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
Around 7 p.m., according to police and the Medinas, a tenant living in an apartment behind the house fired off several rounds from a rifle. The Medinas confronted him and demanded that he put the weapon away, and the party continued into the evening. More than three hours later, the CRASH unit arrived to investigate a report of shots fired.
The cops found more than 15 men gathered in front of the Medina home, and music playing in the back yard. Rather than approach from the front, the officers decided to enter through a side gate at the rear. When 16-year-old Jos√© Medina told the police to get a warrant, he was proned out, roughed up, Maced and handcuffed, with officer Radtke on top of him.
What ensued was a melee, with children screaming and officers shouting and pummeling the Medinas and their guests. Santos Sr. was kicked in the chest and, according to his family, suffocated with a pillow until he passed out. Santos Jr., who's birthday party was over, was clubbed in the teeth with the butt of a shotgun. Simpson said the 5-foot-6, 130-pound boy had tried to wrestle the weapon from him.
The fracas gave rise to criminal charges against Santos Sr. and Santos Jr. -- both cases were dismissed -- and then a civil suit that the city paid $125,000 to settle. Yet no officers were disciplined. The protests of the Medina family were not even recorded as complaints against the officers.
A similar incident the same year escaped the he-said/she-said credibility problems because much of the action was captured on film by a crew from the television show LAPD: Life on the Beat. In this instance, CRASH Officers Simpson and Tony Tejada were on patrol in the late afternoon when they noticed a small child riding a tricycle into the street. Simpson barked something out the window to the child's mother, Rose Miles, who was sitting on her porch with several family members. Rose Miles barked back, Simpson radioed for backup, and the altercation was on.
In the aftermath, seven people were arrested and booked, including Rose Miles; some were jailed as long as five days, two of them as far away as Van Nuys. Charges were lodged against a single juvenile defendant, who was acquitted after a brief trial. Before leaving the scene, Simpson hammed it up for the camera. "She was hitting me in the face," he said, his clean-shaved head glistening with sweat. "Am I still cute?" He closed the interview by summing up the night's events. "No officers hurt, and the bad guy goes to jail."
That tape was later reviewed by several officials from 77th, including Captain Thomas Maeweather, two lieutenants, two assistant chiefs and a deputy chief. "All agreed there was no misconduct and [that] the force used conformed to the test of reasonable and necessary," Maeweather reported in an internal document.
The same videotape was reviewed by D.P. Van Blaricom, a former police officer and use-of-force expert retained by the Miles family in a lawsuit against the city. Van Blaricom's impression cost the city a settlement of $350,000. "What I see the officers doing is reacting to a challenge to their authority," he testified in a deposition.
"You've got a contempt-of-cop situation. They call for help. Here comes the cavalry that happens to have a TV show riding with them, and it all goes to hell, and there's no reason for that," Van Blaricom testified. "They are just charging, charging at these people and . . . pushing them around. That's what I see, and I don't see any justification for it except they're all hyped up when they get there."
THE DEPARTMENT FINALLY TURNED against Simpson in 1998, firing him for an off-duty attack on two civilians. Simpson's appeal of the decision was rejected by a Superior Court judge the following year.
The alleged assault took place on the afternoon of June 3, 1997, at a San Pedro beach, when close to 100 officers from the 77th attended a "P.M. Watch Morale Booster." Four Latinos, including Victor Sanchez and Jason Posod, were parked nearby and drinking beer. According to a police inquiry, they were approached by a Lieutenant Robert Tumas "because, he said, it looked to him like one of them had flipped him off."
Within moments, somewhere between one- and two dozen officers, many of them swigging beer from plastic cups, surrounded the four young Latinos. Victor Sanchez testified before an LAPD disciplinary board that Simpson stepped forward, grabbed him by the neck and demanded, "What's the fucking problem?" Sanchez said Simpson then picked him up and slammed him on the ground. Several more officers jumped on him, kicked him and punched him, Sanchez testified. Simpson then circled the car and performed the same routine on Posod, who was likewise kicked once he was on the ground. Sanchez was then allowed to climb into the car, and the Latinos drove off. Later, believing the people he'd met on the beach were Sheriff's deputies, Sanchez reported the assault to the Sheriff's Department.
Nobody was charged with a crime, but nine months later, Simpson learned he was being investigated by Internal Affairs. When the case finally came to a hearing in October 1998, Simpson offered a novel version of the whole affair -- that he'd been assaulted by Sanchez, Posod and their friends while he was alone in the parking lot. During the hearing and in his later appeal, Simpson and his attorneys emphasized the point that Sanchez and Posod were both alleged gang members, and that Posod had an outstanding warrant for assault on an officer. But the LAPD disciplinary board dismissed those arguments. After taking extensive testimony, the panel of two LAPD commanders and one civilian found Sanchez and Posod "spontaneous, forthright, and we believe credible." In contrast, the board held that, "There's a preponderance of evidence to conclude that Officer Simpson's version of the incident is indeed false and misleading and appears to have been entirely fabricated."