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Friday, February 25, 2000 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | NEXT: Thirteen Inmates Shot by Guards at California Pelican Bay...
2000-02-25

LAPD Corruption Scandal Widens

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The corruption scandal in the LAPD Ramparts Division grows each day. The latest chapter in the scandal involves the imprisonment and attempted deportation of Alex Sanchez, a Latino neighborhood activist. Sanchez is being held at the federal immigration detention facility in San Pedro. He said his January 21st arrest by Rampart officer Jesus Amezcua came after months of threats and harassment against him and the group, Homies Unidos, a group working to end gang violence. The officer was pursuing the case of a fifteen-year-old accused of a fatal double shooting. Sanchez has information that could clear the youth. [includes rush transcript]

Meanwhile, the disgraced officer who blew the whistle on one of the worst police scandals in the city’s history faced a five-year prison sentence for stealing cocaine. Rafael Perez was scheduled to be sentenced today in Los Angeles County Superior Court under a plea bargain that grants him immunity for other crimes he has admitted to investigators.

Perez was arrested in August 1998 for investigation of stealing eight pounds of cocaine from an evidence room. Seeking leniency, he began telling investigators about alleged misconduct among fellow officers, contending they beat, framed, stole from and shot innocent people in the city’s crime-ridden Rampart area, near downtown.

Twenty officers have been relieved of duty, and forty tainted convictions have been overturned since Perez began talking. Several hundred more cases are under review. The FBI and US attorney’s office have recently joined the Los Angeles Police Department in investigating the scandal. The scandal could cost the city a fortune in potential lawsuits.

Perez’s first trial in December 1998 ended in a hung jury. Last September, he pleaded guilty to eight counts of theft and drug possession. He could have faced up to fourteen years in prison.

Guests:

  • Allen Diamante, lawyer for Alex Sanchez.
  • Alex Sanchez, who is currently being held at the federal immigration detention facility in San Pedro, California.
  • Tom Hayden, California State Senator. He has called for Justice Department intervention in the LAPD scandal.
  • Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California. The ACLU was instrumental in the formation of a Coalition for Police Accountability, consisting of a number of community and human rights groups in the Los Angeles area. Call: 213.977.9500.
  • Diop Kamau, former detective with the Hawthorne and Ventura police departments in California and Executive Director of the Police Complaint Center, a national non-profit organization that provides assistance to victims of police misconduct. Call: 850.894.6819.

Related links:

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

We turn now to the rapidly unfolding scandal that is enveloping the Los Angeles Police Department. Members of the LAPD’s Rampart Division anti-gang unit, working from what they allege was a list of 10,000 purported gang members, colluded with a little-known unit of the Immigration and Naturalization Service to deport at least 160 Latino immigrants and deny others citizenship, this according to federal authorities in the Los Angeles Times. Former Rampart Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums officer — that’s CRASH — Rafael Perez, who’s seeking a lesser sentence on cocaine theft charges, has told investigators that LAPD officers, concerned about citizens’ complaints against them, used the INS to have witnesses to police abuse deported.

Well, today we’re going to look at the case of the LAPD collaborating with the INS in a particular case and then look more broadly at the overall scandal that is unfolding. The latest chapter in the scandal involves the imprisonment and attempted deportation of Alex Sanchez, who is a Latino activist in Los Angeles. He’s being held at the federal immigration detentions facility in San Pedro, California. He said his January 21st arrest by Rampart officer Jesus Amezcua came after months of threats and harassment against him and his group, Homies Unidos, a group working to end gang violence. Meanwhile, the officer was pursuing the case of a fifteen-year-old accused of a fatal double shooting. Sanchez has information that could clear the youth.


We’re joined right now by Allen Diamante. He is the lawyer for Alex Sanchez. Welcome to Democracy Now!

ALLEN DIAMANTE:

Hello.

AMY GOODMAN:

It’s good to have you with us. Are you there?

ALLEN DIAMANTE:

Yes.

AMY GOODMAN:

Can you start off by telling us the story of