traditional public access to police disciplinary records – including excessive use of force and integrity matters such as lying, stealing and taking bribes.

Back then, the POA initiatives to conceal officer misconduct from public oversight was strongly opposed by chiefs of police and other public sector executives.

Today, that is not the case.

This writer, in his position as a police executive at the time, personally represented LAPD Chief Ed Davis in Sacramento to argue against the 1970s police misconduct secrecy legislation.

Chief Davis – later a state senator – knew that shutting the door on police transparency would serve to undo all of what had been accomplished to restore community trust in the police since the 1965 Watts riot.

At that time it was also predicted that professional police internal disciplinary adjudication standards would erode in favor of misplaced fraternal sympathies for the rank and file and/or cronyism simply because the self-restraint imposed on police executives knowing their decisions would be open to public inspection was no longer a factor.

The evolution in police administration over the past 50 years – operating without the influence of that restraint has allowed that prediction to become a reality.

What we did not predict is that many city attorneys, city managers and elected politicians across the state would come to embrace the legislation, primarily because the new secrecy surrounding police misconduct helped them conceal internal scandals and avoid legal liabilities.

The New Attitude 50 Years Later

When SB 1421 was first introduced in Sacramento, not only did the POAs and police chiefs across the state oppose the legislation, but the California League of Cities – a lobbying organization that represents city governments including Long Beach – also strongly opposed it.

That opposition did not stop when the legislation ultimately passed.

The City of Long Beach clearly anticipated the coming storm that would result from public access to decades of police disciplinary records that would expose adjudication decisions made by ranking police administrators and the city manager.

A week before SB 1421 went into effect, City Attorney Charles Parkin, City Manager Pat West and Chief of Police Robert Luna pushed the City Council to authorize the destruction of 23 years’ worth of internal affairs records.

After the council did their bidding, Chief Luna’s spokesperson said the action was not prompted by the new transparency law – although he did acknowledge, “some of the documents may have been subject to it.”

When SB 1421 became law, POAs across the state brought baseless lawsuits to prevent the release of disciplinary records preceding the effective date of Jan. 1.

The attorney general got behind the POA effort and Long Beach City Attorney Charles Parkin jumped onto the bandwagon announcing: “The city is following the attorney general’s direction and will not disclose any records related to incidents that pre-date Jan. 1, 2019.”

The announcement was made in spite of the fact that the attorney general gave no direction to any city but was instead protecting the disciplinary records of his own law enforcement rank and file along with criminal conviction records of thousands of active-duty police officers across the state, troves of which have since been obtained by two journalist investigative groups.

POAs Lose Court Bid to Maintain Secrecy

Over the past few months the POAs and the attorney general lost their court battles and City Attorney Parkin finally backed off his records release prohibition.

Yet, eight months have passed since the effective date of SB 1421 and the bulk of media requests made to LB City Hall for SB 1421-specific police disciplinary records have yet to be delivered.

The Beachcomber, as well as other news organizations, did receive responsive documents to one SB 1421 related records request involving an accidental (negligent) firearms discharge by a motor officer that wounded a motorist.

The LBPD’s shooting review board and Chief Luna reviewed the February 2019 incident, investigated by LBPD homicide and the D.A.’s office, in March.

The negligent shooting has yet to be classified as in or out of policy because, for some unexplained reason, the incident is being re-investigated by Internal Affairs.

This public records release afforded the Beachcomber a first look into the previously secret internal protocols followed by the LBPD in officer-involved shootings (OIS) and will be the subject of a future Beachcomber story that examines the flaws, conflicts of interest, lack of cohesive reporting, ineffectiveness of the district attorney’s so-called independent investigation and the absence of archival training documentation.

The Petition for Writ of Mandate

The Beachcomber’s petition for a Writ of Mandate was made necessary because the chief of police and city manager, abetted by the city attorney, has elected to fight the requirements of SB 1421 with baseless arguments rather than accommodate the letter and spirit of the new law and adapt to the positive change that it will produce, which may very well prompt an exodus from city service of those who relied upon document secrecy to engineer cover-ups of criminal misconduct.

