City Settles Beachcomber Lawsuit

By: 
Stephen Downing

City Pays $30,000 in Attorney Fees

On Sept. 9, 2019 the Beachcomber published an article entitled “Frustration with Dishonesty,” which outlined the story of Christopher Williams, 35, an African American, off -duty bus driver confronted by LBPD police officers while standing in a crowd watching – and videotaping – multiple fights occurring in the Pine street parking lot next to the Moonshiners Club in Downtown Long Beach on March 25, 2018.

Williams alleged that he was falsely accused by police for punching one of the combatants (who fell to the pavement in front of him), handcuffed in a manner that broke his arm, temporarily detained and subsequently released without receiving the medical attention he pled for on numerous occasions.

While protesting his innocence Williams pointed to a young Asian woman who witnessed the assault and appeared to be associated with the injured man, but the officer’s ignored him.

Sixteen months after filing a personnel complaint with the LBPD alleging excessive force, illegal detention and refusal to provide medical aid, Williams participated in a walk though investigation in the Pine Street parking lot with this reporter where he narrated the circumstances of his arrest and the belligerent behavior by the Hispanic officer who handcuffed him.

Williams also demonstrated the mechanics of the violence of the handcuffing process used by the Hispanic officer when jerking his arm in an upward motion, breaking his elbow. He said the pain caused him to scream in protest.

Williams’ attorney, Narine Mkrtchyan of Glendale, provided the Beachcomber with a detailed physical description of the offending Hispanic officer who broke his arm and the Caucasian officer who stood in front of him while he was handcuffed.

He said the Caucasian officer escorted him across the parking lot to a paddy wagon, while the Hispanic officer who broke his arm remained with another Hispanic officer and the assault victim.

After obtaining LBPD radio logs surrounding the incident, which identified all officers responding to the scene, two Beachcomber sources said that the Hispanic officer who best fit the description of the officer who broke his arm was 13-year veteran Didier Reyes and the Caucasian officer who walked him to the paddy wagon was 16-year veteran Derek Ernest.

The sources also concluded from the descriptions that the officer who remained with the downed combatant along with Reyes was Reyes’ beat partner, 5-year veteran Bryant Yuriar.

The Beachcomber referred to Reyes as Hispanic Officer #1 in the Sept. 9 story and reported that sources said he: “has an extensive complaint history including ‘twisting people up,’ failure to report use of force and insubordination.”

Williams’ attorney provided both the Beachcomber and Citizens Police Complaint Commission (CPCC) Investigator Patrick Weithers a still frame of the video that featured the officer who Williams identified as the police officer who broke his arm.

The Beachcomber subsequently displayed the still frame photo to one inside source who replied, “I’m ninety-five percent sure its Didier Reyes.”

The Beachcomber subsequently filed a Public Records Request with the LBPD under the authority of Senate Bill 1421, which mandates release of all documents related to use of force allegations that result in serious injury.

The PRA request was denied by one of City Attorney Charles Parkin’s deputies (DCA) who first asserted there was no serious injury.

When the Beachcomber provided the medical records (provided to CPCC investigators months earlier) that proved Williams’ arm was broken, the DCA agreed that a broken bone was a serious injury, but wrote: “Based on the (medical) record you provided and the mechanism of injury that Mr. Williams describes, Mr. Williams’ injuries are 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 request for documents was again denied.

Because SB 1421 does not require a “finding” but only the allegation of a serious injury, the Beachcomber engaged the highly respected civil rights attorney, Thomas Beck, to file a lawsuit demanding release of the investigative records.

The full details surrounding the alleged encounter with Williams, the Beachcomber investigation and attempts to acquire the SB 1421 mandated public records – as reported on Sept. 9, 2019 – can be read here.

Beachcomber Lawsuit

The first court hearing was held in downtown Los Angeles on Jan. 7, 2020.

Following nine months of litigation, which included the filing of numerous legal briefs, a deposition hearing and multiple court hearings, the city attorney offered the Beachcomber a settlement agreement that specified the city would release all documents requested and pay attorney fees totaling $30,000.

The LBPD Internal Affairs Investigation, chain of review and disposition documents as well as documents provided to CPCC commissioners for review and adjudication were released to the Beachcomber on Dec. 18, 2020.

However, a key document that would later expose a LBPD cover-up in the Williams case was not released.

Specifics surrounding discovery of that document and what it revealed will be detailed in part two of this story on Feb. 12.

Document Collections

The documents released to the Beachcomber included two separate collections; one from the LBPD’s Internal Affairs Division, which included officer interviews, administrative review and disposition and the other records from the “complete and separate” investigation conducted by CPCC investigator Patrick Weithers along with a checkbox document that recorded the findings of the CPCC Commissioners.

The only documents common to both packages were the LBPD radio call log, the incident/crime report and the original complaint filed by Williams.

Letter of Complaint

Key elements of the Williams complaint included allegations that “the excessive use of force – when handcuffed by a Hispanic officer – “caused him (Williams) a fractured elbow, loss of wages and emotional distress.”

The complaint further stated that Williams protested to the officers that, “I was not involved. I did not do this” and the Hispanic officer “did not pay attention but twisted his arm to his back.” He felt a sharp pain to his arm and told the Hispanic officer, “You are hurting me.”

