By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
We also found cops who set out daily to do the virtually impossible job of keeping peace in a district ridden by poverty, crime and violence. Former 77th Officer Keith Rankins, now with the L.A. school police, describes it this way: "These guys are dangerous. They will kill you, they will turn and fight you." Nearly everyone interviewed for this story made it a point to say that most cops follow the law as well as enforce it. But they also agreed, based on their own experience, that some cops go too far.
Along the way, we learned the toll that such hard-fisted policing can take on people's lives. We spoke with parents who can't say which is worse, the gangs or the cops, parents who realize that either one might take their children away for good. We spoke to young men poised on the brink, knowing that another bust could mean a life behind bars, still pissed off about prior offenses they say were trumped up in the first place, terrified that the cops would come at them again. We spoke with people who wonder who to call when they are afraid, because they no longer trust the police.
Sources for this report include a review of the department's own use-of-force reports for the years 1995 to 1998, filings from criminal and civil court, complaints filed with Police Watch for the same period, and interviews with people arrested and harassed by the CRASH unit. The sources do not include the officers themselves. That's in part because repeated efforts to interview principals in the story were rebuffed by Captain Harlin Ward, the top officer azt the 77th Division. It's in part because many of these cases are subject to litigation or criminal proceedings and officers are barred from making comments. And it's in part because this story deals with issues and incidents that LAPD officers do not want to discuss.
Our efforts to get the LAPD's side of the story began in September with a ride-along with Sergeant Lee Sands. However, Sands said he was unable to discuss the incidents and personnel covered in this story. We followed up with a request to speak with a supervisor who was assigned to the CRASH unit during this period, Sergeant John Radtke, the ranking officer at Holmes' arrest, but that request was turned down.
We then sought interviews by contacting each of the officers named in this story. One said no, one responded through his attorney, two did not respond, and the fifth, John Radtke, now agreed to an interview provided a supervisor was present. However, that supervisor, Captain Thomas Runyen, said he would bar Radtke from discussing the incidents and issues in this story. "I wasn't there then, and we aren't going to go back and talk about what may or may not have happened in the old CRASH unit," said Runyen. He added that he could not schedule such an interview until after publication of this story.
Of course, the LAPD is notoriously reluctant to discuss allegations of misconduct. On that score, the department's Board of Inquiry into Rampart was unusually concise: "None of the employees interviewed recognized any particular trend toward a code of silence, which is certainly ironic, to say the least, given what we now know regarding events at Rampart."
While there's no Rafael Perez to narrate the internal lingo and backslapping camaraderie that have so colored his Rampart revelations, the allegations emerging from cases like Shadron "Scatterbrain" Holmes' should not be ignored. The scandal of official misconduct and managerial neglect at the LAPD is not limited to Rafael Perez and "a few individuals." Certainly, it extends beyond the Rampart Division. Certainly, it extends to the 77th Street Division.
REACHING NORTH FROM MANCHESTER AVENUE AND west from the Harbor Freeway, the 77th Street Division encompasses 11.9 square miles and more than 200,000 people, most of them black or Latino and many of them poor. It is home to the intersection of Florence and Normandie, flashpoint for the riots that followed the Rodney King verdict, and routinely vies for the highest homicide rate of the LAPD's 18 divisions citywide.
There are two good reasons that 77th Street Division is among L.A.'s busiest, and most violent. They are the Crips and the Bloods, the murderous, homegrown street gangs that are a fact of life for anyone coming of age on the low-slung residential boulevards south of the Santa Monica Freeway. With the advent of crack cocaine and the spread of handguns and automatic weapons, life in the 77th became something out of the wild west, punctuated by drive-by shootings, random street crime and gang-turf wars. Through last October, police tabulated 765 gang-related crimes in the 77th, close to double that of any other division in the city except the Southeast, with 729.
Even the dogs are tough in the 77th. Pit bulls seem to be the preferred species, favored as watchdogs and for their fearsome record in basement-arena dogfights. Records maintained by the Police Commission are replete with cases of snarling dogs charging cops; in one instance, an officer J. Mastick fired six rounds from a shotgun to bring down a single vicious canine.
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