The LAPD Rampart Scandal
officer Frank Lyga shot and killed off-duty L.A.P.D. officer Kevin Gaines in a case of apparent road rage. The shooting of a black officer -- Gaines -- by a white cop -- Lyga -- created a highly publicized police controversy. Lyga told FRONTLINE that Gaines threatened him with a gun and that he responded in self-defense, adding, "In my training experience this guy had 'I'm a gang member' written all over him." Investigators on the case discovered that Gaines had allegedly been involved in similar road rage incidents, threatening drivers and brandishing his gun. They also discovered troubling connections between Gaines and Death Row Records, a rap recording label owned by Marion "Suge" Knight that, investigators came to find, was hiring off-duty police officers as security guards. Lyga, who had been reassigned to desk duty while the L.A.P.D. reviewed the circumstances of the shooting, including whether his actions had been racially motivated, was ultimately exonerated a year later. Three separate internal investigations determined that the shooting was "in policy." After the shooting, the Gaines family, represented by attorney Johnnie Cochran, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles for $25 million. The city later settled the suit for $250,000. Robbers targeted a Los Angeles branch of Bank of America, making off with $722,000. Investigating officers were immediately suspicious of assistant bank manager Errolyn Romero, who had had more cash than was necessary delivered just ten minutes before the robbery. One month later Romero confessed to her role in the crime and implicated her boyfriend, L.A.P.D. officer David Mack, as the mastermind. A former track star, Mack was arrested and later convicted of the bank robbery. He was sentenced to 14 years and three months in federal prison. He has refused to reveal the whereabouts of the money, and while in prison has reportedly associated himself with the Mob Piru Bloods, a gang with ties to Death Row Records. Detectives investigating Mack discovered that two days after the robbery, Mack and two other police officers -- including a former partner, Rafael Perez -- spent the weekend gambling in Las Vegas, spending thousands of dollars. L.A.P.D. Officer Brian Hewitt, a member of L.A.P.D.'s elite anti--gang unit CRASH [Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums] in the Rampart division, brought 18th Street gang member Ismael Jimenez to the Rampart police station for questioning. Hewitt allegedly beat the hand-cuffed Jimenez in the chest and stomach, causing him to vomit blood. After being released, Jimenez went to the hospital, where officials notified the L.A.P.D. of his injuries and complaints. Subsequent internal investigations resulted in the firing of Hewitt and another officer, Ethan Cohan, who, the Department determined, knew about but failed to report the beating. Jimenez, who was awarded $231,000 in a civil settlement with the city, is currently in federal custody pending a multiple count indictment for the distribution of drugs and conspiracy to commit murder.
Racial profiling, excessive force, police brutality, and blatant disregard for civil liberties have magnified the flaws in our democratic society. In an increased climate of mistrust towards urban police officers, there should be a shift in philosophies permeating urban police department's across the U.S. The traditional paramilitary marine-style philosophy of policing should be jettisoned for a humanistic approach. Officers should be trained in areas of abnormal human behavior, contemporary social problems, and the democratic process. Training in these areas would enable officers to use human relations skills to better serve their community. Such concepts as "sensitivity, understanding, creativity, and warmth” should all be included in a human relations training model for police officers. The goal would be to train officers to help their clients and the people in their community to develop the positive chemistry necessary to create and to maintain a healthy environment.
As a result of the scandal, the City of Los Angeles faced more than 140 civil lawsuits with an estimated settlement cost of $125 million. The investigation resulted in the overturning of more than 100 cases and the uncovering of corruption in many more.
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Santolla, Ken. 2001. "Personal Interview Regarding LAPD," Pomona, CA, (March 15).
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