Panel Finds Additional Racial Slurs by Officers : Police: Christopher Commission uncovers ‘offensive’ computer messages. Its report will be issued today.
New examples of racially insensitive computer messages and activities by Los Angeles police officers were uncovered by the Christopher Commission, the independent panel reviewing the LAPD in the wake of the Rodney G. King beating.
Chairman Warren Christopher and other commission members declined comment Monday on the contents of the lengthy report, which will be released today. Sources familiar with testimony and evidence presented to the 10-member panel confirmed that a number of racially derogatory messages sent on police car computer terminals have been catalogued.
The commission examined 90,000 pages of computer messages and found examples of racially and sexually “offensive” remarks scattered throughout, according to sources familiar with the commission’s work.
In one section encompassing several thousand messages, 260 such remarks were discovered, one source said.
“It’s monkey slapping time,” one of the LAPD messages reads. The context of the message was not clear, but sources on the commission interpreted it as one of many epithets directed at black residents.
In the days after King was beaten, the Police Department released transcripts of computer messages that one of the officers accused in the beating sent to another officer. It contained a reference to an earlier incident involving black citizens in which an officer used the phrase “Gorillas in the Mist.”
At the same time, as many as a dozen black police officers testified secretly about numerous instances of racial harassment within the ranks and of a double standard in the treatment of Latino and black citizens.
In one instance, officers said they found racial epithets spray-painted on the lockers inside police stations and concluded that it was done by other officers. In another, an officer testified behind closed doors that he was present when a caravan of patrol cars raced through Nickerson Gardens housing project in Watts during the middle of the night with “Ride of the Valkyries” blaring from loudspeakers--a scene reminiscent of the movie “Apocalypse Now.”
In a later interview with The Times, the officer said this was done to “terrorize” the residents of the predominantly black housing project. The officer said he was a rookie and feared going to his superiors because some of them had taken part in the incident.
The officers testified to the commission’s staffers after being assured their identities would be kept confidential.
The commission, according to some sources, will likely call for strengthening the Police Commission, giving it an independent staff, and broadening its authority to allow it to investigate citizen complaints.
The commission also is expected to address:
* Whether the City Charter or state laws should be changed to set a term limit for the chief of police.
* Revisions in the system by which citizens file complaints against officers.
* Lengthening the current one-year period during which the department can seek to discipline an officer for a specific complaint.
The report, about 260 pages long, will be unveiled this morning at a news conference held by Christopher and the panel’s vice chairman, former state Supreme Court Justice John A. Arguelles. Copies of the report will be hand-delivered to Mayor Tom Bradley, Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and members of the City Council before the news conference.
The commission, formed in the climate of crisis after the March 3 police beating of King, has conducted an unprecedented 100-day investigation of excessive use of force by Police Department officers and the factors--including racism--that may contribute to police brutality.
The panel--formally known as the Independent Commission on the Los Angeles Police Department--has conducted five public meetings at which more than 130 people testified. In addition, the commissioners and their staff heard more than 100 hours of secret testimony from more than 60 other witnesses, including Gates and his highest command staff, unnamed line officers, two former LAPD chiefs, several outside law enforcement experts, prosecutors and Bradley.
Over the weekend, dozens of the commission’s 110 volunteer lawyers and accountants worked into the early morning hours editing the 80,000-word report and adjusting charts before it went to the printer Sunday.
On Monday, a handful of volunteers answered phones and helped prepare press releases for today’s presentation.
The commission has become a source of hope for critics seeking sweeping changes. But misconceptions abound over what the panel will deliver. Many hold out the hope that the commission will decide whether Gates should resign.
“Anything short of saying Daryl Gates should resign and that the department should be completely overhauled is like putting a Band-Aid on a malignancy,” said Danny Bakewell, head of the Brotherhood Crusade.
Neither Gates’ ouster nor a long list of gripes against the department--including the religious views of Assistant Chief Robert L. Vernon--are expected to be addressed directly in the report.
Instead, the commissioners examined training, discipline, leadership, citizen complaints and a host of other police policies and procedures focused on the issue of excessive force.
“Our principal charge is to examine excessive force as it relates to the Los Angeles Police Department,” Christopher has said. “Incidents and individuals are subsidiary to that. . . . We’ll just write our report and the report will have its own implications. The public will have to interpret our report.”
Nonetheless, because the government agencies responsible for supervising the Police Department--the mayor’s office, City Council and the mayor-appointed Police Commission--largely have paralyzed each other in a power struggle that dragged into the courts and remains unresolved, Christopher’s panel has emerged as the best hope of those looking for major changes in the LAPD.
For example, Geoffrey Taylor Gibbs, who sits on the board of the John M. Langston Bar Assn., which represents about 900 black lawyers, said black and Latino neighborhoods are depending on the commission to vindicate their view that the white, male-dominated Police Department has subjected them to years of brutality and ignored their complaints.
“People are looking to the commission,” Gibbs said. “If they don’t say this is a problem, then all of their recommendations won’t mean a thing.”
Gates is looking to the commission for ratification of his 13 years of leadership. In May, the chief told a local radio audience he would resign if the commission determined that he set a tone that made it comfortable for officers to behave as they did in the King beating, or created the belief that those officers were practicing behavior that is acceptable in the department.
“The fact is, if that should be shown by the independent commission, I will tell you and tell everyone here that I will . . . leave the department,” Gates said.
The commission never said it was looking directly at Gates, but he could be hurt by the totality of the findings if the political fallout results in renewed calls for him to resign.
The commission looked closely at the department’s disciplinary process to determine if the LAPD uniformly failed to identify, reprimand and prosecute all officers who are guilty of misconduct.
Specifically, the commissioners, with the help of 50 staff lawyers and 60 accountants, investigated whether the department seriously disciplines officers who use excessive force and whether some officers, because of their racial or ethnic background, are more harshly disciplined than others.
Toward that end, the commission not only interviewed LAPD personnel and waded through more than 1 million pages of LAPD documents, it also heard testimony from City Atty. James K. Hahn, whose office defends the city against lawsuits, and Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner, whose office determines whether accused officers should be charged with crimes.
Another focus of the commission was how the department trains its officers and whether it places too much emphasis on hardware rather than getting along with the people it serves and protects.
In the end, the commissioners, seven of whom were appointed by Bradley and three by Gates, are only making recommendations, and it will be up to Bradley, the City Council and the Police Commission to carry them out.
Because of that, some city officials wonder if the public is expecting too much from the Christopher Commission.
Christopher, in an interview last month, said he, too, is concerned about “the very high expectations.”
“It’s not that we are not going to put out a good report and a thorough report. It is just that there is no magic solution to this problem.”