Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and the independent watchdog that oversees his department clashed Tuesday over whether police had the proper authority to remove a former Mexican Mafia shot-caller from custody and take him to a private downtown Los Angeles event.
The conflict stemmed from Inspector General Alex Bustamante's investigation into the Jan. 28 lecture featuring Rene "Boxer" Enriquez, a convicted killer serving a life sentence whom the LAPD arranged to meet with a group consisting largely of business executives.
Bustamante's report, released last week, said the court order — known as a "writ" — that the LAPD used to remove Enriquez from a detention center had not been valid since 2012, when he was assisting prosecutors in a murder case.
Further, Bustamante said, the court order allowed Enriquez to be removed from custody only to help with the prosecution of that case. But in January, he wrote, the convicted killer was moved "for the sole purpose" of speaking at the private event.
Beck told reporters Tuesday that the legality of Enriquez's removal would be examined during a personnel complaint investigation that he had initiated regarding the lecture. But he said the court order was still valid, saying that Enriquez was a "continuing witness in a case" and that the writ "is being used to secure his cooperation."
"The inspector general isn't privy to all the information that I am regarding this particular writ," Beck said. "But we'll look into all that."
Bustamante said Tuesday that he was surprised by the chief's comments. He said his office had spoken with prosecutors and examined court documents — including the writ on file at the detention center where Enriquez was being held — to determine that the order was no longer valid.
"If there exists additional authority that justifies the inmate's removal for such an event, neither the detention facility, LAPD personnel who removed the inmate nor the deputy district attorneys involved in the case could provide such documentation," he said.
Bustamante said he "would have expected" any such documentation to be provided during his review of the event.
"What has been provided so far does not and cannot justify the removal of this inmate from a detention center so that he could entertain individuals at a private function," Bustamante said.
When asked to clarify his earlier comments, Beck said the personnel investigation "will look at the propriety of his time in LAPD custody." He declined to comment further, saying "any more detail wouldn't be appropriate."
Steve Soboroff, president of the Police Commission, said he too was surprised by Beck's remarks. He said that based on what he had seen, the inspector general's work was "extremely accurate and thorough."
"If there was some information that someone has, that his thorough investigation didn't uncover in the last couple of weeks, it would have been good information for him to have," Soboroff said.
Commissioner Robert Saltzman said he was concerned by the possibility that Beck had information about the writ that the inspector general did not.
Saltzman cited two other instances in which he said commissioners were not provided with adequate or even accurate information: when officers allegedly tampered with in-car antennas and when reports surfaced that some patrol records were falsified under the so-called ghost car scheme.
Moving forward, Saltzman said, the issue over the writ could arise during the commissioners' routine evaluation of the chief, when they could "discuss the handling of this matter and the need for the chief to make stronger efforts to provide us with thorough information in a timely manner."
The report and subsequent LAPD investigation were the latest controversy surrounding the lecture, which had already been denounced by commissioners and Mayor Eric Garcetti's office. Bustamante's report found that LAPD officials spent weeks — and $22,000 — preparing for the event at the request of the Young Presidents' Organization, a private group of elite business executives.
Enriquez, 52, is serving a life prison sentence for killing two people in 1989. He has become a law enforcement darling since he left the prison gang more than a decade ago. He has written books, helped teach via video a UC Irvine class and spoken at law enforcement conferences.
Beck said that the LAPD's internal affairs investigators would look at a number of issues regarding Enriquez's appearance as part of the personnel inquiry.
"I have said in the past and I'll continue to say it: I have issues with the way the event was conducted," the chief said.
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