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Judge dismisses 15 cases involving LAPD officers implicated in gang-framing scandal

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Sergio C. Tapia II
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Sergio C. Tapia II on Friday dismissed the cases and vacated the convictions of several defendants.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

A clerk handed the judge a thick stack of folders that contained the felony cases of nine men, convicted of different crimes but having one thing in common: Their guilt rested on the word of three Los Angeles police officers now accused of falsifying records that mislabeled people as gang members.

At the request of Head Deputy Dist. Atty. Jonlyn Callahan, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Sergio C. Tapia II dismissed the nine cases and vacated the defendants’ convictions Friday morning, saying he was doing so “in the interests of justice.” The judge on Friday dismissed an additional six misdemeanor cases brought by the L.A. city attorney’s office.

Callahan told the court that two LAPD officers, Braxton Shaw and Michael Coblentz, worked eight of the nine dismissed felony cases.
A third officer, Raul Uribe, was a witness in the case of Vincent Fierro, who pleaded no contest in 2018 to carrying a concealed firearm and was sentenced to one day in jail and three years of probation.

Shaw, Coblentz, Uribe and three more LAPD officers, all deployed with the department’s Metropolitan Division, have been charged by the district attorney’s office with falsifying field interview cards, an intelligence-gathering tool that the LAPD and other agencies use to identify and monitor suspected gang members. The officers, who have pleaded not guilty, are accused of misrepresenting people they’d stopped as admitted gang members, despite their body-camera footage showing no such admissions or explicit denials of gang affiliations.

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In light of the officers’ alleged dishonesty, county prosecutors have been reviewing felony cases from the start of the officers’ careers. For Shaw, that is 206 cases since February 2009, according to district attorney records obtained by The Times; for Coblentz, 296 cases since July 2002; and for a codefendant, Officer Nicolas Martinez, 122 cases since September 2010.

So far, judges have dismissed 24 cases worked by the charged officers, according to county and city prosecutors. Hundreds more are under review after the corruption allegations threw into doubt the legitimacy of their work. The district attorney’s office has said it was sending letters to more than 750 defendants and their attorneys in cases that listed one or more of the charged officers as potential witnesses, urging them to reach out if they believed the officers’ involvement had prejudiced their case.

The convictions that were vacated Friday had resulted in punishments ranging from a year of probation for a man who pleaded no contest to reckless driving, to three years in prison for several men who pleaded no contest to firearms offenses.

One defendant, Adrian Daniel, was sentenced to three years of probation in December 2019 after pleading no contest to illegal possession of ammunition. After hearing a motion from the city attorney’s office, the judge vacated Daniel’s misdemeanor conviction. Considering that the officer who arrested him, Coblentz, has been accused of dishonesty and charged with a felony, city prosecutors said in a motion that after “an evaluation of the roles that one or more of the officers played in the instant case, the People have concluded that it serves the interest of justice to dismiss the case.”

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Shaw and Coblentz had worked together on six of the nine felony cases dismissed on Friday, said Diana Teran, a law enforcement accountability advisor to the L.A. County public defender’s office, who appeared in court on behalf of the defendants. In two of the discharged cases, Shaw was partnered with officers who haven’t been charged with crimes.

Teran said the district and city attorney’s offices have so far declined to move to dismiss additional cases handled by a charged officer who was partnered with an uncharged colleague, with prosecutors arguing they could carry the case on the second officer’s testimony. Teran said she has been denied information on the identities of additional officers under investigation.

A dozen more officers in the LAPD’s Metropolitan Division remain under investigation for potentially falsifying field interview cards and entering incorrect information in an effort to boost stop statistics. The revelations have renewed questions about the Metropolitan Division’s quick ascent, then steady decline in influence within the department in the last five years.

The division was rapidly expanded and its officers were expected 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 division’s ranks more than doubled under the plan, and the number of car stops its officers conducted increased from a few thousand a year to more than 63,000 in 2017. The work came under question after a 2019 investigation by The Times showed that Metro officers were stopping Black motorists at a disproportionate rate.

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