Updated below at 2:10 p.m., with reaction from the L.A. County Democratic Party.
The Democratic Party has endorsed an LAPD officer in the hard-fought race for the 25th Congressional District, though that officer was once sued for allegedly beating a black motorist during a traffic stop.
Lou Vince, an LAPD lieutenant, is challenging Republican incumbent Steve Knight in the district that runs from Simi Valley to Lancaster. The district is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, and Democrats see it as a pickup opportunity in November.
Vince also faces a Democratic opponent, attorney Bryan Caforio, who recently moved into the district. Caforio was recruited by national party leaders to run against Knight. But at its convention last weekend, the state party endorsed Vince, who serves on the Agua Dulce town council and is the favorite of local Democratic activists.
Some, however, are now reconsidering, in light of allegations against Vince that arose from a traffic stop in 2000. According to a federal lawsuit filed in 2001, Vince and his partner, Doug Gallick, stopped Cecil Miller, 37, for making an illegal turn at Pico Boulevard and Roxbury Drive on Aug. 8, 2000.
Vince, who was on foot, directed Miller to stop in the street. Miller, who had his wife and three children in the car, asked to pull to the side of the road. Vince allowed him to do so. According to the suit, as Miller pulled to the side, Vince shouted that Miller had run over his foot. Vince then ran to the driver's side door, tried to open it, and yelled at Miller to get out of the car. Miller did so, and Vince pushed Miller against the car.
The complaint continues:
Plaintiff told Officer Vince that the aggression really was not necessary and that if he had run over his foot, he was sorry and it was an accident. The officers then proceeded to slam plaintiff against his vehicle over and over. They then pulled him away from the vehicle and threw him to the sidewalk. As plaintiff was falling one officer held him up as the other began to punch him in the face. Plaintiff sustained serious contusions to the right side of face (sic). A pass by (sic), Crystal McGary, witnessed what was transpiring. Fearful that the officers were going to kill Plaintiff, she reached for Plaintiff's arm over Officer Gallick screaming "don't hurt him." Officer Vince then struck her in the face.
Miller was charged with assaulting a police officer. He was acquitted at trial. He then sued the department, as well as Vince and Gallick. In December 2002, the city agreed to pay Miller $150,000 to settle the case.
Asked about the suit, Vince said, "People can allege anything they want to allege."
"He tried to drive away and ran over my foot," Vince said. "He finally got out of the car and got into it with my partner. They got into a fight. Ultimately I went to his legs, and he went down to his knees. ... My partner was the one that hit him. I didn't hit him at all."
Vince said that he and Gallick were both "exonerated" by LAPD's Internal Affairs bureau. Vince provided an LAPD personnel report summarizing his history at the department for the years 1998 to 2003. It includes a reference to the August 2000 incident, which is marked "closed." There is no record of discipline.
"There was no evidence we did anything wrong," Vince said. "I think people will realize that if I spent 21 years on the streets of Los Angeles and I got one guy making outlandish allegations against me, I’m probably doing well."
However, some are concerned. Kermit Franklin, an African-American political consultant and Democratic delegate from Lancaster, said he withdrew his support for Vince after learning about the incident.
"That should be something that was disclosed to everybody so they can make an informed decision, and it wasn’t," Franklin said. "I felt let down."
Lancaster and Palmdale have had a history of issues with racially biased policing. Last year, the Justice Department entered into a settlement agreement with the L.A. County Sheriff's Department to resolve a long list of issues including unlawful searches, use of excessive force and housing discrimination. Such issues have also become front and center in national Democratic politics with the rise of the Black Lives Matter campaign.
Eric Bauman, chair of the L.A. County Democratic Party, said he would consult about the issue with state chair John Burton "to see what the appropriate steps might be for us to take."
Knight's political consultant, Matt Rexroad, said he expected that the national Democratic Party would do whatever it could to make sure that Caforio is the candidate who faces Knight in the fall. Rexroad said Knight has spent most of his life in the Antelope Valley, and noted that Caforio had only recently relocated to Valencia.
"Mr. Caforio didn't live in the district until a few weeks ago," he said. "I probably know as many people in Santa Clarita as he does."
Vince also took aim at Caforio.
"The way I see it, the residents of the 25th District need to send their representative to Washington, not have Washington send us their representative," Vince said.
Caforio declined to comment for this story.
Update, 2:10 p.m. The L.A. County Democratic Party issued a press release about the allegations this afternoon. In it, Bauman says he is "incredibly troubled."
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"We must evaluate the facts to understand what occurred," Bauman said. "If accurate, the alleged actions are unacceptable for any police officer, especially one who is a Democratic candidate for Congress."
The release also quotes Sen. Isadore Hall, the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus:
"I must make clear that this type of alleged behavior is unacceptable to the African-American community and to the Democratic Party," Hall said. "It is just this type of activity that has led to the Black Lives Matter movement spreading across our nation. I will join with my colleagues at the California Democratic Party and the Los Angeles County Democratic Party to demand a righteous and appropriate response."