A former Los Angeles police sergeant violated city ethics rules when he leaked to the media a recording from his controversial stop of an actress from "Django Unchained" — but should not be fined for doing so, a judge has determined.
In a proposed order signed Friday, administrative law Judge Samuel D. Reyes agreed with city ethics officials that now-retired Sgt. Jim Parker inappropriately shared confidential information — audio from his personal recorder — and created a private advantage for himself "as it protected his reputation against allegations of racism."
Each of the two violations carries a potential fine of up to $5,000. But due to mitigating factors, Reyes wrote, "no actual fine should be imposed."
"Violation of provisions intended to ensure good, fair and honest government is a serious matter," Reyes wrote. "However, the severity of [Parker's] violations is lessened once the facts and circumstances surrounding his actions are taken into account."
The judge pointed to several reasons: The LAPD's policy for using personal tape recorders doesn't specify that the audio is considered confidential. During a two-day hearing last month, several officers testified that they thought such recordings were their own private property. Parker didn't benefit financially from releasing the audio, Reyes wrote, and the LAPD was also an "intended beneficiary" of his actions.
No one questioned whether Parker shared the recording — he's admitted that in interviews with reporters, at a Police Commission meeting and again during the September hearing. Instead, the case hinged on whether that recording was confidential and thus, whether Parker violated ethics rules by making it public.
The Ethics Commission will now review the judge's recommendations and decide whether Parker committed the violations, and if so, whether he should be fined. A spokeswoman for the board declined to comment on the case, citing confidentiality rules.
An attorney representing Parker said that although he was disappointed that Reyes found violations had occurred, he believed the judge made "the right decision" in rejecting the fine.
Attorney Larry Hanna continued to criticize the Ethics Commission, saying the board unfairly went after an officer who leaked the recording to quell accusations of racism by police.
"The money they spent trying to go after him — the staff they put into this, the time they put into this," Hanna said. "They could have used that money to give him a ticker-tape parade for what he did."
Even with the judge's opinion, Parker said he stood by his actions.
"I was looking out for the two officers who were with me, my reputation, the LAPD's reputation and the reputation of the city of L.A.," he said. "I have zero regrets."
The case stems from a headline-grabbing stop Parker made in September 2014, when he responded to a report of a couple having sex in a car parked near a Studio City talent agency. He found actress Daniele Watts and her then-boyfriend, Brian James Lucas, who police say matched the description of the couple involved.
When Parker asked for their identification, police said, Watts refused and walked away. She was handcuffed down the street by two other officers, but released after Lucas handed police her ID.
The story quickly drew national attention after Lucas wrote on Facebook that police acted as though the couple had been engaged in prostitution because he is white and Watts is black.
The LAPD launched an internal investigation. Parker defended his actions and released a 24-minute audio clip of the encounter, captured on the recorder he kept in his pocket.
The recording quieted some of the criticism levied against Parker and the LAPD, and prompted some backlash against the couple's comments. Watts and Lucas later pleaded no contest to disturbing the peace and were ordered to write apology letters to the officers and citizens who reported them.
Parker was accused of insubordination for speaking to the press without the LAPD's permission, he said. He was ordered to attend a disciplinary hearing but retired instead, ending his 26-year career with the department.
In November, the Ethics Commission announced its accusations against Parker.
The case has been closely watched within the LAPD and has prompted concern among union officials, who say they fear officers will now be unfairly targeted by a city commission they know little about.
"To be accused of being a racist — that's probably the worst thing you could be accused of and you're not allowed to go out there and tell your side of the story? It's just wrong," said Craig Lally, the police union's president. "Prior to this incident, nobody ever heard of the Ethics Commission."
In an interview Wednesday, Lucas said that although it was "refreshing and relieving" that the commission had taken action against Parker, he didn't necessarily care whether the former cop was fined. Lucas said he and Watts have moved on, focusing on projects involving her acting and his work as a professional chef.
Still, Lucas said, the couple was grateful for the experience that stemmed from that initial interaction with Parker. It helped strengthen their relationship, he said. The couple married earlier this year.
"I'm just glad to be moving through this, glad to be growing through this," Lucas said. "Daniele and I both feel for Sgt. Parker and we both forgive him and we both feel like hopefully we can all move forward and have an abundant and successful life."
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5:35 p.m. This story was updated with comments from Brian James Lucas, Sgt. Jim Parker and Craig Lally, the president of the union representing police officers. The story was also updated throughout with minor rewriting.