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Officer alleges LAPD had quotas, silenced whistleblowers in gang-labeling scandal

An LAPD officer is suing the department, alleging she was targeted as a potential whistleblower.
(Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

An officer in the Los Angeles Police Department’s elite Metropolitan Division has alleged in a new lawsuit that commanders have for years enforced a de facto quota system that rewarded officers who identified and arrested a lot of alleged gang members and punished those who didn’t.

“Minimums had to be met,” Officer Samantha Fiedler alleged in a lawsuit filed against the LAPD and the city of L.A. in California Superior Court this week.

Metro officers who didn’t make a gang or gun arrest or identify gang members on field interview cards for two days were told their “production” wasn’t good enough, she said. Some were reassigned to undesirable administrative jobs.

“This was part of the methodology used to send and enforce the message: Do as we say regarding our demands of arrests and [field interview card] numbers or you are done here,” Fiedler’s lawsuit alleged.

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The allegations echo others in recent months about commanders in the elite unit using quotas to rack up arrests and suppress gang activity, and come amid a growing scandal around the unit’s use of field interview cards as a means of identifying gang affiliates.

In January, The Times revealed that more than a dozen LAPD officers were under investigation after accusations arose that officers were falsifying information on interview cards and accusing people of having gang affiliations without evidence. Such claims can follow a person around for years and negatively affect their employment and housing prospects, advocates say.

The same month, The Times reported that a Metro Division platoon recap sheet showed that officers were measured in 16 categories, including guns, citations and arrests, and that field interviews of gang members were used by the department as a measure of productivity — giving officers an incentive to make stops.

Last month, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey charged Metro officers Braxton Shaw, Michael Coblentz and Nicolas Martinez with conspiracy to obstruct justice, filing false police reports and preparing false documentary evidence. Prosecutors alleged the three officers collectively falsified dozens of cards, at times writing that people admitted to being gang members when footage from their body cameras showed no such admissions or showed the people explicitly denying gang affiliation.

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An attorney for Shaw has said that his client would be cleared of any wrongdoing when the facts come out — and that all of his actions were “based upon directions being provided by department command.”

In the new lawsuit, Fiedler claims she was stripped of her police powers without justification based on fears among commanders that she would expose their role in the gang-labeling scandal.

The eight-year department veteran claimed that Metro commanders got worried after The Times began asking questions and rushed to “control the narrative” by pushing out potential whistleblowers — including her and several other officers.

The commanders, Fiedler claimed, “believed that would be the most effective way to send the message to the entire Metro officer population to be quiet” and “not speak out regarding the potentially illegal policies and practices of pressuring/ordering/requiring officers to increase the statistics of identified gang members and gang and gun arrests.”

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Matthew McNicholas, Fiedler’s attorney, said she had never falsified records, and commanders took away her badge only “to send a message.”

He said he also represents other officers “who had the same thing happen to them,” and who also intend to file one or more lawsuits against the city and LAPD.

Capt. Stacy Spell, an LAPD spokesman, said Thursday that the department could not comment on the pending litigation or the claims therein.

The department has previously denied having arrest quotas but acknowledged tracking arrests and other data as a means of assessing performance.

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“We have to have some way of measuring officers’ performance, and this is how we track it,” LAPD Assistant Chief Horace Frank said this year. “But it doesn’t allow an officer the ability to lie or cheat or provide false documentation.”

Field interview cards have been used for decades to gather intelligence that then populates a database that officers can access to help them with investigations. Information from the cards was also used to add names to the statewide CalGang database until recently, when policymakers in the department halted the practice.

A Times analysis found the Metro Division used such cards more than other parts of the department, filing more than 20% of cards during an 18-month period despite making up about 4% of the force.

In addition to Shaw, Coblentz and Martinez, officials have said that more than 20 officers remain under investigation — but they have not been named.

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Lacey’s office did not respond Thursday to a request for comment on Fiedler’s claims.

McNicholas said that Fiedler “worked minimally” with the three charged officers and that “none of her [field interview] cards are problematic in any way, shape or form.”

Her lawsuit says she has heard nothing from the department since she was ordered home and served a notice in January that she would be downgraded to a lower position in the department, despite the fact that downgrades are supposed to be processed within 30 days.

In her lawsuit, Fiedler claims that problems in Metro go back at least five years, to 2015, when then-LAPD Chief Charlie Beck transferred hundreds of officers into the division without providing what Fiedler felt was adequate training, and commanders started demanding the team produce guns and gang arrests.

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“In fact, this was stated repeatedly in roll calls, briefings and otherwise on a continuous and ongoing basis. It was all about the guns and … their numbers of arrests and [field interview] cards. Minimums had to be met,” Fiedler claimed.

She alleged the pressures to make large numbers of arrests constituted a violation of state law against quotas for officers who make traffic stops.

And she said her treatment by the department reflected a strong desire among officials to block a full accounting of the problems within Metro and what motivated them.

The gang-framing allegations first came to light after a Van Nuys mother received a letter from the LAPD last year saying that her son had been identified as a gang member during a 2018 field interview. She challenged that identification, and officials who reviewed body-camera footage from the incident found inaccuracies.

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Fiedler alleged that “the last thing the department wanted when it was going to be forced to respond to public outrage over a kid being improperly included” in a gang database was a disclosure by Metro officers themselves that “Metro’s command actually had pressured its officers to increase the numbers of gang identifications, as well as arrests and gun seizures, which caused the set of facts that led to the mother’s complaints about her son being wrongly identified as a gang member.”

The department ordering her and her fellow officers home with no explanation, she said, was the department “circling its wagons” to keep them quiet.

Fiedler alleges she has suffered professional damage and lost wages as a result of the incident, and is suing for unspecified damages.

Asked about Fiedler’s claims, the board of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents rank-and-file officers, issued a statement denouncing the department’s history of using quotas — and saying they “truly hope the days of quota policing are over.”

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“Not only are quotas illegal, but they erode the trust that front-line officers build up with the community they serve,” the union board said.


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