No Ruling on Singer’s Death

Authorities are still trying to piece together the final moments of Elliott Smith’s life, more than a week after his body was found in his Lemoyne Street apartment in Echo Park.

The LAPD’s preliminary report said the 34-year-old singer died October 21 from an apparent self-inflicted single knife wound to the chest. The following morning, the L.A. County coroner said it would hold off on determining an official cause of death, pending further police investigation and toxicological tests, which could take six to eight weeks.

“The wound alone is not enough to tell us what happened,” said county coroner spokesperson David Campbell.

The Coroner’s Office said that “writings” from Smith were found at the scene, but would not elaborate except to say that the Coroner’s Office is studying a Post-It note to determine its relevance to the investigation. The singer, who was born Steven Paul Smith, had been battling depression, drugs and alcohol for years, and had attempted suicide in 1997.
He was reportedly despondent a few days before his death.

Smith was found by his live-in girlfriend, Jennifer Chiba, of the band Happy Endings, who was reportedly in another room at the time of the incident. A police source said that Chiba found Smith mortally wounded in the kitchen and pulled the knife out of his chest. LAPD’s Northeast Division responded to the call of an “attempted suicide” at 12:18 a.m. Smith died at County-USC Medical Center 78 minutes later.

For more, see “Remembering Elliott Smith” in A Considerable Town.

—Christine Pelisek

Patriotic Challenge

A resolution supporting repeal of portions of the USA PATRIOT Act is expected to come to the floor of the City Council in the next month. If the council passes it and Mayor James K. Hahn signs it, Los Angeles would be the nation’s largest city to go on record against civil liberties abuses that critics say are integral to the bill swiftly passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush in the weeks after 9/11.

About 200 cities, including Chicago, plus the states of Alaska, Hawaii and Vermont have passed resolutions calling for repeal of laws that permit law-enforcement agents to enter a home without a warrant and take other unprecedented actions in the name of homeland security.

Councilwoman Jan Perry introduced the Los Angeles motion and won the immediate backing of members Eric Garcetti, Cindy Miscikowski, Tony Cardenas and Ed Reyes. The motion was slated to be heard in the Rules Committee, whose chairman, council president Alex Padilla, has not yet decided whether to support it.

Padilla voted “no” earlier this year on the council’s motion to oppose unilateral war on Iraq, explaining that the subject was not within the council’s purview. Political observers suggested at the time that Padilla wanted to remain a viable candidate for statewide office in the future and did not want to be haunted by his vote when campaigning in more conservative corners of California.

Padilla would have had to weigh in on the PATRIOT Act motion in committee before his colleagues went on record. But he instead steered the motion away from his Rules Committee to an unlikely venue — the Arts, Parks and Aging Committee. His spokesman said the committee assignment made sense since the panel covers libraries and since the PATRIOT Act, among other things, requires librarians to turn over data on patrons’ book choices.

—Robert Greene

Squabbles Over Cop Pay

Sheriff’s deputies protesting stalled contract negotiations with Los Angeles County have repeatedly cited the 9 percent raise won by their LAPD counterparts earlier this year in a three-year pact. If the city, also suffering from the poor economy, could give raises to its law-enforcement officers, surely the county could do the same, they argued.

But it turns out stingy county negotiators may have been acting more prudently than the city, which last week mobilized to reopen the LAPD contract and consider laying off other city workers. Desperate to slash a $5.1 billion budget, the City Council last week cut $47 million worth of tree trimming and pothole filling but still has more than $200 million to go. And that number will grow if Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger makes good on his pledge to revoke new car-license fees that fund local governments.
The city’s contract with the Police Protective League calls for a 2 percent raise this year, 3 percent next year and 4 percent in 2005. But it also contains a “reopener” — permitting the city and the union to renegotiate the raises if the city’s fiscal condition worsens. The same is true of a contract signed this year with the Engineers and Architects Association, which represents some city professional workers.

Earlier this year, the City Council found itself in the unaccustomed role of fiscal guardian, rejecting a budget proposal by Mayor James Hahn that called for more spending to boost the ranks of the LAPD. But the council did sign on to the three-year pact for existing officers. The sole dissenting vote came from Bernard Parks, the former police chief and Protective League antagonist. Parks said more study was needed to determine whether the city could pay for the contract.

Parks, now chairman of the council’s powerful Budget Committee, avoided saying “I told you so” on the council floor last week, but he led the charge to reconsider the contracts. He noted that San Francisco workers gave themselves a 7 percent pay cut to avoid layoffs, and California Highway Patrol officers also have agreed to pay reductions.

“We have put ourselves somewhat in a bind” by agreeing to new contracts in recent months, Parks said.

Sheriff’s deputies are asking for an 18 percent raise over three years while the county is offering, for now, nothing. Meanwhile, 10 deputies face a December 8 contempt trial for taking part in a sickout protest over contract talks. On Tuesday, a few deputies joined in a massive protest by county workers, who descended on the Board of Supervisors to protest the collapse of their contract talks and the county’s insistence that employees pick up a greater share of their health-care premiums.

—Robert Greene

LA Weekly