Officer Todd B. Parrick swung the red ax so wildly as he tore from room to room in the apartments near 39th Street and Dalton Avenue that his fellow LAPD officers believed he was going to hurt himself or the other policemen in his path.
"He was pretty well busting the place up," recalled Officer Charles A. Wilson. "He was dangerous."
Later, a shocked Capt. Thomas Elfmont, the police official who helped plan the drug raid, viewed the destruction and said he could not believe it.
In lengthy interviews made public for the first time, the four officers charged in the so-called "39th and Dalton" case describe the preparation that went into the raid, the frenzy that heightened in the officers as they smashed their way through the apartments.
About 80 officers from numerous units took part in the Aug. 1, 1988, raid on four apartments in the 3900 block of Dalton Avenue. The officers were armed with search warrants and were ostensibly looking for drugs. Police officials later said the raids resulted in the seizure of a rifle, 18.6 grams of rock cocaine and 147.6 grams of marijuana--a relatively small amount, since there are about 28 grams to an ounce.
The recollections of the four accused officers are contained in more than 1,000 pages of the official LAPD Internal Affairs reports prepared by a special 10-member team of police investigators.
The reports, recently filed in U.S. District Court in connection with a civil lawsuit against the city and the LAPD by owners of some of the apartments, provide a behind-the-scenes look at how Internal Affairs investigators pulled together mountains of allegations of vandalism, excessive force and neglect of duty against fellow officers.
The internal documents also lay bare the emotions of many police officers, whose good intentions to fight drug and gang violence sometimes go awry. On the evening of the raid, Sgt. Charles Spicer outlined to his police troops what they hoped to accomplish.
"He wanted them to be extra thorough," the reports said. "He said that he wanted them to look under carpets or in holes in walls. He told them to search wherever they had to.
"He ended the briefing on a positive note, saying that he knew that they were going to do an outstanding job and be totally professional."
But when the raid was over, Internal Affairs investigators catalogued 127 separate acts of vandalism, ranging from doors, walls and cabinets smashed apart, to a small piggy bank cracked open and a goldfish bowl plundered.
Of 37 suspects detained, only seven were arrested. But dozens were injured, and the reports level allegations that police officers kicked, slapped and beat apartment residents while they were handcuffed outside.
Charlotte Waters told investigators that an officer dropped a flashlight on her head, then nonchalantly uttered, "Oops."
Mark Dotson said he was hit in the ankle with a flashlight and kicked in the face. Hubert Robinson said he was kicked in the groin. Samuel Palmer said he was hit four times by an officer wearing a metal-lined "sap" glove.
Carl DeLoach said he was kicked six times in the ribs. Hildebrandt Flowers said one officer held his legs apart while another kicked him in the groin, and other residents said they saw Flowers choked with a wire that officers tied to a tree.
Tammy Moore described to investigators what happened while she was sitting on the porch and holding her 7-month-old baby, Curtis.
"Suddenly officers drove up in vans and cars," the reports said. "They all got out and one officer ran up and told her to get off the porch.' "The officer then hit her on the side of the neck, causing her to drop Curtis on the concrete. . . . Curtis was unconscious for approximately 30 minutes."
While dozens of officers are being disciplined and sent to administrative hearings, none has been charged with criminal assault.
"There was insufficient evidence to prove it," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Alan Scott Yochelson, one of the "39th and Dalton" prosecutors. "We were just unable to establish it to our satisfaction and to the level required for the charging of a crime."
The four officers charged with criminal vandalism--Spicer, Parrick, Wilson and Elfmont--have for the last two years remained silent, declining to publicly detail their roles in the raid. They have pleaded not guilty and their trial is scheduled for early next year.
In the Internal Affairs reports, meanwhile, the four officers blame each other for allowing things to go haywire.
The reports were subsequently used by the Police Department in bringing administrative charges against dozens of officers for vandalism, excessive force and neglect of duty, as well as in support of the criminal charges against the four.
The following are capsulized versions of what the four defendants told Internal Affairs investigators in the weeks after the raid:
Capt. Thomas Elfmont:
Instrumental in helping to plan the police operation, Elfmont missed the raid after it was twice called off. He went home the day it was actually conducted, and was not immediately notified.
"On Tuesday morning," the reports state, "Elfmont was met at the station by Virginia Taylor Hughes (a civilian employee). She advised him the officers had done a great job the night before." In his office, Elfmont reviewed the sergeant's logs and noticed that "the logs did not indicate a problem had occurred."
Then he visited the scene, and spoke to a resident. "It was obvious to Elfmont a lot of damage was caused by the police," the reports said.
