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Guest Commentary

City Attorney's Protection Racket

From Issue: Volume XXII - Number 11
5/30/2014


By Stephen Downing


Over the past few months this column has exposed the fraudulent and illegal practices of the Long Beach Police Officers Union (LBPOA) in its attempts to preserve their years of influence and control over the city attorney’s office. The exposures started with a fraudulent letter sent to the entire Long Beach electorate that, among other distortions, stated:

“We need an experienced, dedicated crime fighter like City Attorney Charlie Parkin helping us keep you safe. Parkin is the only candidate for city attorney with a real record of cracking down on crime, drug dealers, prostitution and fraud.”

We clearly established that Parkin is none of that.

Next we exposed that LBPOA board members had violated the law by conspiring with Parkin to pose for campaign photographs while in uniform, using expensive city equipment at their union headquarters in Signal Hill.

This was followed by revealing the LBPOA’s established pattern of deception upon the electorate by spending thousands of dollars on false, misleading and unethical slate mailers designed to dupe voters who were apt to identify with the POA’s “Crime Fighting” candidate based on party affiliation.

When asked about the election law violations clearly evident in the slate mailers paid for by the LBPOA, their president, Lieutenant Steve James, stated that it was an error, as he did not see a proof of the expensive mailer before it was sent to the printer – or the voters. Our response to that disgraceful reach for credibility was, “Pfttt!”

But, by this time it was becoming clear that the police union was struggling to protect its image with the electorate as a result of these exposures. By April 3, we saw for the first time the unblemished results of the spotlight put on their deceptions.

The union messaging designed to promote Parkin as a crime fighter suddenly disappeared. When asked why the LBPOA had spend $165,000 on Parkin’s candidacy their president, Steve James, stated, “The city attorney position is a critical component of public safety. We believe the city attorney is protecting us while we are protecting the public.”

It was finally out. Parkin was no longer their expert crime fighter, but rather their protector.

But, from what?

The history and culmination of a two-year lawsuit for excessive force this past week provides an excellent example of how the protection racket works and has worked for decades:

On June 19, 2012 the Long Beach drug enforcement unit raided the THC Collective, a medical marijuana dispensary, on suspicion of operating in violation of the city’s medical marijuana ordinance, a citable misdemeanor offense. After the front door was smashed open a security camera captured one officer using both feet to intentionally step on the back and neck of Dorian Brooks, a young African American volunteer clerk, after he was ordered to lay prone on the floor.

Brooks cried out in pain when the officer applied his weight. There was no sound accompanying the video, but Brooks alleged that several officers made many racial slurs toward him, including, “you’re a black drug dealer, you should be used to this.” Brooks had no prior criminal record.

A second officer stepped around Brooks without harming him and in doing so, spotted the security camera. It was clearly a threat. A third officer then used an iron pole to destroy the camera by hacking it off the wall, with the falling debris causing additional injury to Brooks.
What the officers did not know is that the camera recorded over the Internet and not at the location. The video soon went viral.

The full city council viewed it in council session, the police department launched a criminal investigation, Dorian Brooks sued the city, the local media told the story and exposed the video to the public and the city attorney went to work obfuscating the incident and threatening those who tried to bring the scope of its horrors to the attention of the public.

The Long Beach Post first wrote about the incident and City Attorney Robert Shannon retaliated by sending a letter to the publisher demanding that the article be retracted, threatening legal action if the publisher failed to do so.

Shannon was most upset by the fact that the Long Beach Post revealed that one of his own attorney’s was present at the raid, which gave rise to the question that the officer’s willingness to use excessive force and destroy property under the color of authority with a deputy city attorney present, suggested that all of it might be read as the officers belief that the city attorney’s office regards such criminal actions as legal.

