The last 15 years have dragged the Los Angeles Police Department from one scandal through the next. Rodney King, the Rampart division fiasco, the numerous lawsuits and the allegations of excessive force have projected a dark shadow on the reputation of the LAPD at the minimum and at the worst have put in question the integrity of the entire LAPD. What is the truth and how bad is it actually?
In 2000, the city council of Los Angeles adopted a resolution called a “consent decree” which gave oversight for the proposed reforms to the LAPD to the US Department of Justice for five years. In exchange for the consent decree, the US Department of Justice agreed not to file a lawsuit for civil rights violations under the 4th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution of the US . The deal could not have come any sooner. From 1990 to 1999 Los Angeles paid $66,250,410 in civil liability judgments for LAPD brutality and/or misconduct . Recent developments in the Wallace trial raise serious questions about the integrity of the LAPD and the effectiveness of reforms. Is the LAPD rife with lawless lawmen?
On the night of March 9, 1997 Christopher Wallace AKA Notorious B.I.G. was murdered in his car as he left a Vibe Awards show in Los Angeles at the height of his career. Eye witnesses described the murderer and a police sketch was made, but no one was ever charged or arrested and the murder remains unsolved. The Wallace family’s theory is that Marion “Suge” Knight was convinced Wallace was behind the murder of Tupac Shakur six months earlier and Knight wanted to murder Wallace in retaliation. The Wallaces have implicated two LAPD officers, Mack and Perez, and Amir Muhammad in the murder of Wallace.
What evidence do the Wallaces have to prove their theory? Knight was known to hire LAPD officers to provide security for some of his parties and social functions, including the two officers under suspicion. Both officers under suspicion for the murder of Wallace were eventually arrested, one for stealing cocaine from the LAPD and the other for robbing a bank of over $700,000. One of the two is alleged to have been at the Vibe Awards party on the night of the murder and the other was the college roommate of Muhammad, the alleged gunman. During the trial, the Wallaces produced a statement from an informant that said Knight confessed to conspiring to kill Wallace.
The Wallaces allege that the LAPD ignored evidence of Knight’s involvement in the murder to protect the two murderous officers. Did the LAPD withhold evidence from the Wallaces that would incriminate Knight or the two officers in question? Not on purpose says the LAPD, it just “forgot” about the evidence.
June 21st, 2005, the judge presiding over the Wallace v. LAPD wrongful death suit declared a mistrial because evidence that implicates the officers and Knight has just been “found” in the desk of an LAPD investigator. The evidence was a statement from an informant that was in the same cell as one of the officers and discovered after being “lost in the desk” of a detective along. The statement was found with a stack of other evidence relating to the Wallace murder. The judge rejected the mid-trial argument that the detective lost the statement in his desk. At least the judge was honest.
This is not the first time the LAPD has “lost” something that would incriminate one of its own. In March of 1998, two LAPD officers were involved in a road rage incident that left one Kevin Gaines dead. In the ensuing investigation it was revealed that Gaines was most likely a gangster and drug runner. As a police officer Gaines was caught stealing the personal property of a fellow officer and should have been fired for the offense, but Internal Affairs claimed it had misplaced the file .
The issue of police misconduct seems to not be going away. In 2000 a national survey by the US Department of Justice found that police officers believe that “at times their fellow officers use more force than necessary when making an arrest” and “it is not unusual for officers to ignore improper conduct by their fellow officers”.
Who does police brutality affect the most? I am not sure how corrupt the LAPD truly is but I have heard plenty of stories from local residents of police brutality and it seems probable that the LAPD treats its average Beverly Hills resident differently from its average Watts or Compton resident. I am sure of one thing: In Los Angeles, the LAPD is perceived as a more serious threat by Blacks and Hispanics than Osama bin Laden and Al Queda. Perception is reality and although the truth about the LAPD may not be as bad as it seems, the perception of the LAPD is permanently marred in the minority communities of Los Angeles.