Police Panel’s Leader Admits to Anonymous Mailings
For weeks, prominent police reform experts, particularly those invited to testify before the City Council and charter reform commissions, have been the targets of a mysterious, anonymous mailing campaign designed to enhance the Los Angeles Police Commission’s image.
On a regular basis, the mystified recipients find among their daily mail unmarked light brown envelopes containing photocopies of press clippings and letters condemning LAPD Inspector General Katherine Mader and defending the commission and its president.
But the envelopes never contain a cover letter, note or clue to the sender’s identity.
They do, however, have one striking thing in common: Postal authorities confirm that the envelopes bear the stamp of a postal meter in an office at the downtown law firm of Latham & Watkins, where Police Commission President Edith Perez, a partner in the firm, works.
In an interview Thursday evening, Perez acknowledged she sent at least some of the mailings. She said she didn’t include return address labels or cover letters for “efficiency purposes.”
“We could put return labels on them, that’s no big deal,” said Perez. “We just had to get them out the door.”
Perez said she was reimbursing her law firm for the costs of the mailings, but did not know how much she has spent so far.
The stealth publicity effort has become the talk of police reform circles.
“It strikes me as a little weird, but not as something nefarious,” said Mark H. Epstein, former deputy general counsel to the 1991 Christopher Commission, who has been receiving the mailings.
“It’s sad,” said one recipient. “It’s an odd way of trying to rehabilitate oneself.”
Another former Christopher Commission staff member said, “I’m bemused that these missives come in unmarked envelopes under the cover of night.”
Mayor Richard Riordan’s staff, however, took the matter more seriously.
“If this is true, it’s very disappointing,” said Riordan’s chief of staff, Kelly Martin.
Some Riordan advisors have begun to question whether it’s time to remove Perez from the commission.
Said one advisor to the mayor: “At some point you have to consider whether these lapses of judgment impact the ability to perform the job.”
Several recipients have speculated among themselves that a person associated with the commission was behind the mailings, but they said they were puzzled why Perez decided to act anonymously.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Epstein said.
Among the recipients are: former U.S. attorney and Christopher Commission member Andrea Sheridan Ordin; the Christopher Commission’s deputy general counsel, Mark R. Steinberg; John W. Spiegel, the Christopher Commission’s general counsel; Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, a former Police Commission president; and police consultant Merrick Bobb, who also worked on the Christopher Commission.
Perez said she also sent letters to members of the City Council and other city commissions.
Other police commissioners, however, said they were unaware of Perez’s anonymous mailings.
“It’s nothing that causes me grief,” said Commissioner Dean Hansell. “It is what it is.”
Commissioner T. Warren Jackson dismissed the mailing as a non-issue, telling a reporter, “If you guys did your job better and more fairly, then maybe the person behind this wouldn’t feel compelled to do this.”
As commission president, Perez’s leadership has come under increasing criticism. To some city and community leaders, Perez has set the wrong tone during her presidency, too often appearing to be a confidant and collaborator of LAPD Chief Bernard C. Parks rather than his civilian monitor.
Recently, Perez and her four commission colleagues have come under scrutiny for their role in ousting Mader. The inspector general, who resigned under pressure, accused the panel of undercutting her power to the point of perpetrating a “fraud” on the community. The commission, through its executive director, Joseph A. Gunn, claimed that Mader’s work was poor.
Perez and other commissioners have defended themselves, saying that they exert strong oversight of the chief, but that often the oversight is done in private, away from the public’s view. Earlier this week, the commission sent a 12-page letter to Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas that recounted numerous achievements the panel has accomplished in the past year, as well as asserting its commitment to police reforms.
That letter too was anonymously mailed to various civic leaders this week.
Other mailings have included letters of support for Perez, the commission or the LAPD from: Antonia Hernandez, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Mario Salgado, executive director of the California Latino Civil Rights Network; and John Mack, president of the Los Angeles Urban League. At least two anonymous mailings included newspaper clippings critical of Mader. Perez said she did not send the newspaper clippings. Nonetheless, envelopes in which at least one of the clippings arrived were stamped by the postal meter in her office.
The mailing campaign surprised and disappointed Councilwoman Laura Chick, chairwoman of the city’s Public Safety Committee. Chick, who has scheduled a special hearing Monday to discuss civilian oversight of the LAPD, particularly the powers of the inspector general, said she hoped the mailings were not intended to sway testimony at the hearing.
“I can’t even speculate on why someone would do this, but I can tell you this will not interfere with the public process and my public safety hearing in any way,” Chick said.
Said one City Hall official: “I guess the moral of the story is to use stamps.”
Times staff writer Jim Newton contributed to this story.