LAUSD's Finest: Los Angeles School Police
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.”
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.”
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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.
Two extensive, secret 2007 audits — one internal and one by a consultant — obtained by the Weekly called for a radical remaking of the police force. It never happened. And now, Chief Manion has announced his retirement, less than a week after the Weekly demanded to know the status of more than 1,000 mislaid police firearms, some dating to the 1970s — another unsettling problem the Weekly discovered through a California Public Records Act request.
Manion, set to depart on December 31, is the third chief to have left the nation’s largest school police force in disarray, and to have placed 680,000 children in the hands of unaccountable cops. Its Internal Affairs Division sat on 16 investigations of police wrongdoing for so long that the officers can’t be punished, even though all were ultimately found guilty of misconduct. An I.A. investigation into Officer King’s creepy harassment of teenager Shapiro is overdue — incredibly, by more than two years. King wants out of prison and is appealing his sentence, arguing in part that terrified coed Nicole D. should have known better than to submit to his sexual assault. Former Chief Kerstein, forced out of his most recent chief’s job in Henderson, Nevada, has told some LAUSD cops he’d like to get his old spot back in L.A.
And the LAUSD Board of Education’s “Safety Committee” is so oblivious that it hasn’t had any of this on its agenda for action — ever.
Welcome to LAUSD PD.
Today, it is hard to overstate the disaster-in-waiting that is the Los Angeles School Police Department. One of two secret audits, a 53-page confidential “special review” by LAUSD Inspector General Jerry Thornton, issued in August 2007 and obtained by the Weekly, found that Chief Manion’s command staff “has failed to hold subordinates accountable” at all levels. The department has a “significant problem” completing Internal Affairs probes of its cops before the statute of limitations runs out.
Manion’s leadership abilities are so lacking that his directives to underlings are “often” ignored, and school cops go unsupervised and have “very little contact with the sergeants.” The IG found that Manion and his brass seldom reviewed the “activity” logs, which detail the calls and issues all cops respond to during their workday, “leading to an attitude [among school cops] of ‘Why keep them?’ ”
A second confidential report, 115 pages long, written in October 2007 by Evergreen Solutions LLC, a draft of which was obtained by the Weekly, wrote vividly of Manion’s inability to set up basic record-keeping for crime reports, complaints against officers and other crucial data: “Data sheets are piled on desks and not yet entered. It appears that LASPD, at some point, made the management decision to no longer remain on top of data entry.” One result is that “accurate and timely data on incidents” — including crimes committed against schoolchildren and classroom teachers — are “lacking within LASPD.”
And the list goes on. As of last December, Manion had failed to confiscate real-looking, too easily misused “badges” handed out to TV stars and business leaders without a background check. A lieutenant with no formal detective training, Tim Anderson, long ran the department’s dysfunctional Internal Affairs unit — Manion promoted Anderson to deputy chief. Former chief Kerstein founded a strange police foundation, now run by Manion, that is utterly nontransparent and keeps a tight lid on its fundraising, spending — even its membership roster.
Yet Superintendent Ramon Cortines — who disbanded the unsettling, M16-toting school-district SWAT team just last year — refuses to discuss any aspect of his campus police. School board President Monica Garcia’s chief of staff, Luis Sanchez, says Garcia can’t publicly comment on the department, or on her board’s failure to clean house — citing an “ongoing personnel investigation.” Marlene Canter, board president during the Chief Kerstein era, also declined repeated requests for an interview.
James Ream, president of the Los Angeles School Police Officers Association, a union representing school police, blames the Board of Education and former Superintendent Roy Romer for hiring two successive chiefs in the wake of the Chief Mitchell porn scandal — Kerstein and Manion — who weren’t oriented toward protecting children and brought the worst of the bad old LAPD with them. Says Ream, “They brought the cancer.”
Alan Kerstein was a 32-year veteran cop at LAPD and a dedicated fan of hard-boiled TV police dramas like Adam-12 and Dragnet when Romer hired him in 2002 and publicly gushed, “He was selected from a group of 45 highly qualified chiefs, and we think we are getting the very best.”
