LBPD Dragnet Snags the Innocent

By: 
Stephen Downing

She asked to remain anonymous because she fears retaliation. We will call her Lizzy. She is a woman of color.

Last month, after years of pursuing a part-time college education, Lizzy, 33, graduated with honors and applied to law school.

Her career plan was to become a labor attorney. That plan changed on July 14. She now wants to be a civil rights attorney.

On July 14 Lizzy left her home in Los Angeles and drove 80 miles east to the desert town of Hesperia to deliver medicine to her sister.

When she pulled onto Main Street, Lizzy said that red lights, sirens and seven police vehicles abruptly flooded her senses.

In seconds, a dozen uniformed police officers had guns pointed at her. A loud voice told her to exit her vehicle, put her hands in the air, lift her shirt and face away.

Lizzy said a panic attack had already consumed her. “I started to cry. I thought they were going to kill me,” she said.

She then heard the voice shout: “Walk backwards to us. Do as I say. Now.” She complied with the order.

Lizzy said an officer grabbed her, put her in handcuffs and shoved her in the back of a police car.

She said, “I asked what did I do? And they didn’t say anything. No one told me that I was under arrest or anything. They just shut the door. Locked me in.”

Lizzy said that she watched the officers search her car and take pictures. “No one asked my permission. They just did it,” she said.

She told the Beachcomber that one of officers then came back to the police car and “did something on the computer. Then he turned to me and said that my car was flagged at a crime scene and was considered armed and dangerous.”

Lizzy continued, “He said they were not necessarily looking for me and then he took off the handcuffs. He told me they were looking for my car and that I wasn’t under arrest. But then he shut the door again and kept me locked in the car for another hour before they let me go.

“They impounded my car and gave me the name and phone number for a Long Beach detective and said that I had to call him to get my car released,” she said.

Lizzy stayed with her sister that night. She was not able to reach Detective Sean Arndt until 7:30 the next morning.

“I tried to tell the detective what happened in Hesperia and how I still didn’t know what this was all about, but he said he wasn’t interested in any of that. He said he only wanted to know where I was on May 31.”

Lizzy said she had to look at her Instagram account to remember. “I went to the protest in Long Beach that day,” she said.

Lizzy told the detective that she was with her fiancé, that she parked her car on Ocean near Pine and had to walk about two blocks to the protest.

She told him that she saw two women who looked like they were looting, “But we stayed on the other side of the street because my goal was not to get hurt or involved … and I told the detective that I took a video of them. I offered to send it to him. But he said that he wasn’t interested.

“He said that my car was videotaped and involved in looting. He wanted my fiancée’s name and asked a lot of really intimidating questions. I started to realize that he was trying to put some kind of case on me,” she said.

“I got really scared and told him that I thought maybe it was time for me to talk to an attorney and he hung up,” she said.

“Then he called back five minutes later and asked me to send him the video I took. By then I decided that all my dealings with him should be through a lawyer, so I said, no. He said, okay and hung up again,” she said.

The next day, July 16, Detective Arndt called Lizzy and told her he had released her car but that she was still under investigation for looting.

Lizzy said, “I had to go to the Hesperia police and pay them $50 dollars to get a release paper and then to the impound yard and pay them $663 to get my car back.”

When Lizzy called her employer to say she would be delayed she said he asked if the police who stopped her were wearing masks. They were not. She had to give up five vacation days until her COVID test came back.

The Beachcomber was led to Lizzy via a July 7 article by Danielle Berrin in Forward, an online newsletter.

In that article it was reported that Lena August, while dining out in Pasadena, also had her vehicle impounded because her plates were flagged by the LBPD.

The report said her car “had been spotted in a parking lot adjacent to the Pike Outlets on May 31, the same day August attended a Black Lives Matter protest nearby.”

In response to questions posed by the Beachcomber about Lizzy’s case – as well as Lena August – Chief Robert Luna’s spokesperson wrote in a July 31 email that, “detectives initially believe the driver/occupants might have been involved in looting activity in Long Beach however, through further investigation, no evidence of such activity was found and the cars were released to the registered owners with no fees. No other charges are pending in either case. No additional investigative information related to these incidents is being released at this time.”

In an Aug. 4 follow-up interview with Lizzy, she said she was still out the money and that no one told her that her case was closed.