The complaint then alleged, “The Hispanic officer then handcuffed him and a second Caucasian officer walked Williams from the scene to a police van at the opposite side of the parking lot.”

The letter of complaint stated that the officers “did not pay attention to his complaint or his request for medical attention … released him without booking … and reported that on that same day that, “Mr. Williams who still could not move his right arm, checked into the Torrance Medical Center and was diagnosed with a fractured elbow.”

The letter further reported a detailed description of the Hispanic officer and stated that “Mr. Williams has a snapshot of the officer on his cell phone and we will make it available upon request.”

The correspondence (dated April 10, 2018) also requested that the police department retrieve and preserve surveillance video from LBPD controlled cameras positioned to cover the Pine Street parking lot.

The CPCC Investigation

According to the documents provided to the Beachcomber under the settlement agreement, the CPCC was first notified of the April 10, 2018 complaint filed with Chief Robert Luna on May 7 in a memo from Internal Affairs Commander Lloyd Cox to CPCC Executive Director Anitra Dempsey. Williams’ written complaint was attached to the memo.

The CPCC investigation was assigned to civilian investigator Patrick Weithers, who reported to the commissioners in his investigative report that his “impartial investigation” began on June 12, 2018 with final documents received on Dec. 3 and that his investigation “ended on March 29, 2019”

The Beachcomber’s review of the document package presented to the board of civilian commissioners revealed that Weithers’ investigation was restricted to collecting the reports included in the package and conducting one interview – Christopher Williams.

The involved officers were not interviewed due to a policy unique to the City of Long Beach that prohibits CPCC investigators from conducting interviews of sworn officers and – at the time of the CPCC investigation – prohibited the CPCC from accessing “compelled statements” of sworn officers (or a summary of their interviews) obtained by Internal Affairs Investigators.

The city has since relented and beginning Jan. 1, 2021 CPCC investigators are provided audio interviews of officer statements, but still prohibited by unsubstantiated city policy from attending or monitoring internal affairs interviews, asking clarifying questions or conducting individual interviews of accused or witness officers.

Weithers did not seek out other potential witnesses including Fire Department paramedics who responded and treated the injured combatant or individuals in the company of the injured combatant.

The CPCC investigator also failed to interview the injured combatant, who was identified in a LBPD crime report completed by Reyes’ beat partner, Bryant Yuriar.

Yuriar completed a crime report that identified the injured combatant as the victim of felony battery and identified Williams as the suspect, in spite of his release.

The document package did not include any disposition by detectives or the district attorney that cleared Williams as the suspect in the reported crime.

None of the physicians, nurses or the radiologists who examined and treated Williams for his broken elbow were interviewed, nor was his employer who could testify to Williams’ statements relative to the incident and the three months he was off work because of his inability to perform as a bus driver.

Weithers also did not follow up a request made in the original complaint (and in his interview with Williams) to “retrieve and preserve surveillance video from LBPD controlled cameras positioned to cover the Pine Street Parking lot.”

Report Misleads Commissioners

According to depositions recently obtained by the Beachcomber, Patrick Weithers is required to routinely submit his “independent investigations” for “review’ by senior staff in the city manager’s office prior to submission to the board of CPCC commissioners.

It is presently unknown if the deputy city manager involved in that process directed additions, deletions, re-writes or a re-investigation in the Williams investigation prior to submission to the commission.

Nor is it yet known if Weithers was directed to falsify the allegations presented to the commissioners in his investigative report.

Under the heading of “Allegations” Weithers falsely wrote: “Complainant Christopher Williams alleges that on 3/25/2018, at 130 Pine Avenue, Long Beach, Officer Derek Ernest #6082, while on duty, used unnecessary force when he twisted Complainants Williams’ arm behind his back”

The second allegation alleged that Officer Ernest was unprofessional when he detained Williams “without’ legal justification.

Only the third allegation in Williams’ report involved Officer Dieder Reyes. It stated: “While on duty, Reyes was unprofessional when he detained Complainant Williams without justification.”

Under the subject of “Witnesses,” Williams reported that he conducted no interviews, although he did provide a summary of his Interview with Williams. (More on that later).

Under the heading of “Factual Background” Williams provided a general summary that did not name or describe any officer. He reported that patrol officers saw a fight and stopped it and “after the fight complainant Williams was subsequently detained at the scene, conversation ensued between Williams and officers and Williams was eventually released from the scene.”

Under the category of “Statements” Weithers provided a five-paragraph summary of his telephonic interview of Williams.

The Beachcomber reviewed a transcript of the interview and compared it to the summary provided to the CPCC commissioners. (The commissioners were not provided with the transcript). The key information the commissioners were not provided in Weithers’ summary was the separate and distinct descriptions of the officers involved.

Therefore, the reader – when comparing the false introductory allegation of excessive force that named Officer Ernest would have no cause or basis by which to raise questions as to why Ernest was made the subject of the excessive force allegation when the complainant specifically identified Reyes as the offending officer.

There was no reported investigative inquiry into this anomaly.

