Long Beach Officer in Arrest Taped by NBC Takes Leave of Duty
Long Beach Police Officer Mark Dickey was so distressed to hear that the city dropped his resisting arrest case against anti-brutality crusader Don Jackson that he coughed up blood and has taken a paid leave from the department, officials said Thursday.
“He’s been under quite a bit of stress,” said Long Beach Police Sgt. Gary Halliday, who said that Dickey was placed on paid “injured on duty” status Wednesday after the coughing episode and was taken to a doctor.
It was Dickey who stopped Jackson for an alleged traffic violation and then apparently pushed him into a plate glass window Jan. 14 while a television crew secretly filmed the incident for broadcast on national television.
Dickey arrested Jackson for interfering with a police officer, but the Long Beach prosecutor Wednesday dropped the charge, saying the case was too weak to prove in court.
Meanwhile, three separate agencies, the Long Beach Police Department, the FBI and the Los Angeles county district attorney’s office, are conducting their own investigations of the arrest to determine if disciplinary action or criminal charges should be filed against Dickey for his conduct.
Halliday did not know whether Dickey, who is in his 20s, had a medical history of coughing up blood, but he assumed that Wednesday’s episode was stress-related.
Dickey “is just a young kid and this has just destroyed him,” said a veteran police investigator who asked not to be named, referring to the barrage of bad publicity that followed the television broadcasts of Dickey’s late-night arrest of Jackson in a high-crime area of Long Beach.
Dickey’s colleagues also have suffered from the critical limelight cast on the department. “I know that morale is in the dumpster,” said Long Beach City Councilman Les Robbins, who is a county deputy sheriff. “Officers are extremely down because of this incident.”
While city officials and some policemen agreed this week that the resisting-arrest case was too flimsy to prosecute, Robbins said there remains strong support for Dickey among the department rank-and-file and among Robbins’ middle-class constituents, who believe that Dickey was set up by a self-styled activist looking for a fight.
Sgt. John Allen, of the Long Beach Police Academy, said the Dickey-Jackson episode has “greatly affected” morale. “Most officers believe that Officer Dickey was just doing his job and fell into a situation choreographed by Don Jackson.”
Robbins noted that a recent program to hire police officers from other law enforcement agencies has been hurt by the case. There have been fewer applications than expected and no one has yet been hired, Robbins noted.
Jackson, a Hawthorne police sergeant on disability leave for stress-related problems he attributed to racism in the department, drove into Long Beach that January night with an NBC television crew. He intended to stage a “sting” operation to demonstrate long-standing allegations of police brutality in Long Beach.
But while Dickey yelled obscenities at Jackson and appeared to push Jackson into a plate glass window that shattered, his supporters continue to insist that Jackson skillfully provoked the officer--and then was lucky enough to hit a weak window.
“This two-bit window glass shatters and Jackson’s a hero because the guy in the store has cheap window glass,” said Michael Hannon, Dickey’s attorney.
Hannon on Thursday insisted that Jackson’s behavior was sufficient to justify prosecution for interfering with a police officer. In his opinion, Hannon said, the case was dropped mostly as a result of a state Senate oversight committee hearing on the incident.
“After all the publicity that came from (the hearing) it became too politically hot for the city of Long Beach, so they caved in,” Hannon asserted.
He added that Dickey had agreed to testify at the March 3 hearing, believing that he would be able to explain his use of force during the Jackson arrest. Instead, Hannon said, his client was badgered about his arrest report, which he admitted contained errors.
Hannon argued that Dickey did not actually impeach his credibility at the hearing when he admitted Jackson had not sworn at him, as Dickey wrote in his report. Hannon said Dickey only admitted that his report did not agree with the audio portion of the videotape, which Hannon insisted did not completely capture everything said between the two.
The Jackson incident has already wrought changes in the department. Halliday said it prompted Police Chief Lawrence L. Binkley to move up review programs he had planned to institute later this year.
Since the incident, more thorough reviews have been made of arrest reports involving any use of force by officers, and efforts also have been made to verify that force was necessary and that the reports are accurate, according to Halliday.
Robbins said he understands that department briefings of patrol officers have been emphasizing the importance of using courtesy when dealing with the public.
“The eyes of the world are on Long Beach,” Robbins said.
Times staff writer Roxana Kopetman contributed to this article.