In response to the tyrannical actions by the city attorney attempting to stifle free speech, Peter Bibring of the ACLU wrote to Shannon. In his letter he stated:

“As an elected official and an attorney, you have both the responsibility to uphold the constitution’s protections for freedom of speech and the press, and the knowledge necessary to do so. Frivolous threats against small, local organizations do not comport with your obligation to abide by the law, as well as enforce it.”
And, with specific regard to the actions taken by the officers in this case, Bibring, who currently serves as a member of the board recently appointed by the Chief of Police to study use of force in the LBPD, further stated:

“No matter how you look at it, it seems to me to violate the Fifth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment, which bar the deprivation of property without due process of law. For a police officer to take something and smash it is depriving someone of property without due process. […] Cops can’t destroy property. They can confiscate it; they can’t destroy it.”

In my 20 years experience as a police officer, and the expertise I gained as a deputy chief of police with the LAPD supervising misconduct complaints as well as sitting as chair of the department’s use of force board, I concur with Bibring that the property destruction was criminal.

I also concluded, as a result of viewing the video that the assault upon Mr. Brooks was avoidable, intentional and delivered with malice aforethought.

The “protection” of police union members begun by Shannon in this case has continued under his heir apparent and appointed successor, Charles Parkin.

As one example, the Press-Telegram reported just last week the following statements made by the city attorney’s office when responding to questions related to a pending settlement of the Dorian Brooks lawsuit:

“The city continues to maintain that the police officer did not use excessive force and his actions were reasonable” and that, “the camera was destroyed as part of standard procedures during the execution of a search warrant to protect the identities of officers for safety reasons,” positing that, “If there was an organized crime element involved … the officers could be viewed by people with weapons.”

To that, as an experienced law enforcement professional, I say rubbish. The officer’s actions were not reasonable, the use of force was excessive and to raise the idea of an armed threat from “organized crime” is specious.

Police officers make arrests, testify in court, patrol the streets and follow-up on crimes against persons and property countless times while on duty – and are often identified by dangerous people. It goes with the territory.

To rationalize a potential threat from organized crime is hysterical, specious, delusional and something a cowboy cop who needs to be weeded out would proclaim, not a professional police officer or a competent attorney.

In spite of their campaign of denials and obfuscation, the video evidence was strong enough that Parkin settled and recommended that the city pay Brooks $50,000.

On the evening the council was to act upon the settlement recommendation I placed a letter to the mayor and members of the council in the record that stated in part:

I agree that the recommended settlement of $50,000 is a very good deal for the city in light of the brutality, the egregious violations of Mr. Brook’s constitutional rights and the overt destruction of property executed under the color of authority.

However, the city attorney’s letter of transmittal establishes the city’s position that, “The city and the officers deny that any excessive force was used.”

It would be a travesty for this council to let stand the position taken by the city attorney that supports the legitimacy of involved officer’s actions in the eyes of the Long Beach community. To do so would be to denigrate the police department, its leadership and the rank and file professionals whose reputations and hard work have been tainted by those few incompetents who were able to worm their way into the ranks of the police department and remain there because the vested interests of the police union continues to outweigh those of the people.

When the city council took up the matter I attempted to read the letter into the record, but was shut down at the three-minute mark, a council rule imposed by the mayor that had been regularly waived or ignored during earlier council business that evening.

Prior to the vote Parkin once again mislead the council in an outburst proclaiming that, “Mr. Downing is wrong!”

The council voted to approve the settlement and the language of Parkin’s letter: “the city and the officers deny that any excessive force was used.”

The officer’s denial is to be expected. Parkin’s outburst was expected. But, the city council’s actions based upon Parkin’s recommendation were unacceptable.

Once again the city has sent a message to the rank and file police officer that continued impunity by those who should be weeded out will continue to be protected.

There is only one way to bring a stop to this protection racket and that is at the ballot box. We should be suspicious of any and all candidates endorsed by the Long Beach Police Officer’s Association now and in the future.

June 3 is our opportunity to send that message and break the LBPOA’s corrupting grip on City Hall.

Stephen Downing is a Long Beach resident and retired LAPD Deputy Chief of Police.