LAPD disciplinary committee members say they are being disfellowshipped for police views

LAPD disciplinary committee members say they are being disfellowshipped for police views

  • US News
  • March 18, 2023
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?url=https%3A%2F%2Fcalifornia times me lapd disciplinary panelists revealed 03 mjc News For Everyone Zoohouse News

Rev. Najuma Smith-Pollard expected to be a lot busier when she was selected to serve on the hearing panels reviewing disciplinary recommendations for Los Angeles police officers accused of serious misconduct.

But after more than a year, she still hasn’t heard a single case. Smith-Pollard thinks she knows why.

The secretive and powerful panels are chosen much like a trial jury, giving accused officers and their attorneys a say in “whom they invite,” allowing them to get a more sympathetic panel, she said. As she reached out to other prosecutors who hadn’t previously served, she said, she began to wonder if some were being passed over because of their perceived views on policing.

“Sometimes officials know who sits on the board; sometimes they are more familiar with other names,” said Smith-Pollard, pastor of the Word of Encouragement Church in Hawthorne. “Those of us that have come in have become more of a representation of the community. But then there are those who are also pro-community, but they are also pro-police.”

Like much of the Los Angeles Police Department’s disciplinary system, details about the identities of its 67 civilian examiners have long been kept from the public. The Los Angeles Police Commission recently released a list of their names and biographies in response to a request for public records from The Times. The regulator plans to publish the same information on its website by next week, it said.

Because of the secrecy of the Board of Rights process, it’s impossible to know how many times a reviewer has voted for more lenient discipline for officers accused of serious crimes, such as excessive violence and racial bias — or if any were disfellowshipped, in additional panels to sit According to Carolina Goodman, her decisions displeased the department or the police union.

“That has to be checked because the boss says it’s not possible; a lot of people say it doesn’t work,” said Goodman, a board member for the Los Angeles League of Women Voters, which has campaigned for more transparency in the disciplining process.

Smith-Pollard said that while some of her colleagues have served on multiple boards, she and several others she knows have not yet been selected. And not because there is not enough work.

In 2021, department officials called 43 Board of Rights hearings for LAPD officers facing termination, demotion, or extended suspensions. The vast majority of these bodies consisted only of civilians, who tended to view officers’ discipline as more lenient.

The all-civilian bodies voted for a reduced sentence in about 68% of the cases between 2019 and 2021 in which LAPD chief Michel Moore recommended firing an officer, according to the inspector general’s office. Conventional bodies, consisting of a civilian and two LAPD commanders, did this about half the time.

According to Richard Tefank, the executive director of the Police Commission, before each hearing, nine examiner names are randomly selected by drawing balls from a spherical container. And then representatives from both sides take turns with striking prospective examiners, much like prosecutors and defense attorneys would select a jury. Examiners get $900 if they work more than four hours.

“The first luck of the draw should be drawn in the first nine,” said Tefank. “Both the department and the Police Protection League get to know the hearing examiners over time, learn about their tendencies, and learn about the areas that they might be more sensitive to.”

Both sides learn “the track record of individuals and that can lead to them picking someone if their names are included in that draw,” he added.

“There are probably people who are pro-management and there are probably people who are pro-employees,” Tefank said. “Well, yeah, it’s a strategy; there is no doubt about that.”

Smith-Pollard applied to be an examiner after meeting with Moore, who, following the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota by a Minnesota police officer, had called together a group of clergymen to look for solutions to hold officers accountable if they crossing the border. Moore, she recalled, shared with the group his frustration at not being able to fire such officers.

Smith-Pollard, who also works at USC’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture, insisted that when appointed to a board of directors, she can be fair and impartial and let the facts of each case guide her decision on whether discipline is appropriate . She believes more residents should apply to serve on the boards, she said, because they better understand the devastating effects of poor policing on black and brown neighborhoods.

“The community needs to be involved,” she said, because “we don’t have a strong presence in this internal process, which can actually have a direct impact on police accountability.”

The role of auditors has come under scrutiny in recent months, with Moore and Mayor Karen Bass calling for a repeal of Bylaw C. Two years after its passage in 2017, the city council approved a measure that gave officers the power to have all-civilian authority. It passed despite opposition from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, which cited years of research showing civilians are more likely to support the police. Others questioned whether the civilians selected for the panels would adequately represent the interests of the public.

