LA County Prosecutors Probing Possible Officer Misconduct During Protests

Los Angeles Police Department headquarters in downtown LA. (Courthouse News photo / Nathan Solis)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Los Angeles County prosecutors are reviewing residents’ complaints of police violence and misconduct during recent protests against fatal police shootings of Black people, a law enforcement official said Tuesday. 

Protests have swept LA County for months amid an ongoing nationwide reckoning over police violence and the spending of public funds on law enforcement agencies that repeatedly harm and kill Black people.

Thousands marched in LA demanding racial justice after Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd, a Black man, on Memorial Day and demonstrations were reignited with recent fatal police shootings of Anthony McClain in Pasadena, California, and Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. 

During the demonstrations, officers from both the LA Police Department and LA County Sheriff’s Department fired rubber bullets and other less-lethal munitions at protesters and hauled them away on crowded buses to be processed.

In June, the University of California, Los Angeles, was forced to scrap an agreement allowing the LAPD to use a campus stadium as a field jail and processing site for demonstrators who were often held without face coverings.

LA Police Michel Moore told reporters last week the department’s internal affairs investigators are probing unlawful force complaints lodged against at least 110 of its officers after recent protests.

Now at least one allegation of police violence has been referred to the LA County District Attorney’s office for potential criminal charges, LAPD Deputy Chief Robert Marino told an oversight board Tuesday.

Speaking at an LA Police Commission meeting, Marino said his team of investigators is reviewing hundreds of complaints of police violence at demonstrations, including 55 claims lodged against officers who used “excessive force” against protesters. 

Investigators reviewed thousands of hours of video from squad car cameras and officer-worn devices and interviewed at least 71 LAPD personnel as part of the probe.

Commissioner Dale Bonner asked LAPD officials if they had issues obtaining body-camera video and whether officers are required to turn devices on during protests. 

“Sometimes they’re turned on and other times they’re not,” said Marino. “Officers may have been out on that skirmish line for multiple hours where their body-worn camera is no longer holding that charge or being activated.”

As many as 252 LAPD officers have been tied to incidents described in residents’ complaints, said Marino, adding that his team’s full report will be completed by November.

LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office is also reviewing four complaints tied to a June 1 incident in Van Nuys where LAPD officers surrounded a vehicle and smashed its windows as protests occurred that evening after curfew, according to the LA Times.

A separate probe of police misconduct at protests will be conducted by the National Police Foundation, a nonpartisan police reform organization, LA Police Commission executive director Richard Tefank said Tuesday.

The referrals to county prosecutors mark one of the department’s first serious efforts at officer accountability since residents demanded that officials criminally charge police that attacked peaceful protesters. 

LA County leaders also targeted police misconduct in measures approved Tuesday.

The LA County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to direct the county’s chief medical examiner to conduct an inquest into the fatal police shooting of 18-year old Andres Guardado in June.

LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva blocked the immediate release of County Coroner Jonathan Lucas’ examination of Guardado, who was shot five times in the back by officers.

Villanueva said at the time he wanted to protect the integrity of his department’s investigation, which police accountability groups have described as being tainted by a police gang called the Executioners that is operating within the department.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion, said Tuesday the county’s probe will help ensure that future investigations into fatal shootings by LASD officers are transparent.

Ridley-Thomas, who is Black, said an opaque cloud already surrounds LASD’s investigation of its officers’ fatal shooting Monday of Dijon Kizzee, a 29-year-old Black man, in South LA.

“This has a deeper meaning today, knowing that another young man, another African-American man is dead at the hands of a law enforcement entity in this county,” Ridley-Thomas said. “The lack of transparency in LASD is particularly troubling and raises questions about its oversight.”

Supervisor Kathryn Barger said Villanueva’s actions have further eroded the public’s trust in law enforcement and undermined the board’s mission of ensuring officers are held accountable.

“He’s not above the law,” Barger said of Villanueva. “Guardado’s family deserves answers.”

Ridley-Thomas’ motion also directs county counsel to determine whether the board should bring a lawsuit over the sheriff’s lack of transparency in the case.

Guardado’s parents, Elisa and Cristobal Guardado, filed a wrongful death lawsuit Monday against the department, claiming unreasonable and excessive force and a failure to stamp out a secret officer gang called the Executioners.

Miguel Vega and Chris Hernandez, the officers involved in the shooting, have possible ties to the Executioners or another police gang called the 3,000 Boys, according to the complaint filed in LA County Superior Court.

Guardado family attorney Nicholas Yoka said in a statement the lawsuit will help expose the full account of the department’s failure to prevent the fatal shooting. 

“By filing this lawsuit, we are not only committing to expose the truth surrounding the unjustified shooting of Andres Guardado, but seeking to prevent this type of tragedy from happening again to anyone in our communities,” said Yoka.

Villanueva has said video of the Guardado shooting is not available since officers didn’t wear body-cameras and LASD squad cars were not equipped with recording devices.

The issue has further inflamed tensions between Villanueva and county leaders, with the sheriff saying the Board of Supervisors failed to fund the department-wide roll out of body cameras and the board accusing Villanueva of stalling full implementation despite having funds available.

On Tuesday, supervisors voted to approve $25 million to fund the first year of the officer-worn camera program.

The first phase begins Oct. 1 and will equip officers at five stations: Lynwood/Century, Lakewood, Lancaster, West Hollywood, and Industry.

Through its contract with Axon, the department said it expects to deploy 5,248 body cameras department-wide in the next year and a half.

Supervisors also approved a motion supporting California Senate Bill 731, which would create a process for decertifying law enforcement officers who commit crimes or act unlawfully while on duty. 

The bill by state Senator Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, was not called for a vote in this year’s legislative session.  

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