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Internal LAPD report rules that officer’s training death was an accident

A picture of LAPD Officer Houston Tipping
A picture of LAPD Officer Houston Tipping is shown during his memorial at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
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The death of Los Angeles police officer Houston Tipping during a training exercise last spring was an unforeseeable accident, an internal Los Angeles Police Department inquiry has concluded.

A report on the department’s probe into Tipping’s death was presented to the Los Angeles Police Commission on Tuesday — the first detailed public accounting the LAPD has offered of the May 26 incident.

The department’s investigation found Tipping and the other officers involved in the training session followed standards set by a state agency, Lizabeth Rhodes, director of the LAPD’s Office of Constitutional Policing and Policy, told the civilian Police Commission on Tuesday. It did not uncover any evidence to support an allegation made by Tipping’s mother that other officers were simulating a mob and beat Tipping during the training, Rhodes said.

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Speaking at a virtual meeting of the commission Tuesday, Rhodes referred to Tipping’s death as a “tragic accident” that could not have been prevented.

“This inquiry did not identify anything that if implemented before the accident would have conclusively prevented Officer Tipping’s death,” said one of the slides from Rhodes’ presentation to the Commission.

Still, Rhodes added, the department’s report offered five recommendations “to enhance future trainings,” ranging from providing safety briefings at the beginning of every class to revising protocols for all control and arrest trainings to “clearly articulate instructor and student expectations.”

The findings square with a previously completed autopsy, which found that Tipping suffered a fatal spinal cord injury during the fall and also ruled his death accidental.

“Nothing that we found could have, in my view, prevented this from just what I see as a freak occurrence,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore said at a media briefing later on Tuesday. “However, we are taking some added safeguards to build a greater buffer if you will.”

The incident occurred at the LAPD’s academy campus in Elysian Park during the second-to-last day of a five-day training course for officers assigned to bicycle units.

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The report said that Tipping participated in the training in 2021 and had been invited back this year to serve as an “adjunct instructor.”

According to the Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training, the state agency that oversees training standards, only officers who have completed the required instructor training course should lead classes involving defensive tactics and arrest and control, or ARCON, techniques. Tipping was not certified as an instructor, but a consultant who advised investigators said an officer could serve in a “roleplaying” capacity as Tipping did as long as they did not teach others about tactics for defending themselves or arresting and controlling people, according to the report.

Tipping was the designated aggressor in a scenario meant to teach bicycle officers how to diffuse an encounter with someone who has become combative, the report said. In the exercise officers are taught to defend themselves with strikes and kicks and to use the bicycle to create space between themselves and the suspect.

Tipping donned protective gear consisting of a ballistic vest, pads for his legs, boxing gloves and a mouth guard, while the trainee wore a ballistic vest and empty utility belt, with an imitation firearm and foam baton, the report said. Tipping did not appear to be wearing any headgear.

Rhodes said that the group of officers had gone through at least 10 similar exercises when Tipping stepped in to play the part of the “suspect.”

At one point during the encounter, Tipping “charged” toward the officer, who was not identified in the report, and tried to lift him up. In response, the officer instinctually wrapped his arm around Tipping’s neck, the report said. The two men tumbled to the ground and officers at the scene immediately recognized that something was wrong with Tipping and began to administer CPR, according to Rhodes.

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Rhodes said she didn’t know why Tipping attempted to grab the other officer, saying that the training specifically states “there should be no custodial confinement or anything.” Several officers recalled being told before the exercise that instructors were not to take the trainees to the ground, the report said.

Tipping was taken by ambulance to an area hospital, where he died three days later.

Until the release of the report the department has said little about the incident. The lack of transparency fueled rampant speculation online that officials were trying to keep the facts of the death secret. The allegations from Tipping’s mother added to the speculation of wrongdoing.

Alluding to this “firestorm,” Commissioner Steve Soboroff asked Rhodes on Tuesday whether there was any evidence to support the mother’s claim that Tipping was attacked by multiple officers at the scene.

“We have not seen any evidence out there,” Rhodes responded.

Department officials have said that no video exists of the encounter.

Attorney Bradley Gage, who filed a wrongful death claim on behalf of Tipping’s mother, has publicly questioned the account of the incident offered by authorities. Gage has argued that a laceration to Tipping’s head and other injuries found during the autopsy could not have happened when and how authorities said they did.

“How do you when falling to the ground suffer a broken neck, a head laceration, a head hematoma, three broken ribs and a perforated liver?” Gage said in response to the report. “First of all, that’s different than what they said before; before they said it was a grappling exercise and they had no discussion of a bicycle.”

On Monday, Gage leveled a new allegation during a news conference, suggesting officers who were present at the training were upset with Tipping over his role in an internal investigation.

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Moore dismissed that claim as being “without any foundation.”

“I have no idea where this attorney is coming up with these allegations.”

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