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 departmental misconduct.
     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 this year.
     "I want my job back," she said. "I love my job."
     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. 

 




Cases in the News
How the System Works
Truth in Justice