Man held in DUI had badge issued by Dymally, police say

Times Staff Writers

A Compton man was arrested Monday for flashing an official-looking state badge issued by the office of Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally, Redondo Beach police said.

Police said Pirikana Likivu Johnson, 27, became agitated on two occasions earlier this year when police confronted him about loud music or asked him to stay in his car while waiting for a friend in the Redondo Beach Pier parking garage after closing time at a nearby club, police said. Both times, Johnson took out a police-style wallet containing a metal badge that identified him as an Assembly commissioner.

When officers told him he still had to comply with their orders during a confrontation March 18, he became belligerent, according to a police report.

"You don't know who I am," he told an officer, according to the report. He was later found to have a blood-alcohol level of 0.10%.

"This isn't a simple DUI," Redondo Beach City Atty. Mike Webb said Monday. "You have a situation where somebody is allegedly using a badge and falsely identifying themselves to get special favors and special treatment."

Officers were unfamiliar with the title but arrested Johnson on suspicion of drunk driving and released him pending an investigation. State officials said there was no such title as Assembly commissioner.

Johnson did not respond to telephone calls and visits to his Compton home seeking comment earlier this year. On Monday night, he was being held in the Redondo Beach City Jail in lieu of $60,000 bail on charges of impersonating a state official, driving under the influence of alcohol and driving without a license.

Dymally's office issued more than a dozen of the metal badges -- which are emblazoned with a likeness of the state Assembly seal and the words "California State Assembly Commissioner" -- to donors and constituents. Some recipients said they received the badges after making donations.

Dymally, 80, a Democrat from Compton, was in Sacramento on Monday to be sworn in for another term in the Assembly and declined through a spokeswoman to comment on the case. But in interviews earlier this year, he called the credential "a nothing badge" and said such honorary shields are commonplace.

"The possession of these badges is not an illegal act," he said. "If it is, then arrest everybody. Arrest some white people too."

Johnson's arrest marks the latest in a year of scandals involving honorary badges in the hands of civilians. The sheriffs of Riverside and Orange counties and the San Bernardino County district attorney all recalled badges they had issued to citizen groups consisting mainly of campaign contributors.

After news reports of badge proliferation, some academics and officials became concerned that badges carried by law enforcement officials could start to carry less weight.

"If you can't separate out who is a peace officer from who isn't but just happens to have a badge, that creates confusion," said Nathan Barankin, a spokesman for Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer. "It doesn't take much imagination to conceive of a scenario where an investigation could be compromised."

The attorney general's office is working on an opinion regarding whether law enforcement officials can legally confer honorary badges.

Dymally's commissioner badges are similar to those carried by Assembly sergeants and lawmakers. In an interview, Dymally denied having personally given the badges.

Four men speaking on condition of anonymity showed a Times reporter Assembly commissioner badges that they said they had received after paying several hundred dollars apiece in what they believed were campaign contributions intended for the assemblyman. But they said they did not make the payments directly to Dymally, nor do their names appear as contributors on his campaign finance reports.

After Johnson was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving in March, Dymally and his daughter, Lynn, 48, went to the police station to try to get him released, saying that Johnson had to be in Sacramento for a meeting later that morning. Police asked Lynn Dymally for identification. According to a report, she responded by displaying one of the Dymally commissioner badges.

An officer asked her why she and Johnson had the badges, records show, and she said it was because they worked for her father. Her attorney, Anthony Willoughby of Culver City, said Monday that she did not flash the badge, but rather inadvertently showed it as she opened her wallet to retrieve her driver's license.

The assemblyman said he personally drove to the city jail to help free Johnson, whom he described as a long-time acquaintance, "Assembly candidate" and community college student leader. He said Johnson was only carrying the badge and never flashed it at police.

Johnson was under federal indictment for identity theft when the Redondo Beach incidents occurred. He has since pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and is on federal probation.

It is a crime to use the state Assembly seal without authorization and to hand out or use a badge to impersonate a state official or police officer.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office investigated Dymally's badges after Johnson's initial arrest and sent the assemblyman a letter listing the state laws that prohibit the conferring of badges and use of the seal, according to David Demerjian, head of the district attorney's Public Integrity Unit.

The statute barring the misuse of the Assembly seal dates back to 1968. But in letters sent to badge recipients, Dymally's office said they had to be returned because of a "new" law.

"I'm not sure what he means by that. Maybe it was embarrassing to him to ask for these," Demerjian said. "He got the badges back and provided them to us, so we decided not to prosecute."

Willoughby, who also represents the assemblyman, said the badges were handed out "at a time when it was legal." He pointed out that the Legislature passed a measure in 2003 further restricting the use of badges, which Dymally voted for. A review of that legislation shows it focused primarily on misuse of firefighters' badges.

He said he helped Dymally collect the badges in July and delivered "in excess of a dozen" of them to the district attorney's office. Two of the recipients were donors, Willoughby said.

The practice of issuing honorary credentials has come in and out of favor in the Legislature.

Former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, a Democrat who represented the San Fernando Valley, said he gave badges to members of advisory commissions that he established when he took office in 1996. Predecessors had done the same, he said.

"These were not fundraising devices. It would never cross my mind to use it that way," said Hertzberg, who left office in 2000. He discontinued the practice early in his tenure because "it started to give me pause."

Former Assemblyman Brett Granlund, a Republican who represented the Yucaipa area from 1994 until 2000, gave badges to staff members, friends, family and supporters as "a token of friendship, as a memento." He said each one was accompanied by a letter warning that it was a "memento and you are never to carry it or use it to purport to be someone you are not."

Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez (D-Norwalk) takes umbrage at the practice.

A former state parole officer, Bermudez pushed legislation aimed at cracking down on unauthorized badges. He said the badge should be reserved for the officers who earn them.

"It is not something you sell," he said, "or give away."

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evelyn.larrubia@latimes.com

dan.morain@latimes.com

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