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LAPD ‘SWAT Mafia’ encouraged excessive force and retaliation, officer’s suit claims

LAPD SWAT officers approach a Toyota Prius.
LAPD SWAT officers approach a Toyota Prius believed to have been used in a kidnapping in July 2019.
(KTLA-TV)

A longtime Los Angeles police SWAT sergeant is suing the LAPD, alleging the unit is run by a “SWAT Mafia” of veteran cops who encourage the use of deadly force and ostracized him for revealing its behavior.

Sgt. Tim Colomey, who spent 11 years as a SWAT supervisor until last November, filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging retaliation for revealing that a group of veteran officers controlled the tactical unit’s operations and membership and punished him and others for speaking out.

Colomey said in the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court that those leaders, who dubbed themselves the “SWAT Mafia,” “glamorize the use of lethal force, and direct the promotions of officers who share the same values while maligning the reputations of officers who do not.”

Colomey claims that those who use nonlethal measures to end standoffs and other contacts are pushed out.

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“SWAT officers who have chosen not to use lethal force in suspect encounters, and who have instead sought to deescalate conflicts, have been ostracized and labeled ‘cowards’ by the SWAT Mafia,” the lawsuit says. “These officers will never succeed or promote within SWAT.”

His lawsuit did not cite specific examples of excessive force or unjustified killings by the SWAT unit. However, his attorney Diana Wells said the department’s internal affairs group was made aware of such incidents after Colomey provided specifics during an investigation.

Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore on Wednesday declined to comment, saying he had not seen the litigation.

Capt. Jonathan Tippet, who was in charge of the Metropolitan Division — which includes SWAT — during the time of the allegations, disputed some of Colomey’s characterizations.

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“I disagree with the assessment,” he said of Colomey’s description of SWAT officers glamorizing the use of lethal force and ostracizing those who sought to de-escalate conflicts.

Colomey alleges that commanders “are aware of the serious and systemic problems that are linked to the SWAT Mafia’s power, but they have all turned a blind eye to these problems,” and that it has poisoned the entire unit.

The so-called Mafia, the lawsuit says, directs that “promotional positions ... be given to SWAT Mafia associates; control the selection of new officers entering SWAT based on who will kowtow to the SWAT Mafia.”

The elite unit is part of the Metropolitan Division, where three officers have recently been charged with falsifying information from field interviews used to assemble lists of individuals deemed to be gang members. The division was also forced to cut back on its crime suppression operations after a Times investigation found that it disproportionately stopped Black drivers.

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The SWAT accusations from Colomey come just a year after he was featured in a department podcast, “Born in Boston: A SWAT Story,” in which he told of surviving a near-fatal injury to rise to be a SWAT leader. He was riding with a partner, now Deputy Chief Dominic Choi, pursuing an armed suspect when he was hit by a car during a foot chase.

Colomey, a 25-year-old LAPD veteran, has since become a familiar figure at SWAT scenes, often on the bullhorn negotiating with suspects holed up inside buildings.

According to the lawsuit, Colomey’s split with SWAT began after a 2018 investigation of an anonymous complaint about the unit. His attorney said that complaint came after Colomey and alleged members of the SWAT Mafia had squared off over his oversight of a SWAT training school for potential recruits and their assessment of officers.

During that internal affairs investigation, Colomey made accusations against the way SWAT operated. He says his bosses found out about his complaints and retaliated against him.

Josh Rubenstein, the LAPD communications director, said there was an internal affairs investigation into SWAT in 2018, but he would not disclose the details. He said Colomey remains with the Metro Division but is assigned to Los Angeles International Airport.

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According to the lawsuit, one sergeant used an expletive about Colomey’s statements to internal affairs investigators and declared: “We are done with him.”

In September, according to the lawsuit, another boss identified as C. Lee McMillion told a group of SWAT officers: “I have a copy of the Complaint Investigation on my desk, and every time I read it, it raises my blood pressure.”

He added, “We have enemies within this Platoon, and we have enemies who just left the Platoon,” the lawsuit says.

In an email to The Times, McMillion, a three-decade LAPD veteran, said he would respond to the claims through his own court filing and referred further inquiries to Rubenstein.

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The lawsuit alleges that when Colomey tried to file a formal complaint, he met opposition from top commanders, including then Deputy Chief Bob Green.

Green, who retired from the LAPD and now oversees security for the county’s transit agency, declined to comment.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said that he could not comment on the specifics of the allegations in the pending lawsuit, but that they “would be troubling” if true.

He said that he believes in protecting whistleblowers while their claims are investigated, and that he has asked the LAPD’s inspector general’s office to conduct its own review.

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“I’ve learned in this job over time to wait to let the professionals who are impartial investigate,” Garcetti said.

He said the LAPD in recent years has emphasized de-escalation and the preservation of life, including in its training of officers, and he noted fatal shootings by police have declined.

Staff writer Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.


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