Most LAPD officers who break deadly force policy in shootings avoid serious discipline
Most Los Angeles police officers who were found to have wrongfully opened fire on people in recent years avoided serious punishments or received no discipline at all for their sometimes deadly errors, according to a report by the LAPD’s inspector general.
Of 66 officers who the department’s civilian oversight board determined violated the LAPD’s rules on the use of deadly force between 2015 and 2020, 27 of them — or about 41% — were not disciplined, according to a review by Mark Smith, the LAPD’s independent watchdog. An additional 13 officers received only reprimands, which amount to notations of the misconduct in the officers’ employment records.
Officers who were punished included one who was fired and 20 others who received unpaid suspensions ranging from two days to 55 days. Decisions on discipline for three of the officers are pending.
Often the decision not to discipline officers was made by LAPD Chief Michel Moore or his predecessor, Chief Charlie Beck, who decided that 29 of the 66 officers reviewed in the report needed only to receive additional training and should not be punished. Members of the public filed complaints against many of these officers, but nearly all of those claims ended without any punishment.
The findings also confirmed concerns Mayor Eric Garcetti voiced in January about the department’s complicated system for disciplining officers, which he said often results in stiff penalties supported by police and elected officials being watered down or thrown out altogether.
For example, the report found that six officers who police officials concluded should be fired instead received suspensions handed down by discipline panels that have the final say on punishments in cases of serious misconduct.
Garcetti ordered the report during a January news conference on crime and policing, saying it would provide “a clearer understanding” of whether the LAPD discipline system is “fair” and “just” or needed to be reformed. He cited at the time another inspector general report issued in May that found discipline panels comprised entirely of civilians were more lenient than panels with two LAPD officers and one civilian.
Harrison Wollman, a spokesman for Garcetti, said Friday that the inspector general’s latest report made clear that “there is a great deal of work left to be done” in reforming the process.
“The Mayor will review these findings closely and is committed to engaging in a robust discussion about learning from them after the Police Commission takes up the report next week,” Wollman said.
LAPD Inspector General Smith and Commission President William Briggs declined to comment on the report, citing the commission’s plan to discuss it at a public meeting Tuesday.
Moore declined through a spokesman to comment on the report but has previously said he should be given the authority to fire officers directly because the discipline boards, called boards of rights, are too lenient.
In a statement Friday, the board of directors for the Los Angeles police union said the Police Commission “makes more than its fair share of bad decisions,” and it’s no surprise that independent discipline panels sometimes reach different conclusions than the commission in shooting cases.
“LAPD officers are held accountable through one of the most rigorous, transparent and extensive review processes in the nation,” the union said. “To imply otherwise would be disingenuous.”
The new report found that 66 officers violated the department’s deadly force policy in 45 incidents in which 20 people were killed and 12 wounded. Of 301 rounds fired during those incidents, 228 were ruled out of policy by the Police Commission, the report said.
In one case from 2017, the LAPD’s SWAT team surrounded an alleged burglar in a home and ultimately killed him in a barrage of bullets, some of which were fired from a helicopter. Investigators later determined that some of the bullets that killed 29-year-old Anthony Soderberg were fired after he’d exited the home, rolled off the edge of a patio and dropped into a ravine.
The Police Commission ruled that 12 officers violated deadly force policies in the encounter. Later, a member of the SWAT team, Sgt. Tim Colomey, cited the incident as an example of a “culture of violence” instilled in the unit by a group whose members called themselves the “SWAT mafia” and glorified using deadly force.
However, none of the 12 officers was punished, according to the inspector general’s report. They each opted to appeal their cases directly to discipline panels, which found them all “not guilty” of wrongdoing.
In other cases, discipline panels reduced penalties imposed by the police chief — cutting a 10-day suspension to a five-day suspension for one officer and reducing a five-day suspension to a reprimand for another. Reprimands do not come with any suspended time but remain on an officer’s record and can enhance the likelihood of a more serious punishment in the event of another violation.
The only officer who was fired for violating the department’s deadly force policy during the six-year review period was Salvador Sanchez, according to the report and other police records. Sanchez was off duty and standing in a line to sample sausages at a Costco in Corona in 2019 when he got into a confrontation with a mentally ill man and opened fire The man, 32-year-old Kenneth French, was killed, and his parents were badly wounded in the shooting.
Two officers resigned before panels decided on whether they should be terminated. One had fired a “warning shot” into the ground after getting into a dispute with a group of children while off duty outside his home in 2017, the report said. The other was Clifford Proctor, who was found to have broken the department’s deadly force policy when he fatally shot 29-year-old Brendon Glenn, an unarmed homeless man, in Venice in 2015.
Proctor and his partner were attempting to arrest Glenn when the shooting occurred. Proctor said he saw Glenn reach for his partner’s holster, but video from a nearby surveillance camera showed nothing of the sort and Proctor’s partner said he never saw Glenn’s hand move toward his holster. Beck had recommended Proctor be criminally charged in the case, but prosecutors declined to do so.
An officer who got a 55-day suspension received the penalty after getting drunk, wandering through skid row in the middle of the night and getting into an altercation with a homeless man before shooting the man.
Moore had recommended that officer, Det. Michael Johnson, be fired, as well, but a disciplinary panel decided otherwise.
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