Advertisement

LAPD officer accused of falsifying gang records faced earlier credibility questions but stayed on elite unit

A sergeant speaks to a platoon of LAPD Metropolitan Division officers deployed in 2015 as part of an effort to reduce crime.
(Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

A Los Angeles police officer charged last week with falsifying records and obstructing justice in the department’s gang-framing scandal was allowed to work in an elite division even though questions were raised about his credibility five years ago, according to records reviewed by The Times.

L.A. County prosecutors allege LAPD Officer Braxton Shaw falsified 43 field interview cards and said that he and two other officers wrote on the cards that people admitted to being gang members, when footage from the officers’ body cameras showed no such admissions or showed the people had explicitly denied gang affiliation. Prosecutors also allege the officers made up more than a dozen “fictional” gang members.

Shaw is one of more than 20 members of the vaunted LAPD Metropolitan Division under investigation amid suspicions that officers falsified field interview cards from traffic stops and entered incorrect information in an effort to boost stop statistics. Two other officers were charged with obstruction of justice and filing false police reports Friday.

Information from the interview cards can be added to CalGang, a statewide database for gathering names and personal details of people suspected of being active gang members or associates. The database has come under scrutiny after a state audit found errors and police reform advocates say it is operating under old guidelines that disproportionately impact Black and Latino men.

Advertisement

LAPD announced last month it would suspend the use of CalGang, citing questions about its accuracy and wanting to “avoid any adverse impact on individuals, particularly in communities of color.”

In 2015, a prosecutor discovered that video from an LAPD patrol car contradicted testimony Shaw gave about a weapons arrest. The following year, a judge tossed an unrelated firearm case after prosecutors disclosed their office’s investigation of Shaw, according to court records.

According to a memo from the district attorney’s office. Shaw testified he was traveling southbound, but the footage shows he was traveling the opposite direction and made a U-turn to make the stop. The video also contradicted his testimony about which lane the defendant’s car was stopped.

Prosecutors decided not to charge him with perjury because there wasn’t sufficient evidence that he intentionally made false statements. Also, the statements did not relate to the underlying crime “so there is no obvious motive for Shaw to lie,” according to the memo.

Advertisement

Greg Yacoubian, an attorney for Shaw, said his client did nothing improper and will be cleared of any criminal wrongdoing once all the facts are known.

A 12-year veteran, Shaw has been listed as a potential witness in more than 70 felony cases since he testified about the arrest, district attorney’s records show.

The Times requested disciplinary records about the incident from the LAPD under the state’s police transparency law, but the department said there were no sustained complaints against the officer.

Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor, said Shaw’s inaccurate testimony was an “important warning sign” that should not be ignored.

Advertisement

“It is not best practice to have officers out there who have credibility problems unless you are absolutely sure they won’t continue to have these problems,” Levenson said. “I think it’s risky.”

Civil rights attorney Olu Orange raised concerns about Shaw’s assignment to Metro during a critical period when the division was doubled in size and tasked with leading an effort to combat a rise in violent crime. Putting the officer on Metro, which has been criticized for hard-charging tactics, “actually gave him a longer leash,” Orange said.

LAPD spokesman Josh Rubenstein said Shaw and the two other officers charged are not on active duty. Of the three, one has been recommended for removal, though the department will not say which. Two have been suspended.

Shaw, 37, faces more than 31 years behind bars. Shaw declined to comment for this article, Yacoubian said.

Advertisement

Department officials declined to comment about Shaw’s conduct or work history, saying they could not discuss personnel matters. When asked if officials are reviewing Shaw’s prior cases and testimony, Rubenstein said: “This is an expansive investigation and we are looking at all of the officers and any actions that may constitute misconduct.”

In general, officers can be disciplined if an internal investigation reveals they knowingly provided false testimony, said former LAPD Cmdr. Jeff Bert, who oversaw the department’s Risk Management Legal Affairs Group until recently. In that situation, they could face “credibility-related” duty restrictions including no contact with the public or assignments that do not require court testimony, he said.

It’s not clear if Shaw ever was subject to such restrictions.

“Integrity is the cornerstone of our profession; likewise, the veracity of their statements is paramount,” Bert said in an email. “The department considers sustained credibility allegations to be serious misconduct.”

Advertisement

LAPD’s investigation into the gang-framing scandal by the Metro Division was launched last year after a Van Nuys mother received a letter in early 2019 informing her that her son had been identified as a gang member. She believed her son was misidentified and the department later removed the woman’s son from the gang database after checking body camera footage.

A Times analysis in May found the Metro Division led the department in the production of the field interview cards from July 2018 through the end of last year. The division made up 4% of the force, but accounted for 20% of the field interview cards during that time.

Several years before the Metro scandal erupted, a judge tossed a concealed weapon charge against an admitted Rollin’ 40s Crips gang member after an internal district attorney memo about Shaw’s conduct emerged, court records show.

Shaw authored an arrest report that said he observed the 20-year-old man flee into a South L.A. house and hide a handgun, which officers later recovered, according to the report.

Advertisement

A defense attorney argued in a court filing that Shaw and two other officers fabricated details in the arrest report. The attorney asked the judge to order the LAPD to turn over any complaints of misconduct made against the officers.

Prosecutors disclosed the memo on Shaw after the preliminary hearing. Public defender Ania Haigwood later filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that prosecutors knew about Shaw’s inaccurate statements before the hearing and failed to disclose it.

Under the landmark 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case Brady vs. Maryland, prosecutors are required to tell criminal defendants about evidence that would damage the credibility of law enforcement witnesses. Failure to do so — known as a “Brady violation” — can result in convictions being overturned, even if prosecutors did not know about the information.

After considering the defense’s motion, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Drew Edwards dismissed the case on March 24, 2016.

Advertisement

“This information was in the possession of the district attorney’s office prior to the preliminary hearing in this case,” Edwards said in the courtroom. “The information was not turned over to the defense counsel for purposes of impeachment. In my view, this is classic Brady material. It was not turned over. It should have been.”

In his ruling, Edwards also said because a prosecutor alerted his supervisor to the memo about Shaw’s prior testimony, it indicated the prosecutor thought “the testimony was more than simply inconsistent. Perhaps it was simply not truthful.”

Haigwood told The Times the case was the only time in her 14-year-career she had a case dismissed for such a violation.

“It was actually a really big deal,” she said. “That almost never happens.”

Advertisement

The county public defender’s office said this month they have not received any Brady notification letters on Shaw since they began keeping track of the disclosures last August.

The Times found another felony case from 2017 in which prosecutors made a disclosure to a defense attorney about Shaw. In that case, Shaw testified at a preliminary hearing and the judge dismissed the case the same day based on insufficient evidence, though it’s unclear if it was related to information about the officer.

The district attorney’s office declined to say how many disclosures have been made about Shaw, citing officer privacy laws. However, according to a statement from the district attorney’s office, it “acted according to its internal policies and the information was disseminated and accessible to all deputy district attorneys.”

Haigwood said she was not surprised to learn of Shaw’s role in the current Metro scandal.

Advertisement

“All of this is pretty tragic that for years people have not been told the truth about what Shaw has done in the past,” Haigwood said. “I don’t know how many times he has gotten away with things, but it’s very disturbing.”


Advertisement