Bizarre Hermosa Cop vs. Motorist Case Crumbles
After 18 months of intense investigation, that was the prosecution's position when it finally came time to put up or shut up in its controversial assault-on-a-cop case filed against South Bay motorist Brian Hitchcock.
Hitchcock had always insisted he was being unfairly blamed for a traffic accident after a Hermosa Beach motorcycle cop rear-ended him in Redondo Beach, flew off his bike and landed headfirst in the backseat of Hitchcock's convertible — a bizarre mishap that produced a globally viral photo showing the cop's booted feet sticking up.
But after the Redondo Beach city attorney suddenly dropped charges of assault and reckless driving without any explanation or apology, Hitchcock viewed his ordeal in a more sinister light.
"This was no accident," he told L.A. Weekly. "This was an ambush by a cop operating under the color of authority."
Moments before jury selection was to begin in January, Redondo Beach City Prosecutor Brenda Coe dismissed three misdemeanor charges against Hitchcock. Yet the case had turned his life upside-down. Facing up to two years in jail, he was eager for his day in court.
His lawyer, Thomas Beck, said he was ready to prove that Hermosa Beach Police Officer Anthony Parente was lying about the collision and had a record of causing accidents and claiming injuries in which he not only filed for workman's compensation and collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money but also targeted the victim's insurance company.
"This was part of a pattern on Officer Parente's part to scam people for money," Beck said. "He's made a career out of it. This guy ought to be prosecuted for filing a false police report and workman's comp fraud."
Beck said the 44-year-old Parente had taken medical leave and filed for workman's comp six times — three times during his four years with the Inglewood School Police Department and three with the Hermosa Beach PD, where he was hired July 1, 2005.
Parente did not respond to a half-dozen messages from the Weekly seeking comment. Coe was not available for comment because she quit soon after she dropped the charges against Hitchcock.
Hermosa Beach interim Police Chief Steve Johnson declined to comment on Parente, who is on disability leave and collecting workman's comp — 20 months after he suffered so-called soft-tissue injuries.
While the law enforcement agencies that once pursued Hitchcock have gone silent, Beck gladly laid out his version of a prosecution-turned-persecution against the 60-year-old, churchgoing Mormon, who works as a technical writer at Skechers in Manhattan Beach.
Beck said Hitchcock soon will file a lawsuit against Parente and the Hermosa Beach Police Department.
The case became notorious because of a WTF picture of Parente's legs sticking out of Hitchcock's backseat on June 8, 2010. Seconds before that, Hitchcock had pulled up next to Parente's motorcycle at a red light at the intersection of Artesia Boulevard and Ford Avenue in Redondo Beach.
Parente later claimed that when the light turned green, Hitchcock started speeding in the parking lane and then abruptly pulled over, cutting the officer off. Parente turned on his siren, he said, to cite Hitchcock for a traffic violation.
However, there were problems with Parente's version. By his own written admission, he turned on his siren when he was only two to three feet behind Hitchcock — far closer than law enforcement training guidelines. The noise startled Hitchcock so badly that he hit the brakes — exactly the danger training warns of. The next thing he knew, a cop was upside down in his car.
Parente put out an "officer down" call, and the baffled Hitchcock was swarmed by officers from Hermosa, Redondo and Manhattan Beach. He was interviewed several times at the scene and his car was impounded.
Hitchcock maintained that he was never in the parking lane, had accelerated normally and didn't cut Parente off. As reported in the Weekly in February 2011 ("Officer Down,"), three eyewitnesses supported Hitchcock's account and L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley refused to bring charges.
But Redondo Beach detectives continued their investigation. "They were carrying water for the Hermosa PD," Beck alleged. "These little suburban PD's stick together when a cop does something wrong."
Six months after the collision, Coe filed three misdemeanor charges against Hitchcock. Then, during the discovery process, Hitchcock's attorney learned that Redondo detectives had a surveillance video of the collision. The detectives claimed the video was too grainy to reveal anything. But Beck took it to a video specialist, who slowed it down. Beck said the tape clearly showed Hitchcock was telling the truth.
Then the dogged Beck learned that Parente's motorcycle had a "black box," which records traffic data such as speed — yet Hermosa police reported to the court that it had mysteriously disappeared.
Beck also interviewed three eyewitnesses who were prepared to testify that Hitchcock was telling the truth.
Beck's star witness, however, was to be another motorist, Peter Brown, who had a similar experience with Parente. Brown, a field engineer for General Electric, told the Weekly that in April 2008 he was stopped at a red light in Redondo Beach when Parente rear-ended him with a police car.
"Suddenly this officer was at my window screaming at me," Brown recalled. "The next thing I know, a lot of cop cars, fire trucks and ambulances were all around me."
Within minutes he saw Parente walking around with a neck brace on. Soon a different officer asked him what happened.
A few minutes later that cop said he would not be getting a citation but had to go to the DMV to give his side of the story because "it conflicts with what the officer said."
Brown gave a deposition at the DMV that was recorded on video. "They told me it didn't agree with what the officer said, so I had to take a driver's test, which I passed."
A few months later, he got a call from his insurance company saying Parente had filed a claim against him. "They said this officer was claiming a loss of work because I had intentionally backed up into him," Brown recalled. "I said that wasn't true, that he hit me, and I couldn't believe anyone would file for workman's comp after an insignificant bump like that. That was the last I heard." The insurance company paid Parente's claim, but the amount was blacked out in documents obtained by the Weekly.
Beck said Brown's story would have been important to a jury. "It proved that Parente caused another rear-end accident, lied about it, claimed an injury and ended up profiting from it. Now he was trying it again."
But there was one critical difference between Brown and Hitchcock.
"My insurance company rejected Parente's claim," Hitchcock said. "I told them I was prepared to go to court to prove that I was telling the truth, so they didn't pay him. He finally targeted the wrong guy."
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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