Until it all went bad, Randolph Franklin used to talk with pride about his life in the Los Angeles Police Department. Wear a badge for nearly half of your 50 years and somewhere along the way it becomes more than just a job.
He was proud as well of the life he built on Woodlawn Avenue -- an unremarkable street set amid the gang violence and poverty of the city’s southern swath. It’s an odd place for a cop to live. But it was where a black kid from a Mississippi trailer park managed to buy a real house. It was where he turned an old, beat-up bungalow into a real home with dark red trim, marble fireplaces and trendy bamboo stalks along the edge of the lawn.
In the early morning darkness of May 25, 2006, Franklin’s two worlds -- his life on Woodlawn and his life in the LAPD -- collided.
The phone in his upstairs bedroom woke him from a dead sleep at 4 a.m. His wife was away visiting her family, and their two small children slept down the hall. The voice on the line identified himself as a lieutenant with the LAPD’s elite SWAT unit. The house, he told Franklin, was surrounded. Peering out of the bedroom window, Franklin saw it was no joke: a knot of heavily armed officers were pressed up against the house. Snipers were perched on the neighbor’s porch. A helicopter hovered overhead.
Franklin had no idea what his own Police Department would want with him. He asked for time to roust his 7-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son. He had 20 minutes, the SWAT officer said, or police would come in and get him.
Before Franklin pulled open the front door and walked into the blinding glare of spotlights, he put himself between his little boy and girl and took their hands in his own. “I wanted the police to be able to see our hands,” he recalls. “I didn’t want to give them any reason to shoot us.”
Franklin is a tightly wound man. When he describes the LAPD’s six-hour search of his house, his jaw clenches and he seethes words like “degrading” and “humiliating.” He recalls how he was made to sit in the back of a police van with his children, guarded by someone wearing the same uniform he wore each day. He remembers how neighbors gathered to gawk as drug-sniffing dogs were led inside, dogs that left paw prints on his bed. He talks about the quiet fury he felt as his demands for an explanation were ignored.
“They came into my house,” he says. “That’s my family. My reputation.”
What happened that morning is not in dispute. Why it happened, however, is.
If the explanation of officers who oversaw the search is to be believed, the incident was an unfortunate mistake born of honest police work. However, Franklin, in a lawsuit and interviews, has alleged that the search was the culmination of a campaign of retaliation orchestrated by his supervisors, with whom he had feuded.
Over the course of a year, LAPD officials reviewed Franklin’s accusations and dismissed them as unfounded. So, Franklin sued the officers who ordered the search, as well as the LAPD, for violating his civil rights, inflicting emotional distress, and negligence. Late last year, 12 jurors listened to what Franklin had to say and decided the officers should never have disturbed his life on Woodlawn. Corners were cut, they decided, lies were told.
After nearly five years in the Marine Corps, Franklin joined the LAPD in 1984 and established himself as a capable, if unremarkable, cop. His personnel file is full of positive performance evaluations, noting his work ethic and unbending adherence to department policies. Franklin was rarely disciplined -- his most serious misstep coming when he berated a patrol officer who stopped him for a traffic violation.
But he is not a cop’s cop. By his own account, Franklin has reported several partners for perceived abuses, even telling a suspect once that his partner had unlawfully arrested him. In 2000, after being promoted to sergeant, Franklin was assigned to the department’s Pacific Division on the Westside, where he solidified his reputation as a strict, by-the-book supervisor and a rabble-rouser who didn’t shy away from criticizing other cops. More than once, he says, he raised eyebrows when he ordered officers to release suspects taken into custody under dubious circumstances.
Almost from the start, Franklin’s in-your-face personality led to clashes with the division’s command staff, he said. They formally accused him of misconduct at least six times, alleging neglect of duty, failing to complete reports and similar missteps. Each time, Franklin challenged the charges and, with one exception, was cleared either by an appeals panel or when supervisors abandoned the discipline proceedings. Franklin also represented several other Pacific officers during discipline proceedings. Much to the frustration of the division’s command staff, he says, allegations against several of them were dismissed or reduced.
Despite his run-ins with the brass, Franklin received a glowing evaluation in 2005 from one supervisor who gave him high marks in all categories and wrote that he could be “counted on to make sound, thorough decisions.”
But Capt. William Hayes, who had recently arrived at Pacific, rejected the write-up, saying he didn’t believe Franklin was that good, according to court records. The evaluation was re-written, with several marks downgraded and notes added that highlighted previously unmentioned deficiencies in Franklin’s time management and writing skills, the records show. Hayes declined to comment for this article.
Franklin knew the evaluation would be a barrier to his becoming a lieutenant -- a promotion he wanted before retiring. He refused to sign it and took steps to file a hostile work environment complaint against Hayes and others in the command staff.
On the other side of the city several months later, a man was gunned down in daylight and left for dead on a sidewalk near Franklin’s house.
Det. Mark Morgan and Officer Jason Leikam from the LAPD’s Newton Division were assigned to the case. Morgan, a 20-year veteran, had worked for several years as a detective in Newton’s gang unit. Leikam had six years as a patrol officer and, months before the shooting, had been temporarily assigned to the gang unit.
