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Three more LAPD officers charged with falsifying information in gang labeling scandal

LAPD headquarters
The Los Angeles Police Department last year launched an investigation into false gang labeling at the elite Metro Division.
(Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

Three more Los Angeles police officers have been criminally charged with falsifying information on field interview cards, pushing the total number of charged officers in the growing gang labeling scandal to six.

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey announced the charges Friday, alleging that the officers — all from the LAPD’s troubled Metropolitan Division — had falsified information used to enter the names of people they had stopped on the street into a statewide gang database.

“In all three cases, the defendants are accused of writing on the card that a person admitted to being a gang member, even though body-worn camera video showed the defendants either never asked the individuals about their gang membership, or the individuals denied gang membership if they were asked,” Lacey’s office said.

Officer Rene Braga is charged with filing a false police report and preparing false documentary evidence in a single case. Officers Raul Uribe and Julio Garcia are each charged with preparing false documentary evidence in a single case.

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The officers could not be reached for comment, and it was not clear if they had attorneys. Their alleged offenses occurred in 2018, according to court records.

A spokesman for Lacey’s office said Friday that prosecutors would review all pending and past cases and convictions involving the three officers — it was not immediately clear how many that was — and then “determine what appropriate steps need to be taken.”

The board of directors for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents rank-and-file officers, called Friday for Lacey and the LAPD to ensure that the “due process rights” of the latest charged officers are protected and that the legal process is “conducted in a fair manner to determine the truth.”

The board also said its expectation “is that any officer filling out a police report or field interview card does so with the utmost care and accuracy” and that the cases brought by Lacey reflect the department’s “rigorous internal investigative processes.”

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Three other LAPD Metro officers were charged by Lacey’s office in July. One of them, Braxton Shaw, stands accused of falsifying information on 43 field interview cards. His attorney has said Shaw did nothing wrong.

An additional 18 officers remain under investigation. Of those, 11 are assigned to their homes, and seven are assigned to desk duties.

The additional charges Friday make the scandal one of the largest to hit the department in decades and renew questions about the Metro Division’s quick ascent and then steady decline in influence within the department over the last five years.

The division was rapidly expanded and heavily relied upon to make traffic stops and confiscate weapons — especially in South L.A. — under a plan to address gun violence that Mayor Eric Garcetti and former LAPD Chief Charlie Beck put into motion in 2015. The number of Metro officers was more than doubled under the plan, and the number of car stops the division’s officers conducted increased from a few thousand a year to more than 63,000 in 2017.

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The work was later questioned and slowed after a 2019 investigation by The Times revealed that Metro officers were stopping Black drivers at a disproportionate rate. In recent months, the division has become a prime target for cuts as the department weighs its options after a $150-million budget reduction and as additional economic pressures mount in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement Friday, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said the department is “committed to continuing our thorough investigation of these troubling actions and have already taken steps to ensure it never happens again.”

He added, “Reverence for the law and respect for people are the pillars of our core values. We will strive to live up to those principles by holding anyone accountable who violates them.”

Alex Comisar, a spokesman for Garcetti, said the charged officers’ alleged conduct is “absolutely unacceptable,” “undermines the public trust in a department that does heroic work to keep Angelenos safe every day” and should result in serious consequences for any officer found guilty.

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He said Garcetti is focused on “putting an ambitious set of reforms into place that will help us re-imagine public safety in Los Angeles.”

The scandal has already spurred officials to halt the department’s use of the state’s CalGang database — a longtime demand of police reform activists who say false gang labels can haunt people for years, hurting their immigration standing and their ability to find employment and housing.

The LAPD launched its investigation into false gang labeling at Metro 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 fought the label, telling an LAPD supervisor that she believed her son had been misidentified. After the supervisor reviewed body-camera footage and found inaccuracies in the officer’s report, the woman’s son was removed from the gang database, and internal affairs began a deeper review.

In the wake of the charges against the first three officers in July, Lacey’s office began dismissing cases that hinged on the testimony of the accused officers, saying prosecutors could no longer rely on their testimony in cases going back years.

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Booking records show that the newly charged officers surrendered Friday at the L.A. city jail at 7 a.m. and were released a few hours later on their own recognizance.

The officers are set to be arraigned in February. Braga faces up to three years and eight months in jail, while Uribe and Garcia each face up to three years.

Field interview cards have been used for decades to gather intelligence in a city beset by gang violence. The information populated a database that officers accessed to help them with investigations. A Times analysis found that Metro used such cards more than other divisions, filing more than 20% of cards during an 18-month period, despite making up about 4% of the force.

Shaw’s credibility previously came into question in 2015, when a prosecutor discovered video from an LAPD patrol car that contradicted testimony Shaw gave about a weapons arrest. The next year, a judge tossed out an unrelated firearm case after prosecutors disclosed their investigation of Shaw.

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After Shaw and officers Michael Coblentz and Nicolas Martinez were charged in July with conspiracy to obstruct justice and multiple counts of filing a false police report and preparing false documentary evidence, Lacey’s office began reviewing hundreds of cases in which the three were involved, going back years. The Times has reported that at least seven cases have been dismissed; others remain under scrutiny.

Last month, L.A. County Public Defender Ricardo Garcia said on Twitter that without more accountability from law enforcement, “racial profiling will continue as a tool for systemic racism that rewards and perpetuates corruption and lies.”

Garcia told The Times that his office’s Law Enforcement Accountability Unit would conduct a review of the officers’ cases.

Shaw, Coblentz and Martinez are set to be arraigned Oct. 13.


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