That same day the Beachcomber emailed Chief Luna’s spokesperson and reported the contradiction. The department did not reply.

On Aug. 6 Lizzy informed the Beachcomber that she received a text that day from LBPD Sgt. Malcolm Evans informing her that the city wanted to reimburse her for the “out of pocket expenses when your car was towed in Hesperia.”

Lizzy said she asked Evans in a subsequent phone call if her case was closed and he replied, I don’t know but you shouldn’t worry that much.”

According to Greg Buhl – a Long Beach attorney researching the LBPD’s Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) program – the LBPD acquired 22 advanced three-camera units in 2018 (for mounting on marked and unmarked police cars), adding to the 37 contracted for in 2006 and 2011. Another three stationary cameras allowed the LBPD to scan and store data on 24 million license plates in 2019.

[Editor Note: Click here to see Buhl’s analysis of the LBPD’s use of ALPR.]

A review of the LBPD’s written policy on the use of ALPR data indicates the only restriction the department has in place is that ALPR “may not be used for the purpose of monitoring individual activities protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

That policy was published by Chief Luna in March 2016 to fulfill the legal requirements of Senate Bill 34, made effective Jan.1, 2016.

Both state law and LBPD policy were arguably broken when the technology was used to scan the plates of those participating in constitutionally protected protests in Long Beach.

Tom Barham, a distinguished constitutional attorney, former Los Angeles Sheriff’s lieutenant and Vietnam veteran said, “This is an unconstitutional dragnet that is killing dolphins instead of catching sharks. In our system of justice collateral damage is not acceptable, no matter what technology they use.”

On Aug. 4 the Beachcomber sent an email to Chief Luna’s spokesperson requesting an interview with Detective Arndt or a written reply to ten questions that addressed how the LBPD police acquired her license plate, how it was tied to a crime, the justification supporting an armed and dangerous flag on the alert system, the reason the LBPD’s suspicion – as opposed to probable cause – was not followed up by traditional detective work, the reason that the car was impounded when the LBPD never followed up in Hesperia with a search warrant, why the ALPR constitutional requirements were ignored and what changed between July 14 and July 16 that caused the task force to release Lizzy’s vehicle.

By the time this story was locked for publication, the LBPD had not responded.

On Aug. 3 national news outlets reported a similar misguided license plate incident when police stopped, proned out and handcuffed a black mother and her young children on hot asphalt pavement in Aurora, Colo.

The Aurora chief of police made multiple, public apologies and said that her officers needed better training surrounding the protocols involved.

Patrick Skinner, a former CIA agent and current police officer from Savannah, Ga., nationally known for his position that “A cop like me should be a neighbor, not an enemy combatant” said the following about the Aurora incident:

“This is insane. I keep saying to all who will listen that this is not a matter of tinkering with police training. This is a foundational mindset of a war on crime that is utterly just a war on neighbors. Unless you change that mindset, nothing, nothing at all, will change.”

On Aug. 6 the LBPD announced establishment of a new office focused on constitutional policing. Chief Luna stated, “We will continue to make strides in our commitment to community engagement, meaningful partnerships and constitutional policing.”

The Beachcomber asked Luna’s spokesperson if an experienced constitutional attorney headed the office, had a staff and budget like those created by other progressive police departments and why the office reported to an assistant chief rather than the chief himself.

Luna’s spokesperson replied: “At this time we have nothing further to add. Thank you.”

 

Editor Update: On Aug 13 the Beachcomber was notified by Lizzy that an LBPD commander called and assured her the case was closed and that the city would refund her impound costs. Although unable to recall his name because of a press of business at the time, Lizzy was highly complimentary of the commander. She said, “Honestly this time this commander was nice. He said that if I need anything or have questions to call him.” On Aug. 15 we learned that it was Commander Donald Mauk, of the LBPD Special Investigations Division.

 

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

I believe that I’m now beginning to understand “defunding the police.” And end qualified immunity along with requiring cops to carry individual liability insurance for certification purposes. This would be a good start.

