Friday, August 25, 2000
News from Los Angeles Metro in the Los Angeles Times
LAPD Sued by Whistle-Blowers
Courts: Suit by 41 current and former officers and others claims a
code of silence is enforced by retaliation against those who report misconduct.
Officials decline to comment.
By MATT LAIT, SCOTT
GLOVER, Times Staff Writers
More than 40 current and former Los Angeles
police officers filed a class-action lawsuit Thursday, alleging that LAPD
officials support the department's so-called code of silence by retaliating
against those who report misconduct.
Among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit is Officer
John Goines, a veteran motorcycle officer who broke ranks with LAPD officials
by saying in a deposition last month that he believed the March 1999 fatal
shooting of Margaret Mitchell, a mentally ill homeless woman, was unwarranted.
Since his comments became public, Goines has been harassed by other officers,
including a supervisor, his attorney alleges.
Other plaintiffs include officers who contend
they were victims of retaliation for reporting incidents of excessive force,
hostile work environment issues and other forms of police misconduct. Many
of the plaintiffs said they were forced out of the LAPD because they reported
police abuses to their supervisors.
LAPD officials declined to comment on the
lawsuit, citing the pending litigation. The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary
damages. A spokesman for the city attorney's office said the suit lacks
merit as a class action.
Attorney Bradley C. Gage, who filed the suit,
said the LAPD's management fosters the code of silence by punishing departmental
whistle-blowers. The retaliation comes in various forms, Gage said, including
personnel complaints, undesirable job assignments, demotions and terminations.
"These good cops fear their own administration
and management more than the criminals on the street," Gage said.
He alleges in the lawsuit that LAPD managers
secretly pass along confidential information about a whistle-blower's background
to other managers to perpetuate the harassment of the employee. The practice,
Gage said, is known as a "phone jacket."
The issue of retaliation has long been a matter
of concern for members of the City Council and Police Department. Three
years ago, after a series of public hearings, then--Interim Police Chief
Bayan Lewis unveiled a comprehensive anti-retaliation policy that covered
all LAPD employees, but was largely meant to protect female officers who
complained about sexual harassment and discrimination.
Some women who made such complaints told city
leaders they had been targets of death threats, false complaints and warnings
from colleagues that they would be left stranded without backup in emergencies.
Last year, city officials passed a law aimed
at preventing retaliation against employees who file complaints with the
Police Commission's inspector general.
But many officers still believe they will
become victims of retaliation if they report a colleague for criminal or
Gage said that the recent LAPD corruption
probe has uncovered overwhelming evidence that the code of silence exists
in the department and is condoned by top brass.
"The Rampart corruption scandal demonstrates
that when police officers are afraid to report criminal acts for fear of
becoming targets of retaliation, corruption will spread," he said.
Indeed, if ex-officer-turned-informant Rafael
Perez is to be believed, the code of silence thrives within the LAPD. Perez,
who is cooperating with authorities to obtain a lighter sentence on cocaine
theft charges, has told investigators that officers in the Rampart Division's
anti-gang unit routinely witnessed and acquiesced to police misconduct.
An officer who dared to report misconduct would be ostracized and subjected
to retaliation, Perez said.
At a news conference announcing the filing
of the suit, Gage was flanked by a half-dozen clients, all of them current
or former LAPD officers, who say they suffered retaliation for reporting
misconduct by others in the department.
One 18-year veteran who worked in the scientific
investigations division said she blew the whistle on a colleague who, while
supposedly on sick leave, was attending a "cowboy school" in Colorado.
The ex-officer, Coleen Braun, said she reported it to her supervisor, who
promised to investigate.
But Braun said she later learned that the
supervisor was aware of the misconduct--she had been receiving phone calls
and postcards from the officer at the cowboy camp--and did not intend to
do anything about it.
As result of filing the complaint, Braun alleged,
she was charged with benefits abuse after she had multiple surgeries for
work-related injuries to her hands, elbows and shoulders. She was found
guilty of the abuses at a departmental Board of Rights and fired earlier
"I want my job back," she said. "I love my
Another officer said he was fired after he
testified against two officers who are currently under investigation as
part of the Rampart scandal. The ex-officer said he told department officials
that he had the tape-recorded statement of an officer who witnessed the
beating of a homeless man, allegedly at the hands of former Central Division
Officers Christopher Coppock and David Cochrane.
The officer, who was originally accused of
the beating himself, said he was found not guilty of that charge at a disciplinary
hearing. But he was later charged with threatening one of the internal
affairs investigators on the case and was fired for that.
Yet another officer said his filing of a formal
complaint against a supervisor resulted in a campaign of harassment and
retaliation that culminated in his dismissal for "checking out a police
car on a rainy day."
Gage said his clients brought a host of other
alleged misconduct to the attention of the LAPD, but were ignored or punished
for doing so. Among the allegations for which officers say they suffered
retaliation: A commander misappropriated public funds, computers were stolen,
and officials instructed officers to falsely log on to their patrol cars'
computers so that it appeared they had arrived at a crime scene sooner
than they actually did.
Gage said one officer was forced off the job
after alleging that officers planted drugs on suspects in the Rampart and
Wilshire divisions in 1996, the same period during which Perez claims such
things were done on a routine basis.
Gage said he has 41 current and former department
employees as plaintiffs in the suit, all but a few who were or are sworn
officers. He said about 15 are still on the job, but facing some form of
discipline. He said he expects that the class, which still needs to be
approved, will grow to several hundred.