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LAUSD's Finest: Los Angeles School Police 

How an oblivious school board lets a tiny, scandal-ridden force endanger L.A. kids

Wednesday, Sep 2 2009
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Three years ago, Los Angeles School Police Officer Ian Mitchell King walked into a high school ceramics class at University Senior High School in West L.A. and asked an attractive blonde senior, Regina Shapiro, to take a “stroll” with him to his on-campus security office. There, he told her to sit on his couch and declared, “This is about us. I’ve taken a personal interest in you.”

Shapiro, bewildered and nervous, later described to a judge how King subjected her to 40 minutes of relentless sexual innuendo, told her she had a reputation as a “ho” and asked if she gave “blowjobs under the table.” Despite her protests, he finally succeeded in pressuring the upset girl to lift her shirt so King could take a prurient peek at her belly ring.

King was a sworn police officer allowed to carry a gun for the Los Angeles School Police Department, a tiny, little-watched and never-reformed force that operates far below the radar of most Angelenos yet has the power to pull over, question or arrest almost any resident — student or adult — in a 710-square-mile area. King stood close to the door, Shapiro’s only escape route, and she remembers looking out the window of his half-daylight basement office, watching the rain, to shake her foreboding sense of not being free to leave. When King finally led her back to class, she later recounted, he said he was “going to make me like” him and warned, “Don’t say anything to anyone because we don’t want rumors going on about you.”

click to flip through (10) PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY SEAN TEEGARDEN MODELS: SKOTI COLLINS & CHARITO MERTZ
  • Photo illustration by Sean Teegarden models: Skoti Collins & Charito Mertz
 

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The outrageous event and Shapiro’s recollections are contained in court transcripts and documents obtained by L.A.Weekly. Shapiro refuses to comment. But although the girl promptly reported to her principal King’s leering come-on, the 340-officer police department sworn to protect Los Angeles schoolchildren failed her on almost every level: The school district’s Internal Affairs unit let crucial weeks slip by without interviewing Shapiro — a huge no-no. Two months later, Shapiro has since testified, an anonymous man identifying himself only as a lieutenant or sergeant with the department called her late one night and pressured the teenage girl to drop her complaint. She recalled the voice saying, “You’re going to be here every two weeks in trial. . Your college plans are going to be ruined.”

The manner in which School Police Chief Lawrence Manion handled the allegations against Officer King would have chilled to the bone any parent.

King was not fired. In fact, the Weekly found, Manion rewarded him. After giving King “light duty” at headquarters, Manion handed him a coveted new assignment as a “patrol officer” with the power to approach and arrest any Angeleno almost anywhere in L.A., young women included. Ian King became the quasi–LAPD officer he always dreamed of being, crawling the city’s streets in his black-and-white Crown Victoria.

Just 13 months later, King grossly abused these newly granted powers. Late on May 3, 2007, King pulled over Nicole D., a Filipino-American college student who’d made a wrong turn going home from a date and was on a dark street in West Adams trying to find a ramp to the 10 freeway. Under the guise of searching her for drugs, King ordered her to face the wall of a church across from Cienega Elementary School. There, he pinned Nicole D.’s wrists behind her back and inserted his fingers into the young woman’s vagina.

King got a 20-year prison sentence for the sexual attack. But the media quickly moved on, never delving into what sort of organization would let this malevolent cop thrive. As L.A. Weekly found in a 10-month investigation based on extensive interviews and roughly 1,400 pages of records, the obscure police force charged with protecting L.A.’s students has never undergone serious reform, it is mired in a throwback police culture that encourages a “code of silence,” and its top brass have failed to heed sharp private warnings against letting its woefully undersupervised cops patrol L.A.’s streets far beyond school boundaries.

The Weekly has learned that eight times, LAUSD police officials allowed King to skate away from complaints, including sexual harassment, impersonating an LAPD officer and using excessive force. His disastrous career was halted, in fact, only by the bravery of a petty criminal, known in the official records as Marilyn E., who drove by that night two years ago at the very moment King was sexually assaulting Nicole D.

Marilyn scribbled onto her hand the ID number painted on King’s patrol car and called 911. When LAPD detectives searched King’s West L.A. apartment, they found the makings of a fetishist’s shrine: the personal records, home address, campus news clippings and even classroom test scores of University High School student Shapiro.

The LAUSD Board of Education has long known something was rotten at its police division. Former Chief Wesley Mitchell retired in January of 2002, and the following month thousands of porn downloads were found on his district-issued computers — a scandal blamed on his son Jason Mitchell, a teacher at Washington Preparatory High School. Chief Mitchell’s replacement, slick-talking Chief Alan Kerstein, brought even greater troubles, creating what critics saw as a carbon copy of the pre-reform LAPD, complete with an aggressive “SWAT team,” a code of silence about bad cops, an all-but-unsupervised motorcycle unit, even LAPD-look-alike police cars.

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