By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Photo by Slobodan Dimitrov
The case surfaced with a bang last May — a sensational press conference announcing that a series of predawn arrests had brought a dangerous militia cell "to its knees," averting a "holocaust" and saving "countless lives." More than a hundred weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition were confiscated, and in the ensuing months, three defendants in the case pleaded guilty to weapons charges. One, Irwindale reserve police officer Glenn Yee, was sentenced to 16 months in prison on weapons charges.
Which made it all the more confounding when the Los Angeles City Council last week agreed to pay out $1.1 million to settle four civil lawsuits brought by the defendants in the case. Council members said those arrested had been defamed as militia terrorists by overzealous police officials, and voted to institute mandatory training for LAPD spokespeople.
But defamation was just one of the complaints against the department, prosecutors and the city attorney, who reportedly sold the deal to the council by warning that a trial verdict might top $5 million. The plaintiffs alleged the cops had framed and entrapped them, spied on them illegally, and then lied under oath to cover up their excesses. Moreover, the suits alleged that police officials at the LAPD’s Anti-Terrorist Division (ATD) had conspired with city and district attorneys to withhold exonerating evidence.
Said Michael Stoller, the attorney representing all four defendants and the wives of two of them, "I believe that the complaints involving police conduct were of merit and were taken into consideration for making this settlement." Stoller said he couldn’t discuss any terms.
The million-dollar settlement means the allegations of wrongdoing will never be tried. But it also marks another miserable outing for one of the last remnants of the LAPD’s once-vaunted — and widely feared — spy apparatus. The ATD is a secretive division directly descended from the Public Disorder Intelligence Division, which was disbanded after activists disclosed widespread spying on liberal political figures, including some public officials.
The lawsuits assert that the ATD had pressed its investigation because it urgently needed a major bust to make up for years of lackluster performance and head off plans to dissolve the division. (The ATD has accrued more lawsuits than major arrests in its controversial history.) So the unit dispatched an officer to infiltrate the plaintiffs’ group of gun enthusiasts and survivalists, and depicted its quarry as militia militants bent on fomenting urban terror.
Filed in federal court last summer, the lawsuits recount unsuccessful efforts by the ATD’s undercover officers to induce the group, which generally met in the northeastern part of the county, to instigate an armed encounter in South-Central L.A. and provide protection to an anti-immigrant group. Uncomfortable with the behavior of one ATD infiltrator, the lawsuits allege, the group disbanded, but members consented to that undercover cop’s plea for one last shooting practice — which turned out to be a setup for the arrest.
ATD investigative records obtained by the Weeklychronicle the unit’s infiltration by that officer, the LAPD’s Doug Stice, into the Southern California Marksman’s Association (SCMA), a group formed by Yee and others. The records show how the cops portrayed the SCMA as a racist militia, bent on killing illegal Mexican immigrants and "hostages," despite the fact that the SCMA was multiracial — Yee and another plaintiff are Asian; a third member’s wife is Mexican.
Stice’s report, about what the plaintiffs say was the first meeting he attended, in January 1996, calls the group the "Orange County Militia." In subsequent reports, Stice alternates that name with the "Orange County Corps," an actual organization — but not the one he was attending. Glenn and Christine Yee and their SCMA associates had split from the corps in mid-1995, before Stice entered their lives as "Andrew Nelson." They left because the corps was too "political," according to the lawsuit and Weeklyinterviews. (One of those arrested, Timothy Swanson, a childhood friend of Glenn Yee, says he never belonged to the SCMA.)
According to the Orange County Corps’ founder, National Rifle Association activist T.J. Johnston, the organization was intended for community protection in the event of riots or natural disasters. Johnston told the Weeklythat he and Dave Ralph, an LAPD officer who later joined the SCMA, met with Congressman Ed Royce to discuss the organization. One of Stice’s reports terms the Orange County Corps’ founding meeting at Cal State Fullerton a "militia callout."
Stice’s reports reflect nothing of the SCMA’s survivalist focus. Instead, Stice reports attending "militia training" and drills. In interviews over the past year, Swanson, the Yees and other plaintiffs insisted that Stice fabricated, twisted and outright lied about what went on inside the group. Prosecutors who filed 13 felony charges against SCMA member and plaintiff Alvin Ung in San Bernardino County, a case that is only now going to trial, alleged a plan to kill immigrants, but have introduced no evidence besides Stice’s report.
Use of the word militia, which acquired considerable punch after the April 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, probably helped the ATD persuade the Police Commission and then–Police Chief Willie Williams to give the required permission to launch and continue the investigation. In an interview for an earlier story, then–Police Commission president Raymond Fisher told the Weeklythat he was familiar with the operation and that it was justified.