It is clear that our Long Beach Police Department Cannot reform themselves. The Chief is not capable of the strong moral and honorable directed leadership that is required. We have had the abuse of Tiger Text, racial profiling, " Stand Down and Stare" now this dragnet. When will it end? We have 2 years before the Police Officers Association Contract is to be negotiated. Perhaps it is time to ask for a cost estimate from the LA Sherrifs, and temporarily disband our LBPD. Start from scratch, have new and stricter guidelines and requirements for servivce, set new rates of pay and benefits, Set new guildelines such that the City does not pay for academy training anymore, and that periodic continuing education is mandated as well as a college degree. Review positions and elliminate the redundancy in upper management and restore community policing with all its standards, Open every substation to the public and begin again with citizen volunteers at the front desk. Remove the wrought iron bars from every station and let the sunshine of openness enter. Curtail the obscene salaries the POA has mandated (since they bought all of our elected officiasl) and write an ordinance that no union of employees of the City may donate to any campaign ever as a conflict of interest. ( I am sure we have local attorneys who can help craft such an ordinance)
One by one we could interview, train and make a new department that will fit the goals we set. Once we have a fully trained, shiny new department we can remove the Sheriffs and have a new community and justice oriented Police Department. From a purely business perspective we cannot afford the LBPD as we now have it, with almost 100 million dollars in outstanding legal settlements, attorney's fees, court costs and office costs pending for police abuse and misconduct. In any other business this mismanaged Department would be fired just do to maelfeasance. The POA has 2 years to convince me this is not the most effective avenue to pursue.

Mr. Fox,
Based on these two cases I am sure both ladies will file Civil Right Lawsuits. Instead of immediately negotiating a settlement for their egregious mistake the city will use City Attorney Haleh Jenkins whose has a history of using corrupt practices to defend the city. The city will spend thousands of dollars to defend the lawsuit and the egregious mistake opposed to admitting they violated the Civil Rights of both women. I truly believe the citizens of Long Beach know that regardless of the wrongdoing of the police officers the city will defend the officers, protect their jobs and not hold them accountable. So this behavior continues, because the citizens believe nothing will change.

Yes, I agree with you 100%.. the City attorney using unethical, corrupt and dishonest attorneys exactly like HALEH JENkINS to help the LBPD get away with criminal and retaliatory behavior. If am not mistaken the BeachComber has printed stories on Jenkins corrupt behavior, in the article a sitting court judges made statements regarding her unethical behavior during a civil lawsuit. I believe there is serval lawsuits still pending against the LBPD that involves Jenkins unethical behavior. This type of dishonest attorney is what the city of LB loves to hire to represent us. What else would we expect from a corrupt organization like the city of LB.

This is a joke every day we hear some type of police misconduct and nothing is every done by the city to this corrupt LBPD. why??? these officers and the chief of the PD are corrupt and incompetent. Let's bring in LASD to patrol the LBC and save us tax payer millions. I don't understand how the LBPD is able to stay in power when we the tax payer control the money. Bring in the fed's pr or LASD ..please save our city

LASD wouldn’t be an upgrade at all. Amount of cops patrolling would be less then it is now. We need to stop looking to cops like they’re not allowed to make a mistake.

“we need to stop looking to cops like they’re not allowed to make a mistake.”
The article demonstrates two mistakes - both which have been deadly and we don’t know how many more “mistakes” of this kind were made that may very well result in someones death or long term confinement for no reason other than sloppy uncaring callous and unconstitutional police work.  They know what they did, they knew it was wrong and they did it anyway so that they could produce numbers catching looters after the fact because their incompetence allowed it to happen in the first place.  So, yes, don’t blame the cops, blame the administration for not having a clue how to administer or how to create the kind of organizational culture that this city needs in its police department.

I believe they’re hiring, help be the change and lead from the front!

If red light cameras are still being used, how are license plate readers a civil rights violation? I thought driving is a privilege and there’s not a violation of privacy or rights when the car is in public view or on a city/county roadway.

I’m not for or against this article, just think it’s constant hypocrisy in our society to use technology for some crimes and not others. Let’s eliminate Ring and surveillance cameras too!

Oh ha ha,, hardy har har...City and police put "Measue A" up us Long Beach citizen's noses,  now they want police  funding support? !

Long Beach’s Tammany hall gets a turn around haircut! Such Comeuppance is a clever civic creation, what a bitter cup thou poured for thyself

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