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The People v. Charlie Beck: An Indictment of Five Years of LAPD Abuse

Shortly after LAPD Chief Charlie Beck submitted formal notification of his intent to serve another, 5-year term atop the United States’ third largest police force, the sycophantic, Los Angeles media – long-storied and ever-faithful propagandists to the city’s powerful interests – began churning out glowing hagiographies of him.

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 Renewed Focus on Chief Beck

Shortly after LAPD Chief Charlie Beck submitted formal notification of his intent to serve another, 5-year term atop the United States’ third largest police force, the sycophantic, Los Angeles media – long-storied and ever-faithful propagandists to the city’s powerful interests – began churning out glowing hagiographies of him. Observing that Beck had not been embroiled in any major controversies,”  the Daily News’ Rick Orlov intimated at the failure of LA’s access-obsessed journalists themselves to hold Beck accountable for the many controversies that a less power-beholden media might have blown wide open.

Controversies – the brazen favoritism, longstanding “blue line” unaccountability, wanton brutality and institutionalized corruption that have long plagued the LAPD – still fester like old sores just behind the highly-polished facade of Beck’s department. That shiny veneer, however – much like the edifice of the sparkling, police headquarters that reflects a crooked City Hall – remains sadly unscathed by the journalists we still mistakenly rely on to do real, investigative digging.

In short: if there has been little more than“friction” during Beck’s first term, it may be because today’s journalists – and even our own Civil Rights leaders – are too busy parroting talking points spewed by Eric Rose – of the high-powered-and-well-connected PR firm Englander, Knabe and Allen – than actually challenging power. As Tom Hayden has said of former LAPD Chief William Bratton, Beck’s predecessor and model, “the cooptation of his critics… eroded a once-aggressive civil rights community.”  When even Civil Rights legends Connie Rice, John Mack and Earl Hutchinson are too dizzied by the public relations spin to see the truth behind the same old, LAPD lies – what chance do the rest of us have?

After all, even when local journalists make an effort to expose systemic police abuse – as Los Angeles Times reporter, Joel Rubin, once did by revealing the way LAPD statistics are used to mislead the public – the results are often so decontextualized they don’t lend themselves to broader, systemic critiques for all but the most attentive readers. So while Rubin had written about police manipulation in 2012, it remained beyond his ken as a writer to tie his more recent story about an ambush of the LAPD that never happened or to a subsequent op-ed where Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL) President Tyler Izen promulgated the non-ambush within a larger, more purposefully fallacious narrative about“a trend that shows an increase in attacks on police officers,”  a narrative that is easily dismissed by facts. The truth, that cops in the United States today are safer from firearms than they have been since 1887 – and safer from any “in the line of duty” fatality than they have been since 1959 – is sadly something you have to do your own research to know.

So who will make the case against Beck? It’s up to the people. It’s up to us.

“Good old boy” Charlie Beck, considered a “cop’s cop” who “has not changed one bit as chief and who – as the son, husband and father of cops – is about as fully inculcated in the noble lieof institutional policing as anyone alive, is the embodiment of our “new” LAPD. “A natural actor,” Beck has been perfectly cast as LAPD Chief in a post-Bratton era where “public relations” are exalted as the essence of reform – and no matter what the police do –  ‘cum hoc ergo propter hoc’ propagating media lackeys will uncritically hail falling crime rates as incontrovertible proof of Beck’s success. As Uzma Kolsy observed of Beck in The Nation shortly after 2013’s crazed, bloodlust-inspired LAPD manhunt for Chris Dorner ended:

“Upright, self-deprecating, and with a gentle face one can’t help but trust, Beck has strived to wear a uniform of a more honorable hue. Beck has committed to weeding out corruption and racism, increasing transparency and, most ambitiously, admitting when his police force makes a mistake.”

In that sprawling-but-far-from-comprehensive piece, however, Kolsy presciently continued:

But as comforting as Beck’s [public pronouncements] sounded, a closer look at other accusations of police brutality at the time rendered his message hollow.