Then-Mayor Eric Garcetti defended the amendment, saying at the time he had faith in “everyday Angelenos and Americans making big decisions.”

A perusal of examiners’ CVs shows, perhaps unsurprisingly, that most are lawyers or professional arbitrators and tend to be older. According to the resumes, which included a senior year, they earned their bachelor’s degree in 1982 on average. More than half were men.

About a third of investigators are former law enforcement officers or have worked closely with the LAPD, such as B. the former Cmdr. Jeri Weinstein, who after leaving the department held senior positions with police departments in Henderson, Nevada, the West Valley and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Others like Albert DeBlanc Jr. were LAPD officers long ago. DeBlanc retired from the force as a lieutenant in 1974 and later served on a blue ribbon panel that hired William J. Bratton as chief of police in 2002, a convicted felon and other celebrities, according to his biography.

The commission said it does not keep records of the composition of each body of the Board of Rights. However, an internal LAPD document reviewed by The Times shows that there are wide disparities in the frequency with which examiners have been selected for their service.

Some examiners sat on only three or four panels, while others, like David Shapiro, a partner at law firm Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, served on 17 panels, according to the document. Other frequent participants were Michael Diliberto, a seasoned arbitrator who sat on 14 panels, and Sonia Amin, an Encino-based immigration attorney who served on 13 panels.

The document lists the names of examiners for cases that went to the Board of Rights from 2015 to 2020, but does not mention the final decision.

Last month, two City Council members introduced a proposal that would limit the participation of civilians in such disciplinary proceedings.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents low-ranking officers across the city, has long argued that the traditional bodies are unfair because the LAPD officers who serve there have an interest in supporting their boss, the police chief.

Tom Saggau, a spokesman for the league, said due process for officers is often overlooked in the current debate over overhauling the department’s disciplinary system. Before the passage of Charter Amendment C, there was unspoken pressure on board examiners to go along with the decisions of previous chiefs, he said, pointing out that common thinking within the LAPD has long been that it’s unlikely that an officer, crossing superior, it gets promoted.

“We think civilian oversight is the most transparent way to achieve fairness,” Saggau said.

He disagreed with the suggestion that the union somehow pack the panels with more benevolent auditors. With so many of the boss’s decisions being overturned, the question arose whether disciplinary action should have been taken in these cases at all.

When asked about the composition of disciplinary committees, Moore said he hopes the police commission will “continuously assess the fairness and professional judgment and articulation of these panels and take appropriate action if they feel there is any bias.” “.

What the department wants, he said after Tuesday’s commission meeting, is that “this board process be fair and balanced, not unduly influenced by acts of favoritism or seeking the favor of the boss or the favor of the league.” ”

Some of those who served as hearing reviewers agreed.

Joseph Rouzan suspects that the reason he was not selected for a board of directors was his earlier career with the LAPD, where he was once president of the Oscar Joel Bryant Foundation, the department’s black officers’ association. He believes officers and their attorneys prefer civilian examiners with no law enforcement experience, relying on them to be unfamiliar with department rules and regulations.

A civilian, for example, would likely write off a lying officer as a minor offense, Rouzan said, unaware that LAPD employees with credibility issues are not allowed to write reports or testify in court, forcing the department to pull them off the street and park her behind a desk at a police station.

Patricia “Pastor Pat” Strong sat on three boards in one year and said she signed on as an examiner “to make a difference and make sure minority or African American voices are heard.”

She recalled feeling frustrated during a panel discussion because her colleagues seemed more concerned about how their decisions might affect the livelihoods of officers with families than about the potential impact on the community if a problem cop was on of the payroll of the department remains.

“They were trying to be judges and juries because they had the legal experience, and then they were all white, and I was black, and they couldn’t see where I was going,” said Strong, who recalled her Colleagues had told her, “‘Oh, give them a chance,’ and I said, ‘No, no, no, if the chief says they were wrong and I see they were wrong,'” she deserved a harsher punishment, she said.

Tefank of the Police Commission said the challenge facing city, department and police union leaders is to “develop a system that serves both constituencies.”

“This is not about the system; it’s about the result. If you like the result, then you will like the system,” he said.

Times contributor Kevin Rector contributed to this report.

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