Remorse in High Places
Carolina Tovar didn't know what to think when the phone rang at her South- Central home last Thursday and the person on the other end said he was Gil Garcetti.
She suspected that the call had something to do with her 17-year-old son Ricky, an honors student in his senior year at Jefferson High School who spent a month in jail for armed robbery - a crime authorities concede he did not commit. The Tovars' battle to get Ricky out was the subject of a Weekly cover story published the day Garcetti called. The story also recounted Ricky's allegation that he was beaten by one of his arresting officers, and it was critical of police and the deputy district attorney, who allowed the case to drag on for weeks and then took the credit when the boy was finally released.
Since Ricky's arrest, Carolina has developed a phobia of the police so deep that she rarely leaves the house alone. When the article was published, she was overcome with fear of retaliation. "I am terrified," she said that day. "What if they come back? What if they take him away again?" Thursday morning she had fretted and paced, unable even to sit down.
Now someone was calling the house saying he was the district attorney. She handed the phone to her husband, Salvador, and watched his face closely. After a few minutes, Salvador broke into a smile and told her the news: Gil Garcetti was calling to apologize.
"He said he felt that something had gone wrong and he thought he should apologize," Salvador said. "There was a lot of emotion in me. Here's a man, an important person who has a lot of work to do and a lot of people under him. It was the first time anyone even thought to say they were sorry. I was thankful that the man took the time. I was grateful."
Later that day, Garcetti called again and spoke to Ricky. He asked Ricky to lunch and promised to write a letter of recommendation for his college applications. "He spoke to me about his own life," Ricky said. "He told me he went to Washington High School and he used to play against Jefferson."
Garcetti then asked Ricky if there was anything else he could do. In fact, Ricky did have one request. Upon his arrest, Ricky was listed with the LAPD as an associate of the Clanton Street gang, an affiliation he and his family vehemently deny. Such a listing is usually kept on file for five years before it is eligible for review.
Even after Ricky was found innocent, the police refused to take his name off the list. "So I asked Mr. Garcetti if he could get me off that list," Ricky said. "He told me to call him in January, when I turn 18, and he'd see what he could do." A spokesperson confirmed that the D.A. spoke with the family, but said Garcetti declined to comment for this story.
Garcetti's call went a long way to ease the Tovars' anxieties. But the LAPD took a distinctly different tack.
On Sunday, October 18, two sergeants from Newton Station appeared at the Tovar home on 35th Street and said they wanted to question Ricky. When Salvador told them his son was not home and asked what they wanted, they refused to say.
They returned to the house later that day - this time accompanied by several police cruisers stationed at either end of the block and officers with binoculars trained on the Tovar home.
Salvador invited the sergeants in, and one of them, Sergeant Martin Spann, sat down with the family at the dining-room table. The other, Sergeant Larry Maillet, remained standing throughout the half-hour meeting. "They were not in a friendly mood," Salvador said. The sergeants told the family they were there to investigate Ricky's charge that he was beaten by an officer the night of his arrest, a charge they had learned of through calls from the Weekly.
Before they took Ricky's statement, one of the sergeants had strong words of warning. "They said that making a false accusation against an officer is a misdemeanor," Salvador said. "They wanted him to know he was liable for criminal prosecution if he lied, which was really not necessary because Ricky was going to tell the truth no matter what."
Ricky told them what he had told his parents shortly after his arrest: that one of his arresting officers had taken him up a narrow stairway at Newton Station, tightened his handcuffs all the way, raised his arms over his back and slammed his head into walls and doorways. "You don't think you're such a badass now," Ricky recalled the officer saying.
After Ricky completed his statement, the sergeants turned off the tape recorder. "My impression was that they were not really concerned about Ricky," Salvador said. "They were more concerned about clearing their men. That's the way I felt at the time. That was their biggest concern."
Spann, who was reached at Newton Station, would not comment on his interview with the Tovars or on the status of the investigation, saying only, "We are doing an administrative investigation concerning the officers that were involved in the incident."
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