A year after Kolsy’s article, Beck’s hollow messaging would again echo through his media mouthpieces after the LAPD’s pro forma “investigation” into the multiple, mistaken assaults on civilians by police during the Dorner pursuit itself concluded. As we noted then, despite the absurdity of “an officer [who] mistook the sound of [a newspaper] hitting the pavement for gunfire” and sparking 7 other officers to fire 103 rounds at two unarmed women, Beck maintained he had “confidence in their abilities as LAPD officers to continue to do their jobs.”  None of the officers involved in that attempted murder were disciplined or even publicly named, let alone charged for nearly killing the women who were spared only by poor, panicked shooting.

Long suspected to be “a pacification gift to the LAPPL,” however, failing to follow up after “admitting when his police force makes a mistake”  with any actual accountability has been the hallmark of Chief Beck’s first term. While Beck may seem contrite before cameras, that contrition rarely translates to substantive accountability. In fact, the LAPD’s “policing for the camera” strategy itself was exposed when Commander Andy Smith, Beck’s ranking public relations officer, accidentally hit ‘reply all’ on an internal email that urged officers to “make a few arrests for illegal animal purchasing so we can avoid negative coverage.“ At this point, even good old boys would probably call Beck’s tenure “all hat no cattle.” But there’s far more…

Despite the“political motivation in order to please the cameras” that Ron Kaye described as “dangerous” in the Smith incident and that plainly guides Beck’s LAPD across the board, on the long list of high-profile police abuse incidents in Los Angeles under Beck, very few have resulted in a criminal prosecution. To list a few of them:

 

March 25, 2008 –Mohammad Usman Chaudhry, an autistic man, was shot and killed by LAPD Officer Joseph Cruz. While the shooting took place before Beck’s ascension to Chief, in the Federal lawsuit against Cruz that followed, both the LAPD and the city attorney’s office helped defend Cruz and vouched to the jury that his account of the shooting should be believed”despite knowing Cruz “had made false statements to investigators during [an unrelated] inquiry and [The LAPD had] fired him for dishonesty,”  even “stating that Cruz had no credibility.” Chief Beck’s “blue line,” it seems, was always thick.

November, 2009 – Allen Harris, a partially paralyzed man, was “maliciously” handcuffed by LAPD Officer Alex Tellez so tightly that he suffered nerve damage. Particularly troubling about the case, however, was the “unforthcoming testimony of Tellez and the nine other officers who took the stand during the [civil] trial,” and that – rather than abiding by the verdict – Chief Beck responded to the judgment of the court that he was “disappointed by the verdict and the monetary award” and supported plans by the city attorney’s office to appeal. So much for Beck’s lip service about “weeding out corruption,” right? [Update: Harris’ lawyer informed me that Officer Tellez was recently promoted to “training officer.”]

March, 2010 – Steven Eugene Washington, an autistic man, was murdered by LAPD Officers Allan Corrales and George Diego – who shot and killed the unarmed man from inside their police cruiser. The usually obeisant LA Police Commission was eventually forced to overrule Beck’s clearly erroneous determination that the murder was “justified,” and the city later settled a lawsuit by Washington’s mother for $950k.

October 22, 2010 – Aibuidefe Oghogho, a college student,was beaten and tased by the LAPD outside of a Hollywood nightclub. Luckily, the brutality was captured on video – one of the few things that ensures Beck’s lipservice “accountability” translates into any kind of restitution.

December, 2010 – Officer Jorge Santander “shocked a handcuffed woman with a Taser stun gun while joking with other officers at the scene.” Further, Santander “then appeared to lie about the December 2010 incident repeatedly in written reports. The three other LAPD officers who witnessed Santander stun the woman all corroborated his version of events when first questioned and failed to tell supervisors that one officer had recorded a video of the encounter.” None of the officers involved were charged with any crime.