Coming off the embarrassing scandal over downloaded pornography that shook School Police headquarters, the department’s officers wanted a force that offered the perks, like bigger guns, better hours and better pay, but also the public respect enjoyed by the 9,950-officer LAPD. “The officers wanted to stop being safety patrol,” says former school board member David Tokofsky. “The pendulum swung from guys who wanted to be older brothers on campus to guys who wanted to be serious police officers.”
Pushed by Kerstein, the school board agreed to a dramatic policy shift, giving school police the power to arrest anyone in the greater Los Angeles area — technically, within “one-half mile” of the school district’s 1,100 ubiquitous schools, centers and offices. Kerstein called his power grab “Village Policing,” and his scheme got around a longtime rule that kept the campus cops’ jurisdiction to a one-block radius of school property.
Kerstein also brought in two former high-ranking LAPD veterans, Steve La Roche and Manion. To transform his department in the image of LAPD, Ream says, “the first thing Alan Kerstein did — he’s a very superficial guy — he changed our patches [and uniforms]. He changed our call signs to be like LAPD.” He placed officers on a four-day/10-hour schedule — odd for a school district that operates five days a week but again copying LAPD. Kerstein also took “Unified” out of “L.A. Unified School Police Department” — another trace of the school district. He ordered a new fleet of cars. No longer purple and white, most were black and white. Just like LAPD.
Kerstein created a “motorcycle division” — no other large, urban U.S. school district has one, according to the secret report by Evergreen. That audit found that motorcycle cops rarely work, don’t attend roll call, don’t keep activity logs and “are not required to respond to calls for assistance.” No other school police in the U.S. except Miami-Dade had a SWAT team; Kerstein insisted on one. (In the only clear example of an effort to roll back Kerstein’s influence, Cortines last year quietly disbanded it.) Kerstein had to have a K-9 unit — unheard of at any school district except Miami-Dade.
One of Kerstein’s obsessions with LAPD-like accessories was his repeated alteration of the School Police Department’s “official seal” — some say he redrew it four times — before he settled on a Roman-themed design depicting rods of wood, or what he’d later describe as “a symbol of magisterial authority.”
Paul Quezada, president of the department’s sergeants’ union, says officers on the force still hope for real reform. He initially backed Kerstein but now tells the Weekly that the former chief “was the most detrimental thing the school district ever did to the Police Department. ... This became a self-serving vehicle with special units and pretty uniforms and better days off — less accountable structure.”
Perhaps most disturbing, under Kerstein and his understudy and successor, Manion, the Internal Affairs unit allowed 16 probes of school cops to blow past the legal deadline for punishing the officers, all of whom were found guilty of wrongdoing. In a stark example of the code of silence that grips the School Police Department and now has spread to the district, school officials refused even to acknowledge, when pressed by the Weekly, that LAUSD let lapse 16 complaints against officers, allowing the school cops to escape punishment even though all were later deemed by district police investigators to be guilty.
In addition, because a 2006 court ruling now protects officer privacy, LAUSD denied many of the Weekly’s requests, filed under the California Public Records Act, for documents detailing the 16 cases. In instances where the district did provide documents, they were so heavily blacked-out by LAUSD as to be useless. Parents are in the dark about who the officers are, which schools they police and what acts they committed. In fact, parents and the public are forced to trust the same broken system that protected Ian King.
An August 9, 2006, letter written by Manion and obtained by the Weekly describes two egregiously overdue I.A. investigations assigned to Deputy Chief Nancy Ramirez. Manion’s letter to Ramirez is troubling for its lack of outrage: “The investigation involving [name redacted] was assigned to you on May 5, 2005, and was due on June 6, 2005,” Manion writes more than a year later. “The completed investigation has not been submitted. The investigation involving [name redacted] commenced on July 6, 2004, and was due on April 4, 2005. The completed investigation has not been submitted. . “Regrettably,” Manion informs Ramirez, “these investigations are now out of statute.”
Ream, of the officers’ union, says he fired off a letter to Manion warning him that allowing potentially bad cops to escape punishment by sitting on investigations was “either intentional wrongdoing or there’s incompetence. It’s one of two things, and both are unacceptable.” In the past 18 months, Ream says, he knows of no additional probes that missed the legal deadline. But, he adds, “We had a complaint a couple months ago — someone said ‘shit’ in front of the chief. This is something that they’ve started a full-on nine-month investigation — and assigned two detectives to it.”
