Report casts more doubt on LAPD officials’ rationale for killer’s talk

Rene Enriquez in 2005; the LAPD has been widely criticized for bringing the convicted killer to downtown L.A. for a speaking engagement before a business group in January.
(Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

From the beginning, Los Angeles police justified their decision to bring a convicted murderer serving life in prison to downtown Los Angeles for a speaking engagement by saying the former Mexican Mafia shot-caller provided valuable insight to the police officials in attendance.

But on Friday, a report by the LAPD Police Commission’s watchdog cast doubts on that explanation, as well as other decisions made by L.A. Police Department officials in organizing the private Jan. 28 lecture featuring Rene “Boxer” Enriquez.

The commission’s inspector general concluded that the main point of the event was for Enriquez to speak to about 150 members of an elite group of business executives and that only 14 law enforcement officials attended the talk, which promised attendees would be “amazed, shocked, blown away and maybe even a little scared.”


Subordinates had told LAPD Chief Charlie Beck that the event was a “law enforcement training event,” the report said, even though it was a member of the business group who suggested Enriquez as a possible speaker.

Inspector General Alex Bustamante’s inquiry also questioned if the LAPD had the proper court authority to remove Enriquez from the detention facility where he was being held. The security and planning of the event cost the LAPD $22,000, Bustamante found.

In response to the report, Beck initiated a personnel complaint investigation, the LAPD announced Friday.

A source familiar with the situation said a high-ranking department official would be a focus of the inquiry: Deputy Chief Michael Downing, a well-regarded 32-year LAPD veteran who heads the counter-terrorism and special operations bureau.

Downing declined Friday to comment on the report and investigation. His attorney said only that they were “looking forward to Tuesday,” when Bustamante’s report will be presented to the Police Commission.

The inspector general’s findings are the latest criticism over the department’s handling of Enriquez’s talk, which had already been denounced by police commissioners and Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office.

On Friday, Police Commissioner Robert Saltzman said he was “troubled” by the inspector general’s findings. Commission President Steve Soboroff said the report showed that “mistakes were made,” and commended Beck for taking action. But he said it was problematic for the police to bring Enriquez to downtown L.A. where he could be the target of violence from the gang he betrayed.

“The number of people put in harm’s way by this, that is hugely problematic,” Soboroff said. “This had dozens of things that could have gone wrong, and they didn’t. And I’m very grateful about that.”

Though a convicted murderer, Enriquez, 52, has become a law enforcement darling since leaving the notorious Mexican Mafia prison gang more than a decade ago. He has testified in dozens of criminal cases. He has written books, collaborated on a bestselling biography about his life, and helped teach a class at UC Irvine. He also has spoken at law enforcement conferences and training sessions.

According to Bustamante’s report, members of the elite Young Presidents’ Organization approached the LAPD in early November about reaching Enriquez for a group event. The event was originally intended to showcase several speakers, the report said, but after three meetings between Enriquez and YPO staff — which the LAPD helped arrange — it was determined he would be the only speaker.

The YPO sent its members an invitation promising a “once in a lifetime event,” the report said.

A command-level LAPD official approached Beck on Dec. 1, asking that department resources be allocated for the event, the report said. The event was billed as a “law enforcement training event designed predominantly” for local police chiefs, with YPO “attending as secondary participants.” Beck agreed to the request.

By the end of December, about 150 YPO members had RSVP’d, the report said. The invitations to local police officials were not sent until mid-January, about two weeks before the event was scheduled to take place.

Meanwhile, an advance team of LAPD officers planned multiple possible routes between the detention center where Enriquez was being held and the downtown building where the event took place. They identified safe houses and developed other countermeasures “in case the operation was compromised.”

On the day of the meeting, an LAPD helicopter flew ahead, scanning the primary route. When guests arrived — they weren’t told the location until the day of the event for security reasons — they entered through a metal detector and handed over their cellphones.

Enriquez was “silhouetted behind a screen” as he began his presentation, the report said. When the curtain was lifted, guests saw the convicted killer sharply dressed in a black business suit, his hands and legs shackled in chains.

“After the handcuffs were removed, Enriquez revealed that he was serving two life sentences for murder,” the report said. He then told guests about his life in the prison gang, explaining how it “controlled its members and dealt with its rivals.”

At the end of his presentation, the report said, the audience adjourned for a buffet dinner. Enriquez was led to a couch where guests were allowed to join him, two at a time, for him to sign copies of the biography written about his life. Three LAPD officers stood guard.

At the end of the event, Enriquez was ushered out an alternative exit because local media had learned of the gathering.

That night, Downing told The Times about the event, saying that he had been approached by a member of the YPO and asked whether the LAPD could help the group talk to someone who had experience “building a transnational criminal enterprise.” He said the LAPD then decided to sponsor the event, saying it helped “inform and create awareness” for the local police officials and private-sector guests.

“I think it was interesting for them to listen to something that they’ve never really been exposed to,” he said at the time.

After news of the meeting broke, it was revealed that a state board granted Enriquez parole in September. Gov. Jerry Brown reversed that decision last month, acknowledging the assistance Enriquez had provided law enforcement but ultimately deciding he posed “an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison.”

Less than two weeks after the meeting, on Feb. 11, the LAPD returned Enriquez to state custody.

“We took a look at the situation and decided it would be best for him to be in the custody of the CDCR,” Cmdr. Andrew Smith said, referring to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Times staff writers Richard Winton, Veronica Rocha and Stephen Ceasar contributed to this report.