January 14, 2011 – Reggie Doucet, Jr. an unarmed and naked black man, was murdered outside his own apartment by LAPD Officer Aaron Goff. The ever-faithful and almost wholly ceremonial Los Angeles Police Commission ruled the use-of-force by Goff “justified.” The Federal lawsuit by Doucet’s family was originally dismissed, but the lawyer representing the family planned an appeal in 2012.

May, 2011 – Dale Garrett was shot in the back and killed by plainclothes, LAPD Detective Arthur Gamboa in the city’s Skid Row district. The Police Commission – again in an exceptionally rare move – was compelled to overrule Beck, who they then feared was undermining their authority and sending a dangerous message to the LAPD’s rank-and-file officers that the consequences for a unjustified shooting are minimal.”Imagine that?

October, 2011 – Bruce Faraon was rushed by LAPD officers and beaten for “a surprised look” and “reaching for his waistband” when they drove passed him as he walked to his home in Echo Park. Faraon was charged with “resisting arrest” and spent five days in jail following the brutal and unprovoked attack. Again, luckily the assault was captured on video – or Beck’s illusory “accountability” would evaporate like so much morning fog.

April, 2012 – Abdul Arian, an unarmed 19 year old, was felled by ”more than 90 shots” fired by LAPD officers at the conclusion of a pursuit when LAPD officers allegedly mistook his cellphone for a weapon.

July 22, 2012 – Alesia Thomas  was beaten and killed by LAPD Officer Mary O’Callaghan. Despite Civil Rights leader Earl Hutchinson’s recent insistence that“the LAPD is [not] in any danger of slipping back into the practices of its bad old days. Chief Beck has made it abundantly clear that that won’t happen. The call I got from him about O’Callaghan proved that,” it strains credulity to believe that mere assault charges being brought against an officer for Thomas’ murder demonstrate much more than a rare-if-token gesture at accountability. Yet, as Hayden pointed out, the Civil Rights community in LA has been totally absorbed into the City Hall – LAPD HQ – LA Times trilateral machine.

August, 2012 – Ronald Weekley, Jr., a 20 year old college student, was beaten in front of his family by LAPD officers in Venice for allegedly “skateboarding the wrong direction.” Again, if it weren’t for the video taken of the incident, it’s doubtful we’d ever know of yet another LAPD crime.

August 21, 2012 – Michelle Jordan, pulled over by LAPD Officers Christopher Hajduk and Christopher Carr for allegedly talking on a cellphone, was brutally beaten while handcuffed in a Del Taco parking lot. Interestingly, a supervising officer demoted in the wake of the video’s bad publicity later filed a discrimination suit against Beck and others in the LAPD brass, claiming the demotion was retaliation for an unrelated incident.

October 12, 2012 – An unidentified man who was unarmed, handcuffed and lying face down on suspicion of vandalism, was shot by LAPD officers. The LAPD, which issues press releases after Officer-Involved-Shootings, “withheld key details” about the shooting in their presser. The case, coming mere months after the Thomas murder, again showed the LAPD “withheld important and potentially unfavorable information from the public in cases involving serious uses of force by officers.” Public Relations is, of course, the careful management of information flow – and this is something Beck’s LAPD has seemingly mastered.

March 17, 2013 – Kim Nguyen, “a 27-year-old pharmacist, says she was handcuffed in the back of a squad car when an officer began to sexually assault her…   the officer’s negligence also caused her to tumble out of the vehicle.” In what has proven the unchanged rule of Beck’s LAPD, “the two officers involved in the incident continue to work their regular shift while Internal Affairs investigates”.

December 13, 2013 – Bruce Beaird, an unarmed, 51-year-old disabled veteran, was gunned down by LAPD officers on live television after the culmination of a car chase. The civil lawsuit filed by Beaird’s parents “states that the shooting is the ‘fruit of the LAPD’s longstanding unconstitutional customs and practices with respect to the use of deadly force’ and criticized the department for a rising number of police shootings recently with little consequence for most officers. ‘This has contributed to a culture of impunity, subject to which officers believe that they can open fire without consequences,’ it states.”

