Black and Brown communities long plagued by racial profiling have long complained that police officers are the biggest gangs. They have complained of targeting, beatings, mob attacks, deaths in unjustifiable homicides and another bad cop scandal is brewing.
Five residents in California filed a class-action complaint against the Los Angeles Police Department and its Chief Michel Moore, alleging hundreds if not thousands of residents were misclassified as gang members or gang associated by officers.
Not only did LAPD and its officers violate public trust and numerous laws by entering false descriptions of innocent civilians as gang members into an official state-wide database, alleged the suit, but in many instances, officers falsely stated in official records that the individuals had “self-admitted” gang affiliation when no such admissions had occurred.
LAPD officers falsely incriminated members of the class, almost all of whom were Black and Latino, by applying gang enhancements to simple offenses like marijuana possession or receiving stolen property, according to the complaint.
“This practice exposed these criminal defendants to extremely harsh sentences. With exposure to aeonic terms of imprisonment, many individuals accepted plea deals to lesser offenses to avoid being locked up for decades,” indicates the complaint. “Others, who had the audacity to insist on their innocence, were found guilty by juries based on perjurious LAPD officers’ testimony, then sentenced to many years including, in numerous instances, life in prison. Those same individuals have been forced to register annually as gang members at the very police stations where they were framed in the first place,” it continued.
Victims still suffer deprivation of civil rights and practical consequences, such as not being able to obtain a job, rent an apartment, or receive financial aid for college.
“These things have been happening for years, and years, and years, and the consequences of them are devastating,” stated attorney Austin Dove of the Justice X Law Group, who represents the plaintiffs.
“Individual lawyers have tried to fight it as best they can, but the system is bigger than them. Now we’re here to fight back,” said Atty. Dove, during an Aug. 4 press conference in front of LAPD headquarters.
Sarah Ochoa, a young Latina who worked to make it out of her low income East L.A. neighborhood, became a corrections officer. LAPD officers misclassified her as a “gang associate” in January, when they detained her by handcuffing her on the street for approximately 20 minutes while police ransacked her vehicle and belongings, according to the suit. She learned about the misclassification when she was fired from her job a year later.
“To have it taken away from me, it’s not right,” cried Ms. Ochoa. “We need to bring this to light, the injustices committed by LAPD.”
Justice X attorneys say Jajuan Johnson is currently being prosecuted under a fabricated gang charge. In January 2019 he was a passenger in a car stopped by officers, seemingly for tinted windows.
“Officers came up with a reason to search the car. LAPD officers then blatantly lied in the police report they authored by contending that Mr. Johnson, a college student, Jamba Juice employee and aspiring writer was a member of a Blood street gang. The LAPD officers reasoned that because Mr. Johnson’s cousin was an alleged gang member, “he too must be gang affiliated,” read the complaint. Mr. Johnson has consistently denied any gang affiliation to no avail. He’s suffered loss of employment, damage to his reputation and severe depression. And if convicted he’d have to register as a gang member.
The suit comes on the heels of three LAPD officers, Braxton Shaw, Michael Coblentz, and Nicholas Martinez, being charged with 59 criminal counts, as well as 24 other LAPD officers being investigated for the widespread misclassifications, according to attorneys with the Justice X law firm, an alliance of over 100 legal representatives which offers free legal assistance to protestors charged for demonstrating against police violence.
In July, the California Department of Justice revoked access to CalGang records generated by the LAPD (which accounted for about 25 percent of all entries) citing concerns over the integrity of the system and ongoing investigations into LAPD’s use of CalGang and potential police misconduct.
According to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the restriction applies to all users of the database, which houses approximately 80,000 records. LAPD Chief Michel Moore decided to permanently withdraw from the CalGang program after an internal audit uncovered significant misuse of the gang-tracking database by LAPD personnel, including entry of false information, according to Atty. Gen. Becerra. He is encouraging state lawmakers to reexamine the CalGang program and consider further reforms in light of recent developments.
The LAPD is not able to comment on pending litigation, spokesperson Josh Rubenstein told The Final Call.
Meanwhile, Compton Mayor Aja Brown and other city officials called on for a state and federal Justice Department investigation of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s Department, alleging deputies assigned to the Compton station have engaged in a pattern or practice of misconduct, excessive force, discriminatory policing and improper stops, searches or arrests.
The request came after news alleging a L.A. sheriffs’ clique or gang nicknamed the “Executioners” has been terrorizing not only residents, but also fellow deputies at the Compton Station.
