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Badge of Anger

A lopsided but bitter City Council race has spilled over from the 9th District to Parker Center, where Councilwoman Jan Perry is wielding her political clout and influencing personnel decisions at the LAPD. Perry defeated challenger Peter Torres, a senior lead officer from Newton Division, by a margin of 68 percent to 23 percent on March 8. Such a landslide might have ended a clash that pitted a homegrown cop and political novice against a powerful incumbent. But within weeks of the election, residents and LAPD sources say Perry had Torres removed from Newton Division, where last year he reduced crime more than any other senior lead officer. Now, Torres is “on loan” to Rampart Division, and is facing an Internal Affairs investigation in part related to a recent encounter at New Image Emergency Shelter, a facility that is central to Perry’s approach to addressing homelessness downtown. “Retaliation, that is what’s going on,” says one LAPD officer. “Someone is putting a case on him. Jan Perry has a lot of juice. She’s out of control and abusing her authority.” During Torres’ campaign for a council seat, he criticized Perry for a rise in property crime in the area surrounding New Image, south of downtown at 38th and Broadway Place, which receives 400 homeless each night via bus from Skid Row and Hollywood, but which does not allow walk-ins. Perry’s intervention in his career places Torres in jeopardy, observers say.

To read Jeffrey Anderson's March 4 LA Weekly cover story on Peter Torres click here. Last Monday, Perry dropped hints about the investigation of Torres. Perry said clues about concerns that could be raised against him are to be found in a March 3 L.A. Weekly cover story highlighting Torres’ approach to community policing in the neighborhood where he was born and raised. In response to questions about her role in Torres’ removal from Newton Division, Perry lashed out at the Weekly. “I don’t trust you,” she said. “But I’ll do what I have to do to take care of my business. If you want to fight, I’ll fuckin’ get out in the street and fight.” Although Perry denied causing Torres’ removal, community leaders who have spoken to officers in Newton Division say they were told that orders came down from Police Chief Bill Bratton, after a call from Perry to either Bratton or Mayor Jim Hahn. On Saturday, Hahn told the Community Leadership Coalition he is “looking into the matter.” Trouble began just after the election, which was marked by low voter turnout, reports of electioneering, charges and countercharges of racism, and a Justice Department voting-rights investigation. Phone lines to Torres’ campaign headquarters were cut, according to a police report. Back on the job within a week of his crushing defeat, Torres called the city Department of Public Works about wastewater discharge from New Image. City Inspector Chin Teo said that he visited the shelter and found that its operators were pumping water used to hose down the facility into the street. Teo gave the shelter a warning and instructions for proper wastewater disposal. While at the shelter, Torres had questions about the “No Walk-ins” sign, and whether it had been temporarily removed during the campaign, sources say. The encounter upset New Image’s executive director, Brenda Wilson, who called the Newton Division and complained of “discourtesy” by Torres, sources said. Last Friday, “Re-elect Jan Perry” signs could still be found inside the shelter, along with a large banner over its entrance that read “New Image Welcomes Councilwoman Jan Perry.” After giving a brief tour of the shelter, which is staffed around the clock with security guards and requires clients to be patted down upon entering, facilities manager Silvia Lozano said New Image tries to handle skirmishes internally, but that sometimes the staff calls the LAPD for assistance. LAPD records show 25 calls for police assistance from the shelter since March of 2004 — six of them in February. Asked whether problems have occurred with Torres or any other officers, she replied, “We had one problem, but it’s been taken care of. Brenda did what she had to do.” After Wilson filed a complaint of discourtesy against Torres, Captain Sean Kane confronted him. According to Torres’ attorney Michael Plotkin, Kane informed Torres that he had “ruffled someone’s feathers” and ordered Torres to stay away from the shelter. Perry’s involvement escalated the situation. On March 23, a press release from author Earl Ofari Hutchinson announced Torres’ appearance at an urban-policy roundtable discussion on March 26 in Leimert Park. “He’s the only LAPD officer who calls the hard streets of Newton Division home. Is