Certainly, Manion inherited a mess only a savvy manager supported by a competent Board of Education could have fixed. The chaos is seen in a note Manion fired off in November 2005 after learning that school cops had piled 600 boxes of bullets on an unguarded pallet in a public hall at School Police headquarters.
Manion’s note to Deputy Chief Ramirez, obtained by the Weekly, comes across as a desperate plea from the new chief: “Who was responsible for securing the ammunition?” he asks her. “Who has keys for the ammunition safe?” ... “Is there an existing written Department protocol? ... Who is in charge of caring for ammunition?”
One pattern clearly emerges: Kerstein spawned many troubles, and Manion consistently failed to undo them. Kerstein created a California nonprofit corporation to privately raise funds, naming himself as president. Under Manion, neither the police union nor the public can find out where the money comes from, what is discussed at meetings — even who runs it.
Dave Helsel, a founding member of the California Highway Patrol’s 11-99 Foundation, says, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for a law-enforcement agency to run its own foundation.”
And Kerstein left this legacy: In 2005, he eagerly hired King, the screwed-up son of a well-to-do Kerstein-family friend, to protect L.A. schoolchildren. After Kerstein left his chief’s job seven months later for a better-paying post in Nevada, Manion let King reel out of control until he finally attacked a young coed.
Caprice Young, another former president of the Board of Education and now a major advocate of charter schools, informed of the Weekly’s findings, remarked, “I never cease to be horrified” by the school district’s dysfunction.
Long before Ian King was a cop, he was an LAPD wannabe from a well-to-do family whose egocentric, passive-aggressive personality earned him a police record. His father, Steven Scott King, was a successful Southern California malpractice litigator who in 2001 was suspended from the state bar for misusing client funds; his mother, Karen, was a homemaker until the pair divorced. After that, the young Ian started dreaming of becoming a cop.
During law school at the University of San Diego, King was pulled over in Long Beach for speeding. According to a police report, he told the officer, “I’m LAPD,” then “flashed an LAPD ID” — and tried to flee in his white BMW. In his car, police discovered a loaded 9mm Smith automatic handgun, a “Sam Brown” police belt with handcuffs, a blue LAPD raid jacket, a bulletproof vest, a baton and “numerous LAPD business cards.” Yet instead of getting hit with impersonating a cop, King got off extremely lightly, convicted only of disturbing the peace.
As a law student in 1996, King had a temporary job with the San Diego County District Attorney’s office but was rejected for a full-time spot after a background check revealed his Long Beach conviction. Deputy District Attorney Robert O. Amador still remembers how King boasted that L.A. IMPACT, an elite interagency law-enforcement task force, helped him to escape the charge of impersonating a cop. Years later, D.A. Amador tells the Weekly, “I was clearing out résumés in my drawer and came across” King’s résumé. “I thought, ‘I’m gonna keep this. This guy’s like a bad penny. He’s going to be back again.’ ”
King graduated 276th in his 309-student law class and never became a lawyer. One friend still loyal to King, John Kinney, a USC frat brother, recalls, “If you were wrong, he’d tell you, ‘This is what the law states.’ ” Lisa Ozur, a childhood friend, tells the Weekly, “Did he rub people the wrong way? Absolutely! But that was Ian.”
King began applying for jobs at police departments and in the military but got nothing but rejections, records show. Amador remembers hearing from federal background checkers who were vetting King’s inevitably doomed applications. The Navy, for one, rejected his bid to be a JAG.
Los Angeles Police Department Detective Gregg Stone tells the Weekly that King was rejected by the Los Angeles, Long Beach and Beverly Hills police departments and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. He did, however, get into a police academy at Riverside Community College — but proved himself a terrible trainee. In 2001, King was excoriated by his instructors in an unsigned two-page report that’s now a court record. They blasted him for putting “an unauthorized chokehold on an instructor,” lying about his nonexistent military service, lying about being a lawyer — even arguing with the expert trainers about police procedure.
The report ends: “Recruit King created more problems for the academy staff than any student in recent memory. All of the problems can be traced directly to his ego, arrogance and apparent desire to prove himself better” than his instructors.
