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LAPD chief IDs officers in beating
Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton on Thursday identified the eight officers involved in the controversial capture of a suspected car thief -- including the LAPD officer videotaped by TV news cameras repeatedly striking the African-American suspect after he appeared to surrender.
The officer seen striking the man 11 times with a flashlight was identified as John Hatfield, 35, a seven-year veteran of the department.
"I got nothing to say to you guys," Hatfield said Thursday afternoon, answering the door to his apartment in a converted Victorian house in Redondo Beach. He was dressed in shorts, T-shirt and a backward baseball cap.
"You guys are going to have to talk to my attorney," he said. "You're going to have to talk to the [Los Angeles Police Protective] League."
Hank Hernandez, the league's general counsel, said Thursday that the distance from which the video was taken made it difficult to fully understand the circumstances of the arrest.
"What concerns the league, and we have seen it time and time again, is that influential people in the community and the media will express opinions based on their review of a videotape that is not based on the entire facts of the incident," Hernandez said.
Hatfield's attorney did not return calls seeking comment.
Bratton said three officers -- including Hatfield, whom he identified as Latino -- are being investigated by the LAPD for excessive use of force. The eight officers at the scene have been placed on desk duty pending criminal investigations by the FBI and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which has jurisdiction in Compton, where Miller was arrested.
"This is a test. It's a challenge," Bratton said at a news conference, where he was flanked by his top deputies and Mayor James K. Hahn. "This city has spent a fortune -- has engaged in the last 12 years in trying to erase the stain of the Rodney King issue, erase the stain of the Rampart issue."
Wednesday's arrest was videotaped by cameras aboard news helicopters from KABC-TV Channel 7 and KTTV-TV Channel 11 news shortly before 6 a.m. PT.
Stanley Miller, 36, led police on a car chase for about 30 minutes before stopping at a dead-end street, jumping from the car and sprinting alongside a concrete flood channel at Compton Creek.
After a short foot race, Miller was seen raising his hands in the air and appeared to be ready to lie down when two officers pinned him to the ground. A third officer, Hatfield, was seen running up to Miller, first kicking at the prone man, then appearing to strike him 11 times with a metal flashlight.
Bratton filled in new details Thursday.
Police chased Miller onto the Harbor Freeway after he ran a stop sign in a white Toyota Camry, Bratton said. Officers Michael O'Connor, 33, and Hatfield learned that the car had been reported stolen and tried to pull him over.
The officers seen grabbing Miller and wrestling him to the ground were identified as Phillip Watson, 33, and David Hale, 31. In addition, Sgt. Angela McGee, 40, and Officers Peter Bueno, 29; Todd Behrens, 37; and Andrew Moody, 41, were identified as being present. They all have been reassigned to office work outside Southeast Division, where they are based. Their time on the force ranges from six years to 16 years.
Within an hour of Miller's arrest, LAPD supervisors had launched a criminal investigation into the officers' actions -- since turned over the county Sheriff's Department -- in addition to the standard LAPD inquiry.
Miller was taken to a nearby hospital and treated for minor injuries. He later told investigators that he was struck in the head. Bratton said Thursday that Miller has a bruised cheek.
Miller remains in County Jail, where bail has been set at $30,000. He is expected to be arraigned today on a felony car theft charge. Court records show Miller has convictions for car theft and attempted burglary. In one probation report he was described as a longtime crack cocaine user.
Hatfield, the officer at the center of the controversy, was described as a nice guy by a woman at his apartment who identified herself as his roommate. Another woman who answered the door at Hatfield's parents' home in Hacienda Heights expressed confidence in the LAPD.
"I have a lot of faith in the Police Department," she said, refusing to give her name. "And their investigation will clear everything up."
Police records indicate that on Dec. 27, Hatfield shot at a suspect carrying a shotgun down a South Los Angeles street near the Nickerson Gardens public housing complex after the 19-year-old man allegedly pointed the gun at Hatfield and his partner. The suspect, who did not fire, was uninjured and ran away. He was later taken into custody by a SWAT team.
Court records show public defenders at least twice asked the LAPD to turn over civilian complaints against Hatfield. The legal requests, known as Pitchess motions, were made after clients alleged that Hatfield had been involved in misconduct -- excessive force in one case and falsifying a police report in another.
In the excessive force case, public defender Carmen Guevara alleged that Hatfield was one of 10 officers involved in the rough treatment of a defendant -- issuing a steady stream of punches, dousing him with pepper spray while he was inside the patrol car and yanking him out as he was handcuffed.
The defendant, James Manning, later pleaded no contest to resisting arrest in January 2001 and was sentenced to 16 months in state prison.
Defense attorneys reached Thursday said it was difficult to evaluate the significance of the two allegations against Hatfield without more information. Pitchess motions have become routine since the Rampart scandal revealed officers had been framing suspects and covering up unjustifiable shootings.
Bratton flew back to Los Angeles on Thursday from Connecticut, where he was on police business, moving quickly to try to mitigate damage to his efforts to improve relations between the LAPD and the African-American community. The videotaped capture of Miller echoed the 1991 beating of black motorist Rodney G. King and has sparked outrage among community leaders, some of whom plan a protest and rally today outside the LAPD's 77th Street Division station.
Miller's capture came the same month the LAPD moved into a critical stage in its attempt to comply with a federal consent decree signed by the city in the wake of the Rampart police abuse scandal. The department must show substantial reforms for two years before a June 2006 deadline.
As required by the consent decree, the officers involved in the arrest were separated as soon as possible and questioned individually, reforms designed to prevent collaboration of their accounts.
Andre Birotte, the LAPD inspector general charged with civilian oversight of the department, said the goal is to conclude the department's investigation within 60 days.
Bratton said the investigation will be a good litmus test for the systems put in place since King was severely beaten by police officers after a car chase in 1991 -- a videotaped arrest that triggered riots after the officers involved were acquitted of wrongdoing by a Simi Valley jury in 1992.
Bratton, who replaced Bernard C. Parks -- now a city councilman and mayoral candidate -- promised to repair long-standing fissures between the police and the African-American community when he took command in October 2002.
The new chief demanded patrol officers replace their smile-and-wave style with aggressive policing. Bratton said he believed the community would welcome stepped-up enforcement if residents had more confidence in individual officers.
But in South Los Angeles neighborhoods Thursday, some residents said little has changed.
Jeffrey Harris, 64, a retired railroad worker said he has seen police officers frequently stop teenagers for no good reason.
Some officers "are so hostile," said Harris, who does maintenance work at a Gennford Bail Bonds, across the street from the 77th Street police station.
At Gents Barbershop, owner Jerome Sterling, 54, saw a key difference from the King beating.
"That one was more about race," said Sterling, a lifelong resident of South Los Angeles. "This one more about authority -- police overstepping their bounds out of frustration."
Times staff writers Joy Buchanan, Cynthia Daniels, Scott Glover, Anna Gorman, Greg Krikorian, Matt Lait and Lance Pugmire contributed to this report.