When Tom Lange and Phil Vannatter got the news that a jury had ruled O.J. Simpson liable for two killings, the former Los Angeles Police Department detectives were literally riding high.
The two retired investigators were cruising in a limousine near the top of the Santa Susana Pass--on their way to a 24-hour spree of television and radio interviews to push their new book--when a blurry television set issued the verdicts that they had desperately hoped for 16 months ago.
“It’s a very nice feeling,” said the normally taciturn Vannatter. “It’s a vindication for me and especially for my family that has gone through hell, especially my wife. Now, it’s finally beginning to turn around.”
Such sentiments were echoed throughout the sprawling and widely denigrated LAPD on Wednesday, the day after a Santa Monica Superior Court jury found Simpson liable for killing his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald L. Goldman. In some stations there were cheers, in others quiet contentment, in a few a longing for more post-Simpson reforms. Universally, there was a desire to move on.
“I think everyone has reached the point where they’re just oversaturated with this stuff,” said Sgt. Paul Sciarrillo, of the West Valley station. “The feeling is, let’s get on with it.”
But first, a little satisfaction.
At the West Valley station Tuesday evening, many officers had been kept on overtime in anticipation of the jury’s decision. Every television was on, and officers gathered to hear the verdicts. When they were announced, cheers went up and fists were raised in the air.
“I was absolutely thrilled,” said Sgt. Joel Price, a community relations officer. “I think it restored a lot of people’s faith in the justice system. I was tremendously happy for the [Goldman and Brown] families--they finally got at least some degree of justice.”
West Valley Sgt. Dan Mastro, who watched the verdicts with about 10 other officers, said he hopes that citizens will look differently at the LAPD.
“I think it does, in a sense, vindicate the department,” Mastro said. “Maybe this will give people a different perspective on what a great department this is.”
In most LAPD stations--like the Robbery-Homicide Division headquarters that was the nerve center of the Simpson investigation--reaction was more muted. Detectives just looked up briefly from their work to acknowledge the verdict, said the unit’s commanding officer, Capt. William O. Gartland.
Several of the unit’s 79 detectives were busy reviewing evidence in the department’s latest high-publicity case, the killing of Ennis Cosby. “There was no big celebration or big shouting or anything,” Gartland said. “We have another big case, and there are a whole bunch more standing in line.”
The satisfaction in the ranks was tempered by concern for challenges that still face the department and the city.
While Price said he believes that the verdict will help restore some of the department’s credibility, he said he is unsure how that will show itself.
“I don’t think we’ll drive down the street and see signs hanging from flagpoles saying, ‘Congratulations, LAPD.’ ”
Price said he also is concerned about the city’s racial divide. “I think we have to look deeper,” he said. “We have to look at why some in the African American community feel the way they do.”
And at the LAPD’s Scientific Investigation Division, otherwise known as the crime lab, employees said they are still waiting for new equipment and facilities that were promised more than a year ago because of shortcomings that were exposed in the Simpson case. At that time, employees had said that they were forced to share microscopes and other scarce equipment, to work in a leaky and dilapidated building, and to generally see their requisitions go unanswered. One worker called the lab the LAPD’s “bastard stepchild.”
“Efforts are being made, presumably at high levels, to get things changed,” one veteran employee said Wednesday. “But it hasn’t happened yet. People have said we are going to do this and that, but there is no major change that I’m personally aware of. Still, I’m not giving up.”
The head of the lab was not available for comment, and the LAPD press office said it would not answer questions without a formal written request for information.
Lange and Vannatter, nearing the end of a tour that took them to nine television and radio interviews, said they hope that the verdicts will inspire a wave of good feeling for police, even outside their old department.
“It helps all police departments regroup a little bit,” said Vannatter. “We have all been put under the same [negative] umbrella. And this jury took the time to look at the evidence, to deliberate the evidence and say, ‘Hey, these guys must have done OK.’ ”
After being battered by Simpson defense attorneys and other critics as slothful, bumbling and even corrupt, the two investigators Wednesday were widely embraced, especially by callers to talk radio. One woman thanked them for their “years of selfless service.”
“You have to think of a young detective looking at what we went through,” Lange said. “Would they want that kind of involvement? Quite frankly, no. They are not crazy. In that regard, this may bring some vindication.”