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Editorial: LAPD had better come clean about shocking beating of an unarmed Boyle Heights man

A cellphone video shows shocking images of an April 27, 2020, LAPD beating of a trespassing suspect in Boyle Heights.
A cellphone video shows shocking images of an April 27, 2020, LAPD beating of a trespassing suspect in Boyle Heights.
(LAPD)

Videos depicting police uses of force are always disturbing, but there is something about the now widely circulated images of an LAPD officer beating a man in Boyle Heights late last month that makes jaws drop and fists clench.

The incident was recorded from across the street, but the cellphone pictures are clear and the audio discernible amid dog barks. Two police officers, one male and one female, stand behind a man wearing an athletic jersey. The LAPD later reported that he was a trespassing suspect. The male officer orders the man to put his hands behind his back; the man complies.

And then the male officer takes a swing, delivering a sucker punch to the side of the suspect’s head. And the officer keeps going, one punch after another, with the suspect (or victim) bending over to protect himself but not striking back. The female officer pulls out her radio. The punches stop. The male officer gets his hands around the suspect and is heard to say, “You’re not cooperating” — and he appears to be readying yet another swing. But instead, he says, “You’re going to get hit again.” Other words are exchanged, and then a patrol car arrives and the video ends.

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For the present, we can see only the video recorded by the witness. Only the police know what was recorded on the two officers’ body cameras. The usual caution is that there is much we can’t see and don’t know. What provoked the attack? What did the suspect say? There must be something that explains the shocking number of punches, none of which are returned.

And yet we watch, over and over, at images that just seem damning. No swinging batons, as might be expected when a dangerous suspect has to be subdued. Just the officer’s fists and the lingering impression that he lost his temper.

The LAPD seemed a little bewildered itself. Chief Michel Moore issued a statement noting “incidents reported in the news that are clearly not consistent with the core values of the Los Angeles Police Department” — although the chief didn’t mention the actual incident, and might have been referring to a completely separate and equally shocking one in San Bernardino County in which LAPD Officer Ismael Tamayo was arrested for allegedly shooting a fellow LAPD employee in the presence of a third.

The LAPD said it had begun investigating the beating on April 27, the day it happened, and that may well be, although it’s disappointing that the public statements didn’t come until after the video circulated. Because it did circulate, the department no doubt is well aware that the public is watching, not necessarily patiently, and will demand to know the details of the investigation and the outcome, including any discipline imposed. This is no time for the department to “manage” public anger. It is a time to come clean. And swiftly.


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