These incidents, by and large, are only known because of the emergence of video evidence that contradicts LAPD reports. The institutional reality that cops lie – especially to protect each other from justice – remains wholly unchanged by Beck’s wholly-rhetorical reforms. And while Chief Beck, in following the public relations template established by Bill Bratton, would likely dismiss the patternized abuse of his tenure as “old news,” at least two more Officer-Involved-Murders have already been exposed in 2014. In one murder, the LAPD shot and killed a homeless man in a dispute that originated over a shopping cart. In another, the ever-faithful media described the victim as having Paul Bunyan-esque strength “throwing boulders” before the LAPD killed him. 

While alone belying Earl Hutchinson’s audacious claims that Beck’s reforms were “more than a case of image makeover,”wanton and unaccountable murder isn’t the only area where the LAPD continues to operate with characteristic impunity. In fact, many other unresolved matters further undermine the erroneous assertion that Beck has changed anything more than window dressing in his five years as Chief.

Far from holding police accountable, Beck’s tenure also oversaw a series of brutal rapes by LAPD officers the the department itself tried to bury. Despite accusations as early as 2009, Beck’s LAPD did nothing to stop Officers Nichols and Valenzuela from continuing to sexually assault at least three more women. It wasn’t until 2013, even after we openly discussed this case at a Police Commission meeting, that Beck finally “suspended the two officers and ordered discipline hearing panels to decide if they are guilty or not.” And still no criminal charges have been filed against either Nichols or Valenzuela. For Beck, the crimes of LAPD officers are matters for disciplinary panels – not courts.

Of course, as we saw with the Nguyen case in 2013, patternized sexual violence perpetrated by the LAPD itself is more widespread than just a few bad apples. In fact, the insular culture of the department, despite Beck’s showy handwringing and vocal remonstrations to the contrary, remains intact – often shielding child molesters, rapists and murderers from any public accountability for years while they continue to operate under color of law. So while Beck wears jeans in front of cameras to “raise awareness of sexual violence,” rape culture itself emanates from the LAPD’s half billion dollar, 100 W. 1st Street headquarters and pervades all of their satellite police stations.

Targeting those it determines to be the most vulnerable has always been an intrinsic part of Beck’s LAPD. Continuing Bill Bratton’s “Safer Cities Initiative,” Beck’s ever-more-sparkly LAPD has continued to wreak far-from-sparkly havoc on the poor and dispossessed who reside in the Central City Association’s long-coveted-for-gentrification, golden “El Dorado” known as Skid Row.

In but one of the more absurd examples, the LAPD has gone so far as to create a “special task force of LAPD officers…  targeting Annie Moody, a homeless woman in Skid Row for little more than sleeping, sitting or lying down on a sidewalk.”  Dan Bluemel, who exposed  “Operation Bad Moody” in February of 2014, wrote:

Beginning in at least 2010, Operation Bad Moody involved numerous staff from the LAPD’s Safer Cities Initiative Task Force, the city attorney’s office and the Central City East Association (CCEA), a business and property-owner advocacy group in Skid Row…

General Dogon, an organizer for theLos Angeles Community Action Network, a group that works to defend the rights of the homeless and low-income renters, called Moody the “poster child of SCI.” The Safer Cities Initiative began in 2006 and focused solely on Skid Row. Though the initiative was marketed to Angelenos as a policing program that was going to target criminals, such as thieves, rapists or murderers, most of SCI’s focus ended up being on people like Moody, who are caught relaxing on a Skid Row sidewalk.

Organizers like General Dogon and LACAN, who stand with their communities and are increasingly under attack by Beck’s business-development-directed brute squad, not only face the historically documented persecution of that department and politically-motivated arrests like that of Deborah Burton – but now face the added threat of our expansive, post-9/11, “see something, say something” surveillance state. Special Order 1, issued by Chief Beck in January of 2012, ”infringes on privacy and civil liberties, and essentially legitimizes spying by local law enforcement.” Tactics frequently relied upon by organizers – “using cameras in public, shooting video, using binoculars, drawing diagrams, taking notes, walking into an office and asking for hours of operation” – are all part of what the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition decry as Chief Beck’s invasive,  “pre-operational surveillance” program.

