LBPD Chief Luna Added to Racial Profiling Lawsuit

By: 
Stephen Downing

On July 22 a U.S. District Judge ruled that Long Beach Chief of Police Robert Luna could be added as a defendant in a racial profiling lawsuit against the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) and the L.A. Metro.

In the ruling, District Court Judge Andre Birotte, Jr. held that Luna “could be personally liable for his role in promulgating, maintaining and encouraging the LBPD policies and practices that resulted in the alleged constitutional violations carried out against plaintiffs on the Metro Blue Line in Long Beach.”

Judge Birotte’s ruling comes on the heels of newly released data, which shows that black riders in Long Beach were disproportionately stopped on suspicion of fare evasion by the LBPD in 2019.

The data shows that black riders accounted for 62% of all stops for failure to pay on Long Beach transit buses and the Metro Blue Line, despite representing only about 20% of ridership.

Shirin Buckman, attorney for the plaintiffs, said she found the data to be “astonishing” and that it “underscores the importance of the case against Chief Luna.

Shirin added that her research revealed that, “Almost 50 percent of Long Beach’s budget goes to police and that L.A. Metro is spending more per capita on police than almost any other transit system in the country. Nearly $800 million of its budget is spent on a five-year policing security contract.”

“This is a 60 percent increase from its previous policing budget, at a time when transit crime is on the decline,” she said.

The Beachcomber Investigation

In researching elements of the lawsuit, prior to the courts adding Luna as a defendant, the Beachcomber found that the date of occurrence in which LBPD officers engaged in the incident – that resulted in the racial profiling allegation while fare checking – was totally out of sync with the $30 million contract arranged by Mayor Robert Garcia between the city and Metro L.A.

On Feb. 23, 2017 Garcia, acting in his capacity as a board member of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), voted to support the $646 million multi-agency transit policing contract, and transfer transit policing previously provided by the L.A. County Sheriff in Long Beach to the LBPD.

Garcia’s vote resulted in the city picking up $30 million in exchange for taking over the job of transit policing.

In an announcement that same day the mayor issued a press release titled, “A HUGH WIN FOR LONG BEACH – A SAFER BLUE LINE.”

“Well, we did it,” the press release claimed. “Today, the Metro Board of Directors unanimously voted to contract with the LPBD to patrol the Blue Line and the eight stops through the City of Long Beach. This $30 million multi-year contract will allow Long Beach to hire approximately 30 new police officers and personnel to patrol the Blue Line.”

What did Mayor Garcia know and when did he know it?

What the mayor knew – but omitted from his press release is that – although the $30 million contract would not be signed until late June for implementation in July 2017 - the city had already entered into an “informal agreement” for the LBPD to police MTA transit enforcement responsibilities in Long Beach.

The two LBPD officers and the sergeant involved in the racial profiling lawsuit reported here were enforcing fare violations on behalf of the Transit Authority on Feb. 14, 2017, nine days prior to the MTA board’s Feb. 23, 2017 vote to approve the contract and five months prior to the final contract being approved and implemented.

Additionally, according to contract documents acquired by the Beachcomber, the mayor knew that “The hiring of 30 new police officers” would not happen.

According to those documents, the entire takeover program was planned to be implemented on the basis of overtime in a manner consistent with other LBPD programs implemented by the city in which officers are assigned to extended duties beyond their regular duty shifts and days off – a controversial staffing strategy sustained by agreements between the mayor, City Council and the Long Beach Police Officers Association (LBPOA) in lieu of hiring more police officers following the cutback of 200 officers during the economic downturn.

Also, exacerbating the liability of the lawsuit – and others that may follow – the Beachcomber found that the involved officers – and their supervisor – had not been trained in a “Four-hour training course related to transit policing, a course of instruction ultimately made a condition of the 42-page July 2017 contract with the MTA.

But, in spite of no training, the officers were issued the Mobile Phone Validator for TAP-cards developed by Axiom and, according to statements made by those involved, were “unofficially” deployed to enforce fare violations for the MTA.

According to legal documents it was Feb. 14, 2017 – Valentine’s Day – when the untrained officers and their sergeant “unfairly targeted Kathleen Williams, an African American grandmother of four along with her fiancée, Michael Hill, an African American male.”