Morgan and Leikam received tips that the shooters were Alonzo Billups, a member of the notorious Four-Trey gang, and Emmit Bond, an alleged drug-dealer with ties to the gang, according to police documents. About a month into the investigation, the officers felt they had enough evidence to ask a judge to issue a search warrant. In the affidavit Leikam wrote to justify the warrant, he sought permission to search three locations. The first two were the suspects’ homes. The third -- Franklin’s house -- was listed only by its address. The house, Leikam wrote in the affidavit, “is a known Four-Trey hangout. There have been numerous citizen complaints of gang activity and blatant narcotic sales/use at the location . . . Emmit Bond delivers narcotics and stashes weapons at the location.”
How Leikam and Morgan reached this conclusion is a matter of contentious debate. Morgan declined to comment, and Leikam did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. In testimony, they said much of their information had come from the victim’s cousin, who identified Franklin’s house as a place frequented by the gang and Bond. In addition, Leikam testified that an LAPD anti-gang officer also told them Franklin’s address was a Four-Trey stronghold. Both Morgan and Leikam testified that while they were conducting surveillance in the neighborhood they had witnessed Bond enter Franklin’s house.
But under questioning during Franklin’s lawsuit, Morgan and Leikam were unable to produce notes from their interviews with the cousin that proved he had pointed them toward Franklin’s house. Notes taken by Morgan, in fact, indicate that the cousin had instead described a “burgundy and green house” near Franklin’s. In a brief phone interview, the cousin, who is not being identified for his safety, said he did not direct the officers to Franklin’s house.
Franklin acknowledged in court that he knew Bond, the accused shooter, vaguely -- hiring him once for a day to work for the private security company he runs on the side. He rejected, however, Leikam’s and Morgan’s allegation that they had seen Bond enter his house. He was, he said, in Mississippi visiting family that day and his wife testified she had let no one inside.
Eric Rose, the anti-gang officer, meanwhile, was confronted with his testimony from an earlier hearing in the criminal case against Bond and Billups that he had no knowledge of gang activity at Franklin’s house. He struggled on the witness stand to explain Leikam’s assertion that he had given them incriminating information about the address.
Leikam and Morgan also conceded during testimony that they did not know of any actual instances to support Leikam’s assertion in the search warrant of “numerous citizen complaints of gang activity and blatant narcotic sales/use at the location.” An internal check by the LAPD shortly after the search showed police had not been called to the house in the previous three years, police records show.
After a day of deliberations, jurors unanimously concluded the officers had “deliberately falsified” information in the warrant affidavit and that their conduct had been “outrageous,” according to court records. When asked about the case afterward, several jurors spoke on the condition that their names not be used because of concerns over retaliation by police.
“There were so many things they said that just didn’t have the ring of truth,” said one juror. “This could have ruined this guy’s career.”
“It scares me that they could just raid someone’s home like that,” another said.
If not a mistake, why then had police done it?
In order for Franklin to collect damages, the jury had to find that Morgan and Leikam’s actions had been part of a plan to harm him.
Franklin’s lawyers tried to convince the jury that Capt. Hayes and other command staff at Pacific had been involved. The lawyers talked about the bad blood at the division. They pointed to the fact that Lt. Paul Torrence, a supervisor there, had transferred to the department’s Internal Affairs Group and was at Franklin’s house the morning it was searched.
They focused on a phone call between Torrence and Hayes before the search.
They challenged Morgan and Leikam’s assertion that they had not known the house belonged to Franklin until the evening before the search and so had not told the judge they wanted to search an officer’s house.
The lawyers laid out this theory: Leikam and Morgan, who testified he knew Franklin from previous assignments, had seen an off-duty Franklin on Woodlawn while investigating the shooting. Confused as to why a cop would be in such a rough neighborhood, they called Internal Affairs to inquire about Franklin. Torrence, sensing an opportunity, called Hayes and, in turn, the two persuaded the Newton officers to entangle Franklin in the investigation.
Jurors weren’t convinced.
“We felt [Leikam and Morgan] had lied purposefully; we just couldn’t pinpoint why,” a juror said. “We couldn’t connect the dots between these two officers and anything larger.”
In addition, several jurors said the judge instructed them to think of Morgan and Leikam as individuals, not agents of the LAPD. “If we had been told to consider the officers as part of the LAPD, it would have changed the whole situation,” said juror Orly Benyaminy. “Almost all of us would have voted differently. . . .”
Franklin has appealed.
Meanwhile, the man who was shot eventually died of his injuries. Citing a lack of evidence, however, prosecutors dropped the charges against Bond and Billups. The killing remains unsolved.
In the months that have followed, Hayes took command of another station. Torrence left Internal Affairs for another unit. Leikam remains an officer at Newton, and Morgan transferred to Pacific, where he and Franklin sometimes cross paths.
Franklin was cleared of any wrongdoing by an internal LAPD investigation. He remains bitter, however, that the department also cleared Leikam and Morgan, and he accuses the agency of ignoring his accusations against his superiors. Through an aide, LAPD Chief William J. Bratton declined to allow any top LAPD official to comment on the case. Franklin says life on Woodlawn is different now. Neighbors look at him with suspicion. They avoid conversations.
He no longer thinks of being an LAPD cop as anything but a paycheck. “I used to be proud of my job,” he says. “Now, it’s just something I muddle through each day -- just something I do to support my family. . . . This whole dream is dead.”
He’s looking to retire as soon as he can afford it.