Jermelle Henderson, owner of Taco Melle, alleged he was stopped by a rogue cop at gunpoint, roughed up, and told, “This is the way we do it here in Compton.”
Mayor Brown shared her own testimony, alleging she along with her infant daughter and husband were pulled over by Compton Sheriffs’ deputies on false claims she did not stop her car properly. A deputy tried to open her door sight unseen, she stated. She asked why she was being pulled over. In an instant, 7 to 9 deputy vehicles descended on the scene, she said during an Aug. 4 press conference at Compton City Hall.
“It’s not unlike anything we’ve seen before. My rights were violated. I was disrespected by deputies that have no tie, no knowledge or any connection or respect for this community. … These deputies had no idea that I was the community’s mayor, and I continued to proceed and comply as we’re taught to do,” she stated.
When she requested a watch commander, she was asked to exit her car to search for drugs, according to Mayor Brown.
She and city leaders are working to address an organized gang dubbed the “Executioners, which is accused of running rampant and running the Compton sheriffs’ department. The deputy gang evolved out of a violent deputy gang named “3000 Boys,” which reportedly operated in the L.A. Men’s Central Jail.
Whistleblower Sheriff’s deputy Austreberto “Art” Gonzalez alleged retaliation after reporting that deputies celebrated shootings, set illegal arrests quotas, threatened slowdowns, ignored and responded slowly to calls, among other things.
Mr. Gonzalez has been a deputy since 2007 and spent the last five and a half years as a patrol deputy at Compton Station. He alleges in a claim filed on June 23 that members of the “Executioners” retaliated against him after he was threatened by a well-known member. The gang he further alleged, uses violence against other deputies to recruit members.
New members are “inked,” or receive matching tattoos of a skull with Nazi imagery, holding an AK-47, after they’ve been involved in high-profile and out-of-policy beatings.
Members also “become inked as ‘Executioners’ after executing members of the public or otherwise committing acts of violence in furtherance of the gang,” according to Mr. Gonzalez. It alleged that of approximately 100 patrol deputies at Compton Station, an estimated 20 are inked members of the gang, which communicates through WhatsApp, an encrypted messaging app on their phones. No Blacks or females are allowed, the Gonzalez claim continued.
There have also been allegations of sheriff deputies competitions inside Men’s Central Jail where they can earn ranks based on breaking inmates’ bones.
Sheriff Villanueva has refuted allegations there are deputy gangs, but said he was addressing deputy cliques and sub-groups.
“We have a situation where the realization of what has been happening for decades is now just coming to light. And what that is, is massive misconduct and brutality against primarily Black communities, but really all communities of color,” said David Muhammad, executive director of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform.
“Even, as you say, even in the midst of greater scrutiny on police departments, we’re continuing to see a grievous behavior by some officers, and then we’re seeing the celebration of that violence in the city of Vallejo, Calif., which might have one of the worst police departments in the country. You see, one of the highest rates of officer involved shootings and uses of force. There’s been zero accountability. And now it has been discovered that they have a celebration process but they’ve been there,” said Mr. Muhammad.
Former police captain John Whitney alleged that in a “Badge of Honor” ceremony since 2000, some officers involved in fatal shootings bent the tips of their star-shaped badges to mark each time they killed someone in the line of duty. They commemorate the incidents with backyard barbecues and beers, he told Open Vallejo. “Of the 51 current and former Vallejo police officers who have been involved in fatal shootings since 2000, at least 14 had their badges bent by a colleague afterward, sources familiar with the tradition confirmed,” but that number could be higher, indicated the report by Geoffrey King.
He spoke to Mr. Whitney after the retired SWAT team commander and 19-year department veteran was fired last August, according to media reports.
Shawny Williams, Vallejos’ first Black police chief, has called for an independent investigation.
Mr. Muhammad said the way to transform policing is to significantly reduce the size of police departments, improve what’s left, and reinvest funds in the community.
Compton City Attorney Emeritus Legrand Clegg said the problem draws from a deep-seated, visceral hatred rooted in White supremacy, practiced by White people for the last 500 years.
“With regard to the occurrences now, there is an awakening. There are some counter currents, but clearly simultaneously the practice of White supremacy as manifested in police brutality continues, and so the question becomes why,” questioned Atty. Clegg.
Personally, he thinks it’s based on a historical, deep-seated fear and hatred of Blacks.
“Even as they are being exposed, observe it, they can’t stop it, because it’s so deeply entrenched,” he said.