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Chotiner was apparently still stewing about the case a year later, when he happened to bump into Carol Sobel, a veteran civil rights attorney and a director at the Southern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. It was that chance meeting that finally brought the case to the attention of federal authorities.
“I was on a break down at Parker Center on an Internal Affairs investigation, and I went to the L.A. Mall to get some coffee,” Sobel told the Weekly. “At the next table sat three judges, and one was Ken Chotiner, an old friend. He told me he was trying to get someone in the City Attorney’s Office to act on a case of his, on a police officer who had lied. He said, ‘How do you get someone to act on this? The City Attorney’s Office is not going to do anything.‘ I said, ’Let me see what I can do.‘”
It so happened that Sobel’s next appointment was at the ACLU, where Duval Patrick, then assistant attorney general in charge of the Department of Justice‘s Civil Rights Division in Washington, was meeting with activist attorneys on the question of police misconduct. L.A. was then in turmoil over the O.J. Simpson case and Mark Fuhrman’s inadvertent revelations about the LAPD, and Patrick was seeking specific examples of police abuse. “So I raised my hand and said, ‘I have a case from a judge about two officers who perjured themselves, and the judge can’t get anybody to deal with it.‘”
It was cut-and-dried -- apparently the only sort of case the U.S. attorney will accept to move against a police officer. Explained U.S. attorney spokesman Thom Mrozek: “We can only bring cases in a criminal forum when we are confident we have the evidence to get a conviction. That’s a pretty high standard.”
Watson‘s referral to the U.S. attorney also served to alert the LAPD to a case of potential misconduct -- according to Freed, Internal Affairs staff tagged along when he met with federal investigators in early 1997. But while the department responded more promptly than the U.S. attorney, it had trouble finding anything wrong with the Tyson arrest.
The case reached an LAPD disciplinary board in the spring of 1998, more than a year after the department opened its investigation. Officer Taylor had already resigned in the face of the inquiry, and the board was aware that a federal grand jury was investigating Tyson’s arrest. Yet, on March 11, the board issued findings that in hindsight seem a model of the sort of narrow, literal thinking that allowed the department to miss the Rampart scandal until it finally exploded. The board resolutely stood by Taylor‘s testimony that he saw Tyson drop a gun, found that the officers had sufficient probable cause to make an arrest, and disputed Judge Chotiner’s ruling in the case. “The board‘s not convinced at all that Victor Tyson was innocent,” its final ruling asserted.
Officer Ruiz was charged with misleading his supervisor, filing a false report, and perjury, but the board found him guilty solely on grounds that he fabricated the story of a broken window. Ruiz’s falsehood left the board mystified, as “he already, in the board‘s collective mind, had justified probable cause to detain Tyson.”
Remarkably, the LAPD board reserved its harshest criticism for the whistle blowers, Freed and Sergeant Henry. Freed, the board found, “rushed to judgment . . . and undermined prosecutorial and investigative facts.” In its only nod to Freed’s enterprise, the board said, “His intervention in this case was deplorably inept, but was the catalyst for the department discovering the misconduct that‘s been sustained here today.” As for Sergeant Henry, the board found he “expressed opinions only” and “should have conducted a more thorough investigation.” The only more thorough investigation that resulted was conducted by the U.S. attorney, and resulted in last week’s indictments.
Contacted last week, Evan Freed said he‘d never heard the board’s derisive comments on his performance. By the time the opinion was issued, Freed had been terminated by the City Attorney‘s Office when it declined to extend his provisional two-year stint. Freed asserted in a lawsuit that he was let go because of his efforts on the Tyson case, as well as the fact that he is gay. The case was dismissed last year.
Freed said he confronted City Attorney James Hahn over his belief that he was harassed for his role as a whistle blower, but was rebuffed. “I’m sure it was a political move on his part,” Freed said.
As to the handling of the Tyson case, Qualls said the City Attorney‘s Office was simply too trusting of the police. “The suspicions about the officers’ veracity were reported to us by an LAPD sergeant,” Qualls explained. “This was 1995. There was a certain trust that the LAPD command staff would deal appropriately with allegations like this.”
Joe Domanick contributed to this story.