As Natasha Lennard revealed in January, 2013 – Beck’s exaltation of advanced technologies and the LAPD’s widespread deployment of them raises even more concerns, especially given his personal proclivity to go after activists, like the Black Riders Liberation Party, a political organization Beck has described as “domestic terrorists”:

“Using federal funds the police department obtained the Stingray technology, which allows police to track mobile phones in real time, with the purported intention of using the device to monitor terror suspects.

However, notes LA Weekly, the device was used in “13 percent of the 155 ‘cellular phone investigation cases’ that Los Angeles police conducted between June and September last year” — including for burglary, drug and murder investigations.“

Beyond Stingrays and Suspicious Activities Reports (SARs), the LAPD is also the subject of a lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and ACLU over its ALPR program. The ALPR program scans the city, collecting images of license plates – ostensibly to find stolen cars. However, the broad net of the police state ensnares everyone. The LAPD’s  targeting of activists, it seems, now applies to every car in Los Angeles – who in appallingly absurdist, cop-logic – may eventually become the cars of activists themselves? From the Al Jazeera post on the case:

The Los Angeles Police Department says it cannot release information about its automatic license plate reader program because all cars in the Los Angeles metropolitan area are under investigation…

The EFF quickly responded, saying in its own blog post:

This argument is completely counter to our criminal justice system, in which we assume law enforcement will not conduct an investigation unless there are some indicia of criminal activity. In fact, the Fourth Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution exactly to prevent law enforcement from conducting mass, suspicionless investigations under “general warrants” that targeted no specific person or place and never expired.

As a recent Jewish Journal piece by Simone Wilson and a follow-up article by Rania Khalek at Electronic Intifada have made clear, Chief Beck’s LAPD have big plans for big data collection. Beck has already even“taken a drone for a test flight,”according to a recent Daily News article. It would seem Beck’s public exaltations of “transparency” apply only to a dogged, tech-enabled pursuit of the public – and not his own department. When his own officers intentionally destroy crucial, government equipment mandated by Federal oversight to prevent police abuse – and Beck compounds this by not reporting it to his civilian overseers on the Police Commission – Beck quickly says “sorry,” but does little more.

Charlie Beck, who participated in former LAPD Chief Daryl Gates’ infamous “Operation Hammer” and was a part of the CRASH unit scandal at LAPD’s Rampart Division, should be well acquainted with the historic abuses of the LAPD that Yasha Levine exhaustively documented in July, 2013. In fact, Beck has participated in them over his entire career – and assuredly observed them as a child growing up the son of a Deputy Chief. As Levine noted in his exhaustive post on the subject, “L.A.’s current chief Charlie Beck also hails from LAPD’s covert police culture.” Again – remember: “He has not changed one bit as chief. He’s steady Eddie.”

This fantasy that Beck’s LAPD, which clearly exerts considerable effort to keep its image freshly polished but hardly any discernible effort adding substance to that sheen, can once again be trusted with sweeping powers is a recipe for revisiting disasters of abuse we’ve already experienced. Disasters all the smoke and mirrors of public relations can’t begin to hide, no matter how many journalists or Civil Rights advocates play ball with power.

The recent case of Shaun Hillmann, the nephew of a former LAPD Deputy Chief – Michael Hillmann – demonstrates the convergence of white supremacy, nepotism/favoritism and unaccountability within Beck’s department. While off duty, the younger Hillmann brandished a firearm in a Riverside County bar while spewing racial epithets. Not only was Hillmann not charged with a crime for the incident, but his recommended termination was overruled by Chief Beck himself.

