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
One of those officers, Addis Simpson, was a hulking presence at 6-foot-2 and 275 pounds. A former school-bus driver who drove a black Corvette when off-duty and went by the nickname "Bart," Simpson had a broad smile and a quick sense of humor. But he also demonstrated a sudden temper that led to beatings, including one that got him fired. Sam Paz, an attorney who sued Simpson and the LAPD, said he learned from the department that Simpson had more than 20 civilian complaints filed against him, though an attorney representing Simpson said that number is grossly inflated.
Andy Luong was another officer who seemed to have trouble restraining himself. A former bank teller and, before that, a clerk in the Air Force, Luong worked undercover narcotics and as a patrol officer at 77th before joining CRASH in 1997. Records show Luong drawing complaints for a pair of shootings, as well as several beatings. In one case which is pending in federal court, Luong is accused of corroborating another officer's report, allegedly trumped up, of events leading to an unprovoked shooting.
In another shooting, this one fatal, it was Luong who pulled the trigger. The victim was Terry Taylor, father of five, in his own back yard on New Year's Eve, 1998. According to court records and police reports, Taylor's brother had fired off a shotgun round to celebrate the occasion. Luong, part of a New Year's gunfire-suppression team, crept up a side driveway and opened fire when Taylor and his brother turned to run. Nobody identified himself as police; nobody shouted, "Freeze!" "It was a flash," Luong's partner testified later. "They treated us like animals," says Reda Taylor, Terry's widow.
James Jackson, a 21-year-old grocery clerk, was on hand for one of Luong's disputed arrests. According to a police report, Luong and nine other CRASH officers were conducting a "gang convoy stop" in 1998, pulling cars out of traffic on Crenshaw Boulevard, when a bystander named Dante Smart had the temerity to ask what was going on. According to the report, Smart ignored an order to disperse and was promptly arrested for obstructing a police officer. Smart says he obeyed the order, only to have Luong and two other officers jump him and beat him with a flashlight.
Jackson, in an interview, corroborated Smart. "I saw when they ran up to him," Jackson said. "He had his back turned and went off to his car, and they jumped him. They swarmed like a pack of wolves." Asked why he thought the officers chose to attack Smart, Jackson said, "Cops can do what they want to. They caught him, they cuffed him and they beat him outta his clothes."
Several other officers turned up in questionable cases during the period reviewed for this story, but one who stood out for his "heavy-handed" approach to suspected gang members was Dean Vinluan, a veteran of the Southeast, Newton and Central divisions who spent four years assigned to 77th CRASH.
People who encountered Vinluan on the street describe him as a short, aggressive Asian officer who liked to make things personal.
Corey Jones admits that he was carrying a gun the night in 1996 that Vinluan caught him and several friends playing dice in an off-street parking garage. But Jones, 17 years old at the time, denies the police allegation that he struck Vinluan as he was being searched and tried to run. Jones says he was handcuffed and facedown on the ground when Vinluan sprayed him with a blast of Mace. When Jones started hollering for help, Vinluan kicked him in the mouth, mashing his lips and breaking one of his teeth. In his police report, Vinluan said Jones was hurt when he was tackled.
Jones' mother, Annette London, recalls going down to the station that night in an effort to retrieve her son. She says she asked Vinluan what had happened. "He looked straight at me and said, 'You're lucky we didn't kill him.' He was so cold. He said it straight out. He didn't smile or anything. That was a nightmare."
During one 20-month period in the mid-'90s, Vinluan was involved in four shootings, two of them fatal, as well as several beatings. Records show that in several of those cases Vinluan's victims disputed the officer's story of what happened.
One of those cases involved Dale Taylor, then 19 years old. Vinluan alleged that Taylor fled from a routine stop, then turned and pulled a gun on him. Vinluan responded by firing a single round. He missed, but the suspect gave himself up. During an ensuing criminal trial, Taylor conceded that he had been carrying a gun when he and three friends were stopped by Vinluan and five other CRASH officers. Taylor admitted he had turned and fled, but said he never attempted to confront the pursuing officers. Taylor said he had tossed his weapon, and was unarmed, when Vinluan fired.
On the strength of the officers' testimony, Dale Taylor was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer and sentenced to 18 years in state prison. The verdict still disturbs his attorney, Jonathan Mandel, of Encino. "There's no way in the world my guy would have turned and drawn on armed officers," Mandel says now.