But at the Los Angeles schools, his luck changed. LAUSD wanted to hire King, even though the small police department’s hiring committee knew about his alarming record and rejections. Former Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Renee Korn, who later prosecuted King for his attack on Nicole D. and was recently named a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, says that none of the LAUSD police command staff “would sign off” on hiring him. Instead, the decision was made solely by Kerstein. “Someone was made to hire [King],” Detective Stone adds, supporting Korn’s contention. “I was told that by the person who was told to make that happen.”
Yet King was such a bad fit that angry students, upset Los Angeles motorists and even fellow officers filed eight complaints against him for misconduct — all in his first two years. But Kerstein had chosen as his head of Internal Affairs his own adjutant, Tim Anderson, despite the fact that Anderson had no formal detective training.
LAPD’s Stone says that one “active investigation [into King] was circumvented — right in the middle of it.” Detective Stone recounts the incident he stumbled across while interviewing King’s colleagues and superiors: King was being interrogated for misconduct by the school Internal Affairs unit one day, Stone says, when “one of the [Kerstein] friendlies called Kerstein and said, ‘Your boy’s in here’ ” being interviewed by I.A. In a series of irregularities, King was allowed to speak to Kerstein on the phone, then King handed the phone to I.A. investigators and, Stone was told by the witnesses, “They’re told to stop their inquiry.”
Stone refuses to divulge which investigation was tainted by Kerstein’s intrusion, or whether Kerstein was still chief at the time. (Kerstein has failed to return numerous phone calls made over many months by L.A. Weekly.)
Stone says school district documents show “no indication on paper that [King] was punished for the [Shapiro] event” by Manion’s department or the district. Recently retired school-board member Julie Korenstein, who had not heard of the Regina Shapiro incident until she was informed about it by the Weekly, says that if King had been disciplined by Manion, “This would have been something that came to [the school board] in closed session as a personnel matter. This never happened.”
In fact, when it comes to the problems unfolding at the largely unaccountable police department, the Board of Education, responsible for protecting schoolchildren and overseeing these cops, is nowhere to be found. The board’s Committee on School Safety, Health and Human Services is made up of three members, who craft key safety policies, which then go to the full school board for consideration. But the newly departed Korenstein, chairwoman of the safety committee for more than a decade, admits her committee was not even aware that LAUSD had an Internal Affairs unit, or that the I.A. division regularly placed its probes into misconduct by school cops at the bottom of the pile.
Korenstein told the Weekly she was “not specifically” aware of the Internal Affairs unit. She responded dismissively when the Weekly asked her how this was possible. “We talk about things like lead in water,” she said. “We talk about whether cell-phone signals near schools are hurting kids, and pesticide on campus. Do you understand?”
With a new school board swept in by a multimillion-dollar campaign backed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2007, and with a new superintendent, David Brewer, in place that year, two secret audits showed that the police force was reeling from mismanagement by the departed Kerstein and the hapless Manion. James Ream blames Manion’s failure to punish King for King’s later sexual attack on the lost motorist Nicole D., saying, “I believe that if our chief were more competent, I think things would have been different.”
Neither of the two reports, both calling for extensive reforms, was released to parents or the public. They were discreetly presented to then-Superintendent Brewer and the school board, led by newly chosen President Monica Garcia.
The Weekly has been unable to find any significant changes made by Manion since the damning 2007 reports landed on the desks of Brewer, his successor Ramon Cortines, school board members Yolie Aguilar Flores, Tamar Galatzan, Monica Garcia, Marguerite LaMotte and Richard Vladovic, former board members Korenstein and Marlene Canter, and past and current LAUSD chief operating officers Dan Isaacs and David Holmquist.
Manion has submitted three separate plans to fix the police department, most recently in February, but his vision of reform seems to equate with expansion — the very thing both audits have clearly and strongly warned against.
He sought $4.5 million for 100 new police cars and $60 million for a high-end communications system, and district officials refused. And no wonder: The auditors in both of the secret reports pointedly warned that pouring money into building up such a badly run police force would merely magnify its problems.
The school district did change the name “Village Policing” to “Community Policing,” but the August 2007 audit showed that Chief Manion never halted Kerstein’s controversial practice of letting school cops roam L.A. streets far from any school grounds, tramping over LAPD jurisdictions.
That audit urged Manion to “draft explicit guidelines limiting off-campus law-enforcement activities.” Yet today, neither school board President Garcia nor Superintendent Cortines will discuss this significant problem, or any other aspect of the police department.