Racism, of course, is still rampant in Beck’s shinier, “multicultural” LAPD. White supremacy is, after all, one of the foundations of professional policing. Within the department itself and in its every public interaction, that foundation isn’t something even a well-oiled propaganda machine can obscure for long. USC students, once thought to be in a safe haven within the high walls of their elite campus, got a taste of the LAPD’s racially-motivated brutality in May 2013 when police attacked a black, end-of-the-year party, but let a white party continue. After the Zimmerman verdict later that same summer, the LAPD raised activist hackles by invoking the racist dog-whistle “wilding” in order to stoke white panic and justify its violent repression of protesters. And as Truthout’s Bethania Palma Markus noted, LA’s media ate up the heaping spoonfuls of white supremacy that were being churned out by the LAPD’s public relations teams.

Despite the shamefully unaccountable legacy of the attack on Angelenos in  MacArthur Park on May Day 2007, Beck’s LAPD continues to direct its full fury against organized protests with the same kind of impunity that shook the city then. It just doesn’t get covered by a pliant media – or, as in Bratton’s 2007 LAPD – is publicly denounced while internally unaddressed. From the 1,400 officers involved in the militaristic raid on OccupyLA’s encampment that featured embedded journalists (unembedded journalists like Tyson Heder and Yasha Levine were brutalized just like regular people) and was described as “shock and awe” to an aggressive attack on chalk artists during the city’s  Art Walk in 2012, the LAPD continues to use less lethal devices and baton swings to exact punitive ends on human bodies. Brutality is what the LAPD does – and no press conference by Chief Beck has ever changed that.

So, while Charlie Beck brings in pseudoscientists like Bill Lewinski to parade in front of the media and indoctrinate his most vocal cheerleader, new Police Commission President Steve Soboroff, we can refer to the amazing expose Nick Pinto wrote on the quackery of Lewinski’s “Force Science” years ago. We won’t get lost in the fog Beck’s propaganda machine cranks out to obfuscate his brutal regime. We’ll continue to push for accountability (or at least a follow up?) after the LAPD sold SWAT handguns for profit and then punished the whistle-blower for exposing the possible Federal crimes, as well as for all the other “scandals” that the media refuses to follow up on.

While Beck feigns “disbelief” that his officers are being killed in traffic accidents and encourages elaborate memorials and parades, we remember that a full third of LAPD officers in traffic accidents in 2013 weren’t wearing seatbelts. We’re left to wonder why the media won’t even ask if any of the recent traffic fatalities suffered by the LAPD were caused because the officers didn’t take basic steps to operate vehicles safely?

It’s obvious that Beck won’t hold himself – or his beloved department – accountable. He is inseparable from the LAPD’s brutal culture and legacy. The media won’t put this information together for us – they’re too satisfied with their access or too limited by their obeisance. We know our Civil Rights leaders have been co-opted by the very machine they claim they keep in check. Soboroff’s police commission itself is now just another appendage of the Bratton/Beck PR leviathan, stripped even of the Mack/Rice approximation of legitimacy it used to run cover.

This indictment, of course, isn’t comprehensive. We’d need an entire book just to document the many crimes Beck’s department has committed in the past five years alone – and this author hardly has an encyclopedic knowledge of all of them. All I have is Google Search. Also, many cases of abuse have gone unreported – many more were reported but are never discovered because they aren’t caught on camera and the media defers too often to the authorities at the LAPD. The District Attorney, who receives significant donations from the LAPPL, has proven unwilling to do its job in exchange for the money it receives from that powerful lobby.

So, while Charlie Beck follows the “Lipstick on a Pig,” William Bratton model – now rebranding the LAPD’s aggressive, pre-crime policing with an Orwellian, Newspeak flare as “PredPol” and racial profiling as “CompStat,” we know better – and we also know nobody else is going to do anything about all this bullshit.

That leaves it up to us. The people. And with this preponderance of evidence assembled here against LAPD Chief Beck and his wholly-corrupt-yet-entirely-unchanged department – hopefully we can finally make a case for real change at the LAPD. It sure hasn’t happened in my lifetime. I still believe.

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