Citizen Police Review Urged After ‘Sting’ : Taped Incident in Long Beach Renews Charges of Brutality, Racism
A videotaped weekend incident of alleged police brutality and racism in Long Beach led Monday to renewed calls for a citizen review board to oversee the Police Department and for a panel to investigate the officers’ conduct.
Several civic leaders Monday condemned the actions of the two white officers, one of whom is clearly seen in the videotape pushing a black man’s head through a plate glass window after a routine traffic stop.
A television crew from NBC’s “Today Show” secretly taped the incident late Saturday night as part of an activist group’s “sting” operation to demonstrate what its members call rampant abuse of minorities by Long Beach police.
Police officials refused to comment Monday, pending an internal investigation. They also quietly backed away from their initial account of the incident, which was at odds with the videotape.
But Police Sgt. Terry Holland, interim president of the Long Beach Police Officers Assn., said the evidence will eventually clear the officers and that he believes the two black activists involved came to the city looking for trouble--and found it.
Police Misconduct Lawyer Referral Service, a nonprofit agency that investigates police brutality, said its members went to Long Beach on Saturday night to find an example of alleged police abuses in the city. Spokesman David Lynn said the group had received 50 complaints of racism and brutality against the Long Beach Police Department last year.
Don Jackson, 30, a sergeant on administrative leave from the Hawthorne Police Department, and Jeff Hill, 30, an off-duty federal corrections officer, donned shabby clothes and drove a rented 12-year-old sedan into the city to see if they would be stopped by police. They were trailed by an NBC van and members of the anti-brutality group in another car.
A police cruiser began following the sedan as it drove along Pacific Coast Highway. The officers ordered the two men to pull over near Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.
In the official police account, the officers said they pulled over the car for weaving. The tape, however, proves the two men never broke any traffic laws, Lynn contends.
What transpired next was taped by a video camera that had been concealed on the rear deck of the car by NBC.
Jackson, who was a passenger, got out of the car. An officer, later identified as Mark Dickey, repeatedly ordered Jackson to submit to a search for weapons, spicing his orders with obscenities, the tape shows.
At one point, Jackson put his hands behind his head. Dickey is shown on the tape pushing Jackson’s head and right arm through the window. Dickey also is seen throwing Jackson onto the police car.
Watched the Incident
Pete Pizzi, owner of the Clover Custom Cycle Shop where the car was pulled over, said he watched the incident from inside his store.
“I would not blame the cop for being a little overenthusiastic,” he said. “From the amount of screaming. . . . I got the impression the colored dude was antagonizing the officer.”
Lynn, however, maintained that Jackson had a right to challenge Dickey’s order to submit to a search, because the officer lacked probable cause.
Jackson was booked for investigation of using “offensive words,” challenging an officer to fight and obstructing arrest. He was released on his own recognizance pending a court appearance Jan. 25.
Hill, the driver, was issued a traffic citation accusing him of straddling traffic lanes.
The attorney for Jackson’s group, Thomas E. Beck of Los Angeles, said, “Obviously, we’re going to sue the cops.”
Lt. Mike Hill, a police spokesman who is no relation to Jeff Hill, had said Sunday that the window shattered when Jackson’s elbow smashed against it during the search. However, the official police account was withdrawn by the department Monday pending the outcome of the investigation.
Hill said Dickey and his partner, Mark Ramsey, will remain on active duty.
The officers mustered support from within the ranks Monday.
“We feel confident that our officers will win their case,” Holland said. “I think Mr. Jackson’s motives are apparent to any human being. If you go looking for trouble, you can find it.”
The police association leader also said that NBC should have never participated.
“I was disappointed because I thought the press should report the news, not make it,” Holland said.
But Cliff Kappler, senior producer for the “Today Show” in New York, said, “The videotape speaks for itself on the entire incident. . . .”
“The cops were not set up, because as far as I could tell . . . no cops were targeted and the car was not doing anything wrong,” Kappler said. “All these gentlemen did was drive down the street under the speed limit, but not too far under it.”
Frank Berry, president of the Long Beach chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, said the incident points out the need for a citizen review board, with binding powers, to oversee the 632-officer department.
The review board issue was hotly debated last year amid allegations of police brutality. The Public Safety Advisory Commission forwarded the matter to the Long Beach City Council, which never took action to put the measure before the voters. The 13-member commission reviews policy and makes recommendations to the police and fire departments, but it does not have binding powers.
“We know this kind of situation occurs on a fairly regular basis,” Berry said. “We’ve never been able to come forth before with enough evidence. Now, it is brought to your living room in living color.”
Former mayoral candidate and civic activist Luanne Pryor agreed, saying the incident may revive moves for a review board.
Larry Davis, chairman of the advisory commission, said the two officers should be suspended pending the outcome of the investigation and that the mayor should create a panel of citizens to investigate alleged police brutality.
“We’re shocked and we’re disturbed and we don’t want any more excessive force by officers,” he said.
But Mayor Ernie Kell, whose candidacy was endorsed by the police officers association, said he believes a full-scale investigation of the department is unwarranted.
“I don’t think there’s widespread racism,” he said. “We need to put this in proper perspective. . . . These are isolated incidents.”
But after viewing the video, Kell said he was “very disappointed” with Dickey’s actions.
Hawthorne Police Chief Kenneth Stonebraker called a press conference Monday to criticize Jackson and to disavow any connection between his department and the sting operation.
Stonebraker said Jackson was wrong to leave his car and “begin a heated dialogue with the (Long Beach) officers in an attempt to make something happen.”
Jackson has been on a stress disability leave for two years. He has sued the Hawthorne Police Department, claiming his five years on the force were marred by “a never-ending stream of racial epithets, taunts and slurs.”
Stonebraker also accused NBC of provoking the confrontation.
“I seriously question the obvious joining of forces of network television and so-called civil rights antagonists in attempting to create and amplify a confrontation with the police,” he said.
Times staff writer James Rainey contributed to this article.