Another troubling Kerstein legacy maintained under Manion is the Specialist Reserves Program. According to official memos obtained by the Weekly, under Kerstein, some members of the reserves got official badges, uniforms, nameplates, hats, ties, tie clips, pants and belts — yet were not required to receive reserves training or undergo background checks.
Modern police departments are ending such practices because these very real-looking badges are often abused by noncops to intimidate people, or are flashed around in hopes of getting favors. Records show that many Hollywood insiders affiliated with Fox Movie Studios got School Police reserves badges but no background checks. They include former NYPD Blue producer Bill Clark and actors James Chaffee, Gordan Clapp, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Currie Graham, Eduardo Magana, Joe McKenzie, Robert McPhearson, Jacqueline Obradors, Gregory Ochotorena, Leon Reitzenstein, David Seelinger, Henry Simmons and Bonnie Summerfield.
In November 2005, Manion wrote to a Fox Studios security director, saying that LAUSD was going to confiscate the badges and gear — and Manion even put a retired TV cop, actor Kent McCord, in charge of retreiving the badges. It’s unknown whether the former Adam-12 star went knocking on doors at Fox Studios — a fake cop confiscating fake badges, like a scene from Super Troopers. But as of late 2008, internal documents show, the gear and badges were still outstanding. Noted former Deputy D.A. Korn, “How can I say it surprises me?”
The Police Foundation is no less strange. The foundation’s lawyer, Gary James, hired a public relations firm merely to speak with L.A. Weekly. Ream, of the union, claims the foundation is little more than “a bank” for the K-9 unit, motorcycle unit and other special units created by Kerstein and preserved by Manion, which yearn for spiffy police gear not covered by the job. The foundation’s spokeswoman, Cherie Kerr, hired to speak to the Weekly, says the foundation exists to raise money for needed items. “They’ll say, ‘We’ll need jackets for the motorcycle guys or new equipment for the K-9 unit.’ ”
Kerr adds: “They’re just a really neat bunch of guys.”
Weekly: “You know them?”
Kerr: “Well, I know Gary.”
Weekly: “So, you’ve never met the other guys?”
Kerr: “Ummmm ... no.”
Ream is so upset that the foundation’s board does not include any actual cops that he reported it to City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo before Delgadillo left office. “I told him personally. [But Rocky’s office] told me they wouldn’t touch it.” Disgusted, Ream says he started his own Friends of Safe Schools last year as an officer-controlled foundation.
There is one area where Kerstein and Manion, amid their many failures, showed stellar results. As of April 2007, 31 of the school district’s 300-plus patrol cars were devoted to traffic and parking enforcement. As the Evergreen audit showed, in the five-year period ending in 2006, traffic tickets increased 333 percent and parking tickets 203 percent. One probable reason for all that discipline and success: The police agency gets to keep the revenues it collects from traffic citations.
An hour after midnight on May 3, 2007, Nicole D., a 21-year-old business student and a singer in a Christian-themed rock band, was heading to her parents’ home in Orange County after a date with her new boyfriend, David Gelb. The couple had been at the Echo Park home of friends, then they’d ended their evening at Gelb’s place.
But the on-ramp onto the 10 freeway at La Brea Avenue was closed, and Nicole, unfamiliar with the area, got lost. According to her testimony at King’s trial, she called her date for directions, and Gelb told her he’d call back after he checked his computer. Nicole saw a car — with lights on top — coming in her direction, and later recounted, “I noticed he was following me after that.”
She pulled into the parking lot of a Mexican grocery store on Adams Boulevard seeking a safe place, but it was closed. Moments later the other car, a Crown Victoria that looked like an LAPD vehicle flashed its red-and-white lights and pulled her over. An officer, 5 feet 10 and athletic-looking, ordered her to “make a right into the next available driveway or street.”
He wore a dark-blue, short-sleeved police uniform and a badge engraved with “KING.” He asked the petite Nicole — 5 feet tall and 107 pounds — if she was “from around here,” and took her driver’s license. As records later showed, he never called in her information or informed his LAUSD dispatchers, because this was no official stop. King asked her if she’d had something to drink. She had: a beer with her musician friends, and, hours before that, a beer at dinner. King instructed her to face the wall of Saints Hope Church. Her cell phone started ringing — it was Gelb calling back with directions to the 10 on-ramp, but, “she didn’t pick up,” Gelb later recalled.