However, the package of documents in the LBPD Internal Affairs collection contained a memo from IA Commander Cox addressed to CPCC director, Anitra Dempsey, that was not included in the CPCC package of documents, which appears to break the rule of “independent” investigation between the two entities. Cox informed Dempsey “Officer Reyes DENIES the allegations made by the complainant.” (In Part Two on Feb. 12 we will report on another false statement made in this document.)

It is unknown if the commissioners read the original complaint or if it was discussed during their closed-door deliberation meeting, which was attended by Weithers, IA Commander Lloyd Cox and Anitra Dempsey.

A review of the Williams transcript – as well as the medical reports (described later) – would have afforded the commissioners a means of better judging Williams credibility as well as afford them a better frame of reference for determining if Ernest, as opposed to Reyes, was in fact the officer who broke the complaints arm.

Beachcomber review of the full transcript of the Williams interview (not provided to the commissioners) exposed the following investigative failures:

  • The interview was not conducted in person.
  • The interview did not include a walk-through at the location.
  • The investigator did not arrange a visual demonstration by Williams as to the manner in which he was handcuffed.
  • The investigator did not provide or ask Williams to identify photos of the involved officers.
  • Weithers did not ask for a description of a female who Williams identified in the interview as a possible witness to his innocence.

Under the heading of “Notes” Weithers reported on the video and screen shot provided by Williams but misrepresented Williams’ identification of the officer in the screenshot by stating in his report: “The screen shot is of the officer that Complaint Williams believes twisted his arm.”

The investigator omitted the fact that Williams identified the officer in the screenshot as Hispanic and he minimized the identification with use of the term, “believes” rather than informing the commissioners that his identification was absolute.

Also, in the “Notes” portion of his report Weithers summarized the medical report describing Williams fractured elbow and informed the commissioners that the full medical report was attached.

When examining the medical report attached to the CPCC investigative document the Beachcomber found that Weithers attachment included only three pages of the four-page medical report.

The page omitted included a statement from the hospital medical staff: “Patient states that an officer roughly placed his arms behind his back and he felt a pop in his elbow. He has had pain and swelling since the time of the incident. Patient states that he was not arrested, that the police realized that he was not part of the altercation and he was let go.”

The package of documents viewed by the board of CPCC commissioners did not include any kind of summary surrounding the commissioner’s deliberations, what questions were asked of Weithers, IA Commander Cox or what answers they provided to the questions.

The commissioners voted 7/0 to Exonerate the use of force allegation and 7/0 to not sustain the allegation of unbecoming conduct against Officer Ernest. As to the allegation of “Improper detention” against Officer Reyes, the commission voted 7/0 to exonerate.

The document sent to the city manager reporting the commission findings was a checkbox with handwritten scribbles in the disposition boxes. The city manager was not provided with a written rational that supported their decision.

Beachcomber attorney Thomas Beck was asked to fact check this story prior to publication. As part of his response he stated: “What stands out is the fact that the CPCC “Investigation” is no investigation at all but a deeply flawed, shallow and results oriented exercise… I welcome the sunlight this story will shed on the opaque and corrupt process that is nothing more than window dressing.”

In Part Two of this series on Feb. 12 the Beachcomber will review the documents produced relative to the “independent” investigation conducted by the LBPD’s Internal Affairs Division – and describe how the police department concealed a cover-up of the assault on Williams when producing the documents required of the Beachcomber legal settlement with the city.

 

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

stephen.beachcomber@gmail.com

 

 

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Comments

let me get this straight, we the tax payers have to pay $30K in attorney fees because the LB city attorney office did not want/hide the release of information that they had to release because of the new law? So the city attorney office is working hand in hand with the LBPD to help cover-up misconduct? This sounds like criminal organization behavior? This sounds like something the new DA is trying to stop. Maybe we should let him know that the police department and the city he lives in is a criminal organization. If am not mistaken isn't the city attorney office the first line of defense for us the citizens against police misconduct? Why is this officer (Reyes) who has a history of miscounted still working in this city? Like I said before, if the COP Luna is corrupt/incompetent what do we expect from the officers who work for him, SMH. Only in the LBC..God help us all

The discrepancies, lack of specifics and purposeful avoidances would be perfectly understandable if Long Beach were a contemporary Russian city....it may be that only a name change is called for! How did we get here? Thanks for your ever bright spotlight Chief Downing!

This article is just a small window to the corruption that plagues this city From the exorbitant payrolls, to corruption in the building department where non permitted establishments are allowed to flaunt the laws if they are connected to the building department ,
to the complete failure of the managing the queen Mary . a money pit that will never resurface but because of connected people the council keeps going along with the same old ways of robbing the tax payers

The reason extremism is growing in the United States is because of the growing mistrust of its citizens in their government. The increasing lack of transparency and accountability to the rule of law by our governments is driving people to react in increasingly violent ways.

Proven conspiracies by cities like Long Beach provides a recruiting poster for violent groups seeking better representation from their elected officials. The lack of transparency is becoming more than a black lives matter peaceful protest issue. It has now become a rallying cry for violent extremists across the spectrum of politics. All driven by a lack of transparency, of which Long Beach is the epitome.

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