he the next generation of L.A. Policing?” the release stated, quoting from the Weekly cover story on Torres. On March 25, however, an associate of Hutchinson’s received a call from Perry, who expressed displeasure over Torres’ scheduled appearance. “Jan Perry said Torres was not supposed to be doing the roundtable, that he did not have LAPD approval. She said he was not a good guy and that she was displeased about a run-in he had at some homeless shelter. I don’t know Jan Perry and I don’t know Peter Torres, but she was badmouthing him and frankly she sounded kind of vicious to me.” Hutchinson, a frequent critic of the LAPD, said the episode smacks of “bad blood.” After Perry called his associate, Hutchinson received an e-mail from Lieutenant Paul Vernon, of media relations, saying that Torres would not be appearing. An LAPD spokeswoman later confirmed the department’s canceling of the engagement: “It would be inappropriate for Officer Torres to appear while personnel complaints are pending.” Last week, Hutchinson observed, “There was blatant political interference. Something’s going on. Here’s a councilwoman who overwhelmingly defeated her opponent, and a guy who exercised his First Amendment right to run for office. This looks personal.” Wilson and Perry are formidable opponents facing Torres. Perry is known to personalize her battles; Wilson, who was forced to close New Image’s Long Beach shelter due to financial problems, is sensitive about criticism. Last Friday, Wilson declined to answer questions about Torres. She said she was upset with the Weekly for reporting that the bus that drops clients off each night does not always take each client back to Skid Row or Hollywood in the morning, as it is supposed to do. “You are not welcome to come to the shelter when I am not there,” fumed Wilson, who says she is the largest provider of temporary emergency shelters statewide, with nine similar programs in Los Angeles. “I’m upset with you.” New Image is federally funded primarily through the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, a city-county agency with a $60 million annual budget. The shelter offers emergency and winter services to clients in response to an ACLU lawsuit that prevented the LAPD from arresting people for sleeping on the street. It provides jobs and housing assistance. Recently it received a $3.2 million grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Labor. Bratton did not respond to calls and written requests for comment last week. An LAPD spokeswoman said Bratton was not aware of Torres’ removal at the time it occurred and referred the matter to Deputy Chief Cayler “Lee” Carter Jr. In response to questions about Perry’s role in provoking Torres’ removal, Carter said, “This conversation is going in the wrong direction. It is not public information and I’m not going to address it.” Of his relationship with Perry, the deputy chief said, “I relate the same to her as I do to any of about eight different council members.” Perry and Torres have a long and acrimonious history. In the past, Perry has filed complaints about Torres with the LAPD. In 1997, when Torres ran for City Council against incumbent Rita Walters, Perry’s boss at the time, Internal Affairs ruled that a complaint from Perry that Torres disrupted a polling place was “fabricated.” Before the recent election, Perry filed a personnel complaint against Torres and at least one other with the Ethics Commission, which would not disclose details. LAPD would not confirm the source or nature of more recent complaints. Perry denied trying to damage Torres. She suggested allegations against him could arise from his published remarks about the recent fatal shooting of teenager Devin Brown by another officer of Newton Division. “You know what I find interesting about that story on Officer Torres?” Perry said. “It was his demonstration of the Devin Brown shooting. I didn’t know officers are authorized to comment on a matter that is under investigation.” Perry was referring to a part of the Weekly story in which Torres, on leave from the LAPD and running for office at the time, demonstrated how Newton Division Officer Steve Garcia might have felt threatened as Brown’s car came toward him in reverse. He also said that people should “let the facts lead” in judging Garcia. “I sit in closed session on police matters, and I’ve never heard of an officer doing that,” she said mockingly. “But I better not say any more. You know I may have to vote on the matter some day.” Torres referred questions to his attorney Plotkin. “Peter’s only interest is in the truth coming out,” said Plotkin. “I don’t want to see him targeted with allegations that are untrue. He’s a guy who cares about being a cop.”