“Have you ever been searched before by LAPD?” King asked, falsely suggesting he was LAPD. Nicole then submitted to his bizarre “search,” in which he fondled her bare breasts with one hand while pinning her hands back with his other. He reached under Nicole’s dress and asked if he could “search” her vagina — for drugs. Her heart pounding, a cop holding her under color of authority, Nicole acquiesced. King inserted his fingers into her vagina — just as a car passed by on Adams. It was Marilyn E., a stranger with a rap sheet — petty theft, carrying narcotics and a weapon, and resisting arrest. Marilyn saw a scene that was all wrong: a young woman being held with her legs spread apart, and a cop’s hand up her skirt.
“Do people hide drugs in their vagina?” Nicole managed to blurt out as the passing car distracted King. “Yeah,” the officer told her. “People hide balloons.” Nicole knew what was happening to her was wrong, but she later told a jury, “I didn’t feel I had the choice.” Her strategy for escaping was compliance. King then asked Nicole if he could look into her vagina. “I don’t know why I did this,” she testified. “I went to grab my dress to help him. I don’t know why I would do that. ... And at that time, I think a car passed by again.”
It was Marilyn again, finally getting up the courage to intercede. Parking her car out of sight, she crept nearby. Suddenly, the officer turned and looked directly at her. “When he made eye contact with me,” Marilyn testified, he instantly removed his hand from the motorist’s underpants. Marilyn jumped into her car, sped away and called 911.
After the assault, Nicole called her boyfriend on her cell but was too ashamed to tell him what had happened to her. He knew something was wrong. “She sounded strange,” Gelb testified. “She sounded — she didn’t really sound like herself.”
Today, Officer King sits in protective custody in a maximum-security state prison somewhere in California, from which he is aggressively pursuing an appeal. In a telephone interview with the Weekly, his friend John Kinney read aloud from a letter King sent him: “I’ve learned that I’m better liked when I’m seen, not heard. It took going to jail to realize that.” Kinney paused, then said, “He couldn’t keep his mouth shut.”
King’s lawyer, Gerson Horn, is arguing, in part, that Nicole’s MySpace page illustrates that she was sophisticated enough to know that King shouldn’t have shoved his fingers in her vagina — and that she therefore willingly gave her consent to be penetrated as King pinned her against a church wall in West Adams.
“Had the jury learned that in fact Nicole was sufficiently worldly to advertise on MySpace that she was a machine at night (contrary to her appearance as a panda bear in court during the day), that she thought that money was the root of all things, and that she was not naive about sex with someone, the verdict would have been different,” Horn wrote in his motion for a new trial one year ago.
The well-known, high-priced defense attorney who represented King at his 2008 trial, Bill Seki, did not call any witnesses to testify on his client’s behalf — a fact that King’s appellate attorney, Horn, has made a key part of his motion for an appeal. Today Seki still has no regrets, saying, “It was a strategic decision.” Right up to the guilty verdict, Ian King behaved as if he believed he wouldn’t lose. He acted haughty in court, and jested with the bailiff. Before the trial, he even bought a new Porsche convertible, Stone says.
Former Deputy D.A. Renee Korn kept in touch with Nicole, who has been contacted “numerous times” by King’s attorneys. In fact, private investigators for Gerson Horn “went to her job — it was the first [job] she got after graduation,” says Korn. The manner in which Horn’s private investigators “represented themselves was very misleading,” the prosecutor says. “When they were in the comforts of her office, it was — threatening. There’s a better word than threatening — frightening.”
Meanwhile, the seven politicians on the LAUSD Board of Education, who have the final authority over campus and schoolchildren’s safety, have yet to turn their attention to reforming one of the least-examined, least-transparent police departments in California. And if history repeats itself, the school board won’t do that now. It will simply find another chief.
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The original version of this article, published September 2, 2009, erroneously reported that former LAUSD Police Chief Wesley Mitchell was pressured to resign after thousands of downloaded porn images were found on his computers, and that the downloads were traced to his son, a high school teacher. In fact, Chief Mitchell retired in January 2002, but the allegations were not made until February 20, 2002, in a memo from Gwenn Perez, assistant chief of operations at the school police force, to acting Chief Richard Page. We regret the error.
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