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
Radtke wrote the police report giving the official version, but when Young's case went to trial, that story -- that an armed suspect, confronted by officers brandishing their handguns, would throw an unwieldy assault weapon 15 feet across an alley and into an open doorway -- didn't carry the day. The jury came down on the side of Young and his friends, who testified that none of them had been armed that night, but that the officers had been enraged when one of their party fled, and had decided to make someone pay.
As Melvin Lucas, one of Young's friends, described on the witness stand, the officers at the scene produced a gun that none of the men had seen before.
"They said, 'Your buddy put you in a bad predicament,'" Lucas testified.
"What was your interpretation of that?"
"I guess they were going to stick one of us with the gun."
It was a scenario strikingly similar to one of the incidents charged in the recent criminal trial of four Rampart cops. There, two gang members fled when the CRASH unit broke up a party in a parking lot. Five remaining gang members were taken to the station, and one was allegedly selected at random to take a gun charge.
In the Rampart case, the gun charge was overturned based on Perez's testimony, and the gang member was exonerated. In the 77th case, Young was acquitted of the gun charge and released that afternoon. But in those days before Rampart, nobody asked the question: If Young didn't have that gun, where did it come from? And nobody -- not the D.A., not the public defender, not the judge -- questioned Radtke about the veracity of the police report.
As the sergeant at the new gang unit, Radtke is now in a position to approve reports like the one he filed against Greg Young. In fact, it was Radtke who signed off on the arrest of Shadron "Scatterbrain" Holmes for assault on police officers. To Scatter, it seemed only natural the sergeant would approve the arrest: "It's his guys out there. What would you do if you was out on the streets and you got a high position where you got more power? You approve anything your homeboys say."
CRASH OFFICERS FROM THE 77TH Street Division resort to some of their most aggressive tactics when working as a team. That was the situation the night of May 2, 1998, when the CRASH unit set out to break up a party being held in a rented South Western Avenue storefront by Five-Deuce Hoover Crips.
Johnny Lee, then 47 years old and a Hoover Crip for most of his life, had organized the party and was keeping an eye on things. "I was there to chaperone," says Lee, who has done two stints in state prison and, in between, worked as a gang-intervention counselor. Lee says there was nothing to draw the attention of the police that night -- he made sure the party was peaceful and didn't spill out onto the street.
The police first started talking about the party at roll call, according to a report. May 2 was an important date for the gang, as it corresponded to Five-Deuce, and the CRASH unit was determined to short-circuit any merriment. They located Lee's storefront around 10 p.m. and arrived ready for action, with somewhere between 25 and 30 officers clad in body armor and riot helmets, and two of them armed with shotguns loaded with non-lethal beanbag rounds. They blocked off the entire street, lighted the scene with spotlights, formed up in a "skirmish line" outside the party, and then ordered everyone inside to exit.
When he heard the order to clear the place, Lee stood at the door marshaling the crowd onto the sidewalk. According to a police report, Lee's brother began causing a scene. Officers handcuffed him, prompting Lee to become enraged. According to the report, Lee stripped off his shirt, clenched his fists and charged one of the cops. The two officers with shotguns fired their beanbag rounds, dropping him; when Lee got up and charged again, the officers fired another salvo. According to the report, "Lee doubled over, fell to the ground and crawled toward a wall . . . and screamed, 'I give, I give, I quit.'"
Lee tells a much different story. He says he was still standing in the doorway, helping clear the hall, when an officer yelled in his ear, "Motherfucker, this is the LAPD." "Then all I heard was fire," Lee says. "I was shot five times before I knew what was going on." Lee was taken to a hospital, then released the next day, after being charged with incitement to riot. Rather than fight the charge, Lee pleaded guilty.
It isn't always a gang party that spurs the CRASH unit into action. In the case of Santos Medina, 59, the precipitating event was his son Santos Jr.'s quinceaÃ±era, or 15th-birthday celebration. The officers involved included Addis Simpson, Dean Vinluan and John Radtke.
A video taken during the October 1995 party shows what you might expect -- a knot of children whacking a piÃ±ata, with their parents and grandparents milling around, some of the men wearing cowboy hats, some drinking beer.