According to the documents both Williams and Hill had LA Metro Tap Cards and both cards showed a pattern of regular usage.

During the encounter serious questions arose as to the validity of the examination of Hill’s card by the officers.

This flaw was allegedly compounded when the sergeant called to the scene refused to verify - after Williams thinking her card had been lost in transit – found the Tap Card in her rear pocket after being arrested, handcuffed and placed in the police car for refusing to sign a disputed citation.

Because of that refusal, Williams spent two days in jail prior to the city prosecutor refusing to file charges in “the furtherance of justice.”

On July 13 – in an effort to advance its investigation into issues surrounding the arrests – the Beachcomber sent the following email – and questions - to the LBPD and city attorney:

“The Beachcomber is working on a story related to LBPD transit policing and would like a response to questions based upon the following background:

On Feb. 23, 2017 Mayor Robert Garcia announced that the LBPD would take over transit policing in Long Beach under what would be a $30 million contract.

That contract was not finalized and implemented until July 2017 yet nine days prior to the original announcement – on Feb. 14, 2017 – and five months prior to the contract being finalized – two LBPD officers and a supervisor, using MTA fare verification smart phone applications, were engaged in fare validation enforcement at the MTA Blue Line’s Willow station.

During that time the officers arrested an African American woman, Kathleen Williams, for failure to sign a disputed fare violation citation.

The officers involved were Robert J. Cruz and Norman A. Dumaplin.

The supervisor called to the scene was Sergeant Jonathan Steinhauser.

After Williams spent two days in jail the city prosecutor rejected a criminal filing, in the interest of furthering justice, and she was released.

William filed a personnel complaint with LBPD Internal Affairs (IA) - #CIT2017-0041

Williams was never interviewed after filing the IA complaint.

The Beachcomber has the following questions regarding the above:

1. Under what authority and circumstances were LBPD officers deployed to engage in fare checking activity on behalf of the MTA at this time?

2. When – prior to implementation of the July 2017 contract – did the city begin assigning LBPD officers to MTA-related policing activity and was the city reimbursed for those deployments? If so, how much?

3. Were any of the officers or the sergeant named above provided the four-hour transit policing training course prior to Feb. 14, 2017?

4. Specifically, were any of the LBPD personnel named above provided the MTA instruction and training module related to “Fare Collection and Fare Evasion?”

5. Were any of the officers involved – or the LBPD administration – ever informed that Metrolink TAP cards were in need of proof of concept testing at the time they were being used by officers for enforcement purposes?

5. Was IA complaint CIT 2017-0041 investigated and, if so, why was Williams not interviewed?

6. Sources informed the Beachcomber that the IA complaint was adjudicated as unfounded. Is that the case? And if so, we would appreciate knowing the rational – (administrative insight) articulated in the adjudication report that supports that classification.

7. Did the circumstances surrounding the arrest and booking of Williams result in any change of enforcement policy related to fare evasion checking and enforcement actions by the LBPD subsequent to this arrest? If so, may we have a copy of the policy?

The LBPD replied, “Due to pending litigation, please direct your inquiry to the city attorney’s office.

The city attorney replied, “The Williams case is active litigation, so our office has no comment at this time.”

In an email to Kathleen Williams' attorney, Shirin Buckman, the Beachcomber asked the attorney what she hoped to accomplish by bringing the lawsuit.

In response Buckman wrote, “A consent decree against the LBPD is needed so that African American individuals, families and communities in Long Beach and MTA Blue Line passengers who are African American are no longer unconstitutionally terrorized by the LBPD.”

The email continued, “Accountability is needed to remove officers with long histories of internal affairs complaints, officer-involved murders and civil rights lawsuits. Currently, LBPD internal affairs investigations are conducted by its own officers, some of whom have a long history of internal affairs complaints themselves.”

Buckman concluded her email, stating, “An independent and transparent internal affairs process is desperately needed so that these officers are disciplined and removed from the police force.”

 

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

Why are we not recalling the city attorney? he helps Luna commit crimes. Fire Luna before we the tax payer have to make more payouts due to his corruption and incompetence.

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