A lawsuit was filed in federal court Thursday on behalf of 29 people who contend that some Los Angeles police officers, in a two-hour frenzy of unwarranted violence, terrorized or beat them while other officers with sledgehammers smashed through four residences.
The suit names as defendants the city of Los Angeles, Mayor Tom Bradley, Police Chief Daryl F. Gates, Police Capt. Tom Elfmont, Officer Carl Sims and 200 other officers identified only as “Does.”
It says that about 60 officers took part in the Aug. 1 raid at two, four-family flats at 3903 and 3907 Dalton Ave. in South-Central Los Angeles.
One lawyer characterized the alleged police misconduct as a “grotesque outcropping of the city’s illegal gang sweeps” in which, he said, young black people are indiscriminately targeted for arrest without regard for their civil rights.
“The police claimed the raid was related to gang activity,” said Thomas E. Beck, a lawyer for some of the plaintiffs, “but the only gang here that night . . . was the Los Angeles Police Department.”
No Official Comment
Bradley and Gates were unavailable for comment, their offices said. Police spokesman Bill Frio said the filing of the lawsuit prevented him from discussing any aspect of the case, including the department’s own investigation of the raid.
The district attorney’s office also is investigating what happened on Dalton Ave. on Aug. 1. “This was brought to our attention by the LAPD. They are as interested as we are in determining what occurred,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher Darden said.
On Aug. 4, Capt. Elfmont told reporters the four residences were raided during an investigation of a series of gang-related drive-by shootings and homicides. The damage to the homes could have been caused by gang members after police officers had left the scene, Elfmont said.
The lawyers for the plaintiffs scoffed at that explanation. The damage, which left the flats uninhabitable, was caused by “a Police Department that has gone amok,” said attorney John Burton of the nonprofit Police Misconduct Lawyers Referral Service.
The lawsuit filed Thursday asks for an unspecified amount in punitive and compensatory damages and damages from each defendant. It contends that the plaintiffs’ civil rights were violated because police had improperly obtained a search warrant, improperly executed the warrant, arrested or detained the plaintiffs without sufficient cause and subjected them to “excessive, unreasonable and unnecessary force.”
The rights of some of the plaintiffs were also violated, the suit says, when police destroyed their homes and the contents.
The incident began, Burton said, when a van and carloads of officers arrived and burst into the homes without warning that Monday evening. The occupants were forced outside, where they were made to lie in the dirt while officers rounded up “anyone who was young and black from four blocks around,” Burton said. Some people in the yard were “incredibly brutalized,” he said.
Burton showed pictures of the swollen face of Hildebrandt Flowers, who he said had had his feet pulled out from under him by officers while his hands were cuffed from behind. Others, he said, were kicked, slapped or had flashlights dropped on their heads.
A woman who had left her 1-month-old child unattended inside a house was made to lie in the dirt and was not allowed to go get the child, Burton said. After two hours, when police had gone, they said, a relative arrived to care for the child. The only explanation for their actions the officers offered then, the lawyers said, was that a gang member had called police and threatened to kill an officer.
While the occupants were in the yard, the lawyers said, police wielding sledge hammers, knives, clubs and flashlights, rampaged through the four flats, smashing or ripping everything in sight.
Some of the officers, the lawyers said, scrawled slogans on a wall that said such things as “LAPD rules,” “Rolling 30s die” (an apparent reference to Crips gang members) and “Opie Dog rules” (an apparent reference to a police officer’s nickname).
The lawyers said about 40 people were taken to the Southwest Division. Charlotte Waters, 20, said she saw officers force the men entering the station to run a gauntlet and whistle the theme song to the “Andy Griffith” television show. Those who couldn’t or wouldn’t, she said, had flashlights dropped on their heads.
Waters said she was kicked in the side earlier by an officer as she lay in the yard and that another officer dropped a flashlight on her head.
Five of the 40 people taken to the police station, Burton said, were formally charged, but charges against four of them were eventually dismissed.
On Thursday, the four residences were still boarded up. In the rear of one of the houses, a former resident, Johnnie Mae Carter, 60, pointed out a dangling two-story wooden stairway that she said had been torn away from the house by officers.
She said vegetables that had been thrown from her refrigerator into the yard had taken seed and were sprouting--here a stalk of corn, there a clump of green beans. The yard was also full of pieces of furniture and other debris Carter said had been her household goods.