The president of the Los Angeles Police Commission called for an investigation late Wednesday into the decision to use LAPD resources to arrange a downtown meeting between a convicted ex-member of the Mexican Mafia, a group of business leaders and local police chiefs.
From about noon until the evening, police secured a section of downtown L.A. near Spring and 6th streets, where the meeting took place. Unmarked sedans dropped off uniformed officers who filed into the building. Later, a bomb squad vehicle briefly stopped outside.
In the evening, more unmarked cars and about a half-dozen officers were seen in an alley behind the large building, which appeared to house businesses and residences. At one point, an officer with a police dog patrolled the same stretch. Officers turned away people who tried to approach the alley.
Police Commission President Steve Soboroff called the LAPD's involvement in the event as "very, very misconceived and surprising."
He said he asked the inspector general to investigate.
LAPD Deputy Chief Michael Downing described the meeting as an "LAPD-sponsored event" where attendees listened to the man describe his experience with a "transnational criminal enterprise."
"He talked about how it grew, how it was branded, how it expanded, how it evolved," Downing said of the meeting, which he estimated lasted about an hour and a half.
Downing declined to name the person or criminal organization, citing security concerns. But LAPD Chief Charlie Beck later confirmed it was convicted murderer Rene "Boxer" Enriquez, and people were seen leaving the meeting Wednesday evening carrying copies of the book "The Black Hand: The Bloody Rise and Redemption of 'Boxer' Enriquez, a Mexican Mob Killer."
Enriquez spent nearly two decades with the Mexican Mafia, a powerful gang born out of California's prisons. According to a book Enriquez wrote with reporter Chris Blatchford, Enriquez was a shot caller in the gang as its influence and financial base grew.
In 1993, Enriquez pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder, according to the book, and is serving life in prison.
During the early 2000s, Enriquez left the gang and began working with law enforcement officials. State prison records showed he was still in custody as of Wednesday.
Beck said he was aware of the meeting. When asked what benefit the meeting with Enriquez brought the attendees, the chief said it was "not an endorsement."
"He offers a perspective on organizations and leadership that is unknown to much of this audience," Beck said via text message.
Downing said he was initially approached by the Young Presidents' Organization, an international networking group of business leaders that has local chapters. The group originally asked if the LAPD could help them talk to someone who had experience "building a transnational criminal enterprise."
Downing said the LAPD then decided to sponsor the event and invite local chiefs from the region. He guessed a couple hundred people attended.
He declined to say how many officers were involved in transporting and protecting the guest, saying it was information that could compromise the LAPD's security method. He said the level of security was needed because the individual was in custody and "for his own protection."
When asked why the event was hosted at a building in the heart of the city's bustling downtown instead of a secured law enforcement facility, Downing said the LAPD "ensured it was secured. We had a security contingency … we ensured there would be no mistakes."
Downing said the costs of having the officers at the event would be covered by the LAPD. He said the meeting helped "inform and create awareness" for the local police officials in attendance and helped the private sector attendees "think about developing different strategies" to counter criminal enterprise activity.
"They really saw how an individual on the opposite side of what they do – kind of the underbelly of society, the violence and criminality – how he grew an organization," he said. "I think it was interesting for them to listen to something that they've never really been exposed to."