In the Petition, as it relates to the overtime fraud records, Beachcomber attorney Thomas Beck wrote: “Such behavior is criminal regardless of the label the city chooses to apply to such internal investigations. Respondent is refusing to provide the requested public records as required under current law by a self-serving and tortured interpretation of reporting an investigation or prosecution of a crime.”

In the case of the excessive force records refusal, Parkin’s deputy first denied document release writing, “There was no serious injury, as required by SB 1421.”

When the Beachcomber provided hospital records confirming evidence of a broken bone – that had been in the city’s possession for months – Parkin’s deputy created a new excuse to deny, writing “There was no contemporaneous report of pain at the time of the alleged force. Based on the record you provided and the mechanism of injury that Mr. (Complainant) describes, (his) injuries are also not consistent with the type of force alleged.”

All of which has nothing to do with the legal requirements of SB 1421 – and the principal reason the Beachcomber finally decided that it was time to go to court.

Jay Beeler, the Beachcomber’s publisher, said of the Petition for Writ of Mandate served on the city is “A new, novel way for us to get the city to stop the stonewalling and sends the message for them to comply with the law. SB 1421 was enacted because the public has a strong, compelling interest in law enforcement transparency. It is essential to having a just and democratic society.”

 

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

Category:

Comments

Its obvious and well known by every citizen in the LBC that we have a corrupt PD that no one respects and trust. If that was not bad enough the other city department that is suppose to kept them on legal grounds is just as corrupt as the department they are to keep in line. Now we have to worry about the people we elected to the city council being complicit with their violations of the law. If this is not the definition of an Organized crime syndicate what is? Is it too much to ask for a city government to follows the law? am sure they expect that from the citizens in the LBC.... Why are the Fed's not investigating this corrupted city government?

One needs only to follow the money contributed by the Police Union (POA) to glimpse how corrupt our political and legal system is and how it will impact release of SB 1421 information. The POA has contributed over $152,000 of police officer union dues to the accounts of Long Beach’s Mayor and City Council since 2017. Below is the list.

...............................2017...............2018...............2019...............Total
Robert Garcia.......$1,800........$111,000.............$5,000........$117,800
Rex Richardson ...$1,150............$1,500.............$5,750............$8,400
Al Austin.................$750...............$750.............$5,450............$6,950
Suzie Price............$1,150...............$750................$750............$2,650
Roberto Uranga....$1,150.............$6,318...................................$7,468
Stacy Mungo...........$400.............$7,068................$750...........$8,218
Daryl Supernaw.......$750..............................................................$750 Total....................$7,150.........$127,386...........$17,700.......$152,236

It is already announced these same elected officials identified above who received contributions from the Police Union will vote on September 17 to approve a new 3 year POA contract increase of $17.8 million. This comes after an already approved $14.8 million increase in 2017. This equates to EACH POLICE OFFICER RECEIVING A PAY AND BENEFITS INCREASE OF ROUGHLY $30,000 PER YEAR SINCE 2017, paid for by taxpayers. Keep in mind these huge increases were negotiated in secret between the POA and these same elected officials in closed session where the public and press were not allowed. In addition, rules for releasing SB 1421 information to the public will be written into this new 3-year POA union contract being approved on September 17 by the above elected officials that will further delay the release of SB 1421 information and give the city a legal reason to point to after the contract is signed. If our elected city representatives are not complicit in covering up police corruption, ask yourself why are they spending so many taxpayer dollars doing everything legally and illegally possible to prevent release of information about police department activities? Following the money provides a hint to the answer.

These corrupt cops get a raise and we the tax payer have to pay out millions for their misconduct !!BS... Any Council member that has taken money should not be able to vote on these corrupt cops contract, this is a conflict of interest big time. We the tax payer should have a say so in this matter!! we need to vote these corrupt people out of office!!

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Beachcomber

Copyright 2019 Beeler & Associates.

All rights reserved. Contents may not be reproduced or transmitted – by any means – without publisher's written permission.