Pubdate: Fri, 25 Aug 2000
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Los Angeles Times
Contact:  Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053
Fax: (213) 237-4712
Authors: Matt Lait, Scott Glover, Times Staff Writers


Courts: Suit By 41 Current And Former Officers And Others Claims A Code Of 
Silence Is Enforced By Retaliation Against Those Who Report Misconduct. 
Officials Decline To Comment.

More than 40 current and former Los Angeles police officers filed a 
class-action lawsuit Thursday, alleging that LAPD officials support the 
department's so-called code of silence by retaliating against those who 
report misconduct.

Among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit is Officer John Goines, a veteran 
motorcycle officer who broke ranks with LAPD officials by saying in a 
deposition last month that he believed the March 1999 fatal shooting of 
Margaret Mitchell, a mentally ill homeless woman, was unwarranted. Since 
his comments became public, Goines has been harassed by other officers, 
including a supervisor, his attorney alleges.

Other plaintiffs include officers who contend they were victims of 
retaliation for reporting incidents of excessive force, hostile work 
environment issues and other forms of police misconduct. Many of the 
plaintiffs said they were forced out of the LAPD because they reported 
police abuses to their supervisors.

LAPD officials declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing the pending 
litigation. The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages. A spokesman for 
the city attorney's office said the suit lacks merit as a class action.

Attorney Bradley C. Gage, who filed the suit, said the LAPD's management 
fosters the code of silence by punishing departmental whistle-blowers. The 
retaliation comes in various forms, Gage said, including personnel 
complaints, undesirable job assignments, demotions and terminations.

"These good cops fear their own administration and management more than the 
criminals on the street," Gage said.

He alleges in the lawsuit that LAPD managers secretly pass along 
confidential information about a whistle-blower's background to other 
managers to perpetuate the harassment of the employee. The practice, Gage 
said, is known as a "phone jacket."

The issue of retaliation has long been a matter of concern for members of 
the City Council and Police Department. Three years ago, after a series of 
public hearings, then--Interim Police Chief Bayan Lewis unveiled a 
comprehensive anti-retaliation policy that covered all LAPD employees, but 
was largely meant to protect female officers who complained about sexual 
harassment and discrimination.

Some women who made such complaints told city leaders they had been targets 
of death threats, false complaints and warnings from colleagues that they 
would be left stranded without backup in emergencies.

Last year, city officials passed a law aimed at preventing retaliation 
against employees who file complaints with the Police Commission's 
inspector general. But many officers still believe they will become victims 
of retaliation if they report a colleague for criminal or departmental 

Gage said that the recent LAPD corruption probe has uncovered overwhelming 
evidence that the code of silence exists in the department and is condoned 
by top brass.

"The Rampart corruption scandal demonstrates that when police officers are 
afraid to report criminal acts for fear of becoming targets of retaliation, 
corruption will spread," he said.

Indeed, if ex-officer-turned-informant Rafael Perez is to be believed, the 
code of silence thrives within the LAPD. Perez, who is cooperating with 
authorities to obtain a lighter sentence on cocaine theft charges, has told 
investigators that officers in the Rampart Division's anti-gang unit 
routinely witnessed and acquiesced to police misconduct. An officer who 
dared to report misconduct would be ostracized and subjected to 
retaliation, Perez said.

At a news conference announcing the filing of the suit, Gage was flanked by 
a half-dozen clients, all of them current or former LAPD officers, who say 
they suffered retaliation for reporting misconduct by others in the department.

One 18-year veteran who worked in the scientific investigations division 
said she blew the whistle on a colleague who, while supposedly on sick 
leave, was attending a "cowboy school" in Colorado. The ex-officer, Coleen 
Braun, said she reported it to her supervisor, who promised to investigate.

But Braun said she later learned that the supervisor was aware of the 
misconduct--she had been receiving phone calls and postcards from the 
officer at the cowboy camp--and did not intend to do anything about it.

As result of filing the complaint, Braun alleged, she was charged with 
benefits abuse after she had multiple surgeries for work-related injuries 
to her hands, elbows and shoulders. She was found guilty of the abuses at a 
departmental Board of Rights and fired earlier this year.

"I want my job back," she said. "I love my job."

Another officer said he was fired after he testified against two officers 
who are currently under investigation as part of the Rampart scandal. The 
ex-officer said he told department officials that he had the tape-recorded 
statement of an officer who witnessed the beating of a homeless man, 
allegedly at the hands of former Central Division Officers Christopher 
Coppock and David Cochrane.

The officer, who was originally accused of the beating himself, said he was 
found not guilty of that charge at a disciplinary hearing. But he was later 
charged with threatening one of the internal affairs investigators on the 
case and was fired for that.

Yet another officer said his filing of a formal complaint against a 
supervisor resulted in a campaign of harassment and retaliation that 
culminated in his dismissal for "checking out a police car on a rainy day."

Gage said his clients brought a host of other alleged misconduct to the 
attention of the LAPD, but were ignored or punished for doing so. Among the 
allegations for which officers say they suffered retaliation: A commander 
misappropriated public funds, computers were stolen, and officials 
instructed officers to falsely log on to their patrol cars' computers so 
that it appeared they had arrived at a crime scene sooner than they 
actually did.

Gage said one officer was forced off the job after alleging that officers 
planted drugs on suspects in the Rampart and Wilshire divisions in 1996, 
the same period during which Perez claims such things were done on a 
routine basis.

Gage said he has 41 current and former department employees as plaintiffs 
in the suit, all but a few who were or are sworn officers. He said about 15 
are still on the job, but facing some form of discipline. He said he 
expects that the class, which still needs to be approved, will grow to 
several hundred.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens