LAPD Det. Frank Lyga suggested in a talk to fellow officers that he and cop Kevin Gaines had encountered each other on duty before the fateful day in which he fatally shot the off-duty officer on a North Hollywood street.
Community commentator Jasmyne Cannick, who has worked in recent days to publicize Lyga's recorded comments, says the revelation could reopen the case against Lyga. An LAPD internal investigation conducted after the March 18, 1997 shooting found that Lyga's action was justified and in-policy.
Cannick says that, with these remarks, Lyga is "almost opening himself up. Technically they could pursue some legal remedy."
She says that some in the black police community have been trying to track down relatives of Gaines to inform them of the development. Cannick acknowledged that if the incident were ever seen as non-justifiable homicide, there would be no statute of limitations on potential prosecution.
Lyga spoke to fellow cops Nov. 15 at the L.A. Police Academy. He used the occasion to air grudges with old foes, mostly regarding the Gaines killing.
At one point he describes running into Derwin Henderson some time before that fatal confrontation. Henderson, he says, was a former trainee whom he appeared to regard somewhat as a compadre, at least before the Gaines shooting.
Lyga says on the recording that Henderson was with none other than Gaines during that on-duty encounter. He clearly suggests that Gaines knew who he was. But Lyga doesn't address whether, after that encounter, Lyga might have also later recognized Gaines.
In fact, Lyga seems to suggest that he was in the same unmarked car, a 1991 Buick Regal, that he was in when he later shot Gaines. Here's the passage (emphasis ours):
Dewrin and his buddy Kevin Gaines were best friends - they were running partners. That's how Gaines knew who I was, basically.
Henderson was a probationer of mine. And I had seen them one night in Hollywood. And remember I had long hair driving a fuckin' Buick Regal. And I had seen Henderson in traffic, and we stopped, nose-face - I was going south; he was going north. He had another male black in the car with him, but I didn't pay attention to that guy. I was talking to Derwin: We were partners and I was sayin' hi to him and talkin' to him.
Turns out Gaines was with him. They were runnin partners. That's how Gaines knew me.
But after I shot him, Henderson and about 30 other people went out to the scene in North Hollywood and canvassed the area looking for witnesses.
The point of the story was that Henderson had turned on him and was, according to Lyga, ultimately reprimanded for freelancing an investigation into the killing of Gaines.
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But it's interesting to note the previous encounter here. Lyga had said in the past that he believed that Gaines was an armed gang member and that his life was in mortal danger when he shot the man. (Wikipedia has a good narrative of the reported events that day here.) Could Lyga have really believed that if he'd previously encountered Gaines riding with a guy he knew, a cop?
Cannick said some in the local African American law enforcement community have already been buzzing about the revelation captured on tape, since the case was originally spun as one of confrontation between two cops who apparently didn't know either was law enforcement.
"A lot of the officers," she said, "are using that to say that Lyga knew who Kevin Gaines was."