He later talked to two police subordinates, but "both were very closed-mouthed."
"Elfmont told them he could not believe it, and asked them about the damage. Both said they did not see that kind of damage and it must have been caused by gang members later on."
Apparently aware that Internal Affairs would launch an inquiry, the captain did not question his men further. "Elfmont did not confront anyone or do an investigation because he knew where the thing was going," the reports said.
The documents add that Elfmont eventually viewed Spicer as the officer most likely to be punished with suspension days. "Elfmont thought that realistically Spicer was the focal point. . . . He was in charge," the reports said.
Later, Elfmont told investigators that Spicer came to him and admitted that the raid was "his mistake, his fault . . . and that he was sorry this happened."
Sgt. Charles Spicer:
As head of the LAPD Southwest Area's SPU, or Special Problems Unit, Spicer helped put the raid together, hoping "to make as big an impact on the Rolling 30s gang members as possible" and connect them with a recent attempted murder.
In interviews with Internal Affairs investigators, he maintained that property sometimes can be destroyed when police believe illegal narcotics are hidden.
"In the last year in the course of serving over 100 search warrants," the reports said, "his team had broken three to five toilets in the process of recovering cocaine. It was therefore not uncommon to break a toilet during a search warrant service."
Spicer told investigators that in the police roll call before the raid, he reminded his troops that past excursions had netted drugs hidden up to six feet inside walls and under carpets. But he denied that he egged on the officers with the cry: "Carpets up! Drywall down!"
"If you want to, put me on a lie detector on that one aspect there," he told investigators. "I've never said it."
During the raid, Spicer said he heard the continuous sound of glass breaking inside the units.
"He accounted for the glass breaking due to officers searching and possibly breaking out windows that had already been broken," the reports said. "It did not occur to Spicer that possible misconduct was occurring."
And oddly, Spicer told Internal Affairs that he never saw Parrick at the scene, despite numerous accounts of the officer wildly destroying property with an ax.
"For approximately five months," the reports said, "Parrick had asked Spicer if he could go out with the SPU, and Spicer repeatedly told him no because Parrick was on light duty."
Officer Todd B. Parrick:
But Parrick was there, although he did not have a specific assignment in the raid. Just a year on the department, he said he assumed it would be "OK to tag along." And by his own admission, he wielded the ax indiscriminately, recalling a "rumor" among the officers that Capt. Elfmont wanted the neighborhood "taken off the map."
The reports show that Parrick struck wooden sliding doors and that "the wood splintered and the doors broke loose." When he couldn't remove a furnace grill with his hands, "he struck the grill two or three times with the ax, breaking it away from the wall. He also struck the thermostat with the ax, breaking it away from the wall."
The damage continued. "Parrick struck the walls in the living and dining room with the ax. . . . He struck the left side of a cupboard with the ax, knocking it away from the wall. . . . Parrick struck a drawer in the kitchen, which had been jammed closed, with the ax to loosen it. . . .
"Parrick went to the bathroom and struck the toilet bowl with the ax. . . . The toilet broke. He struck the front edge of the sink with the ax to dislodge it from the wall.
"At one point," the reports add, "an officer Parrick believed was Wilson told Parrick to be careful because he almost got hit by the ax."
Officer Charles A. Wilson:
Wilson truly was worried about his safety.
"Parrick would swing the ax at an angle going back at about a man's head level with the ax and bringing it downward," the reports said. "The motions were continuous. Wilson did not know where Parrick got his energy to continue swinging the ax."
At one point, "Wilson felt he was in danger and left the kitchen because Parrick was not watching where he was swinging." He stepped outside. "Wilson was embarrassed because the neighbors could hear the noise, the roar of things, thumps, bumps and crashes."
But Wilson conceded that his hands too were used to destroy property. He described how he had fashioned a red battering ram at a friend's welding shop--for which he later charged the city four hours of overtime--and used it to punch holes in the living and dining room walls. Later, when questions were raised about the police going too far in the raid, Wilson said he decided to hide the ram. "He panicked because he knew it would match up to the holes in the wall." He drove one night to a dark street where as a police officer he knew stolen cars were often abandoned and "threw the ram down into the sewer."
Still trying to justify the raid in his own mind, he recalled how Spicer and other police superiors had given the officers a pep talk in the hours before they converged on 39th and Dalton.
"The supervisors had gotten all of the officers worked up, (and) told them that they were going to . . . kick ass," the reports said.
And, "when he left on Monday, Aug. 1, 1988, everyone was in good spirits, saying we had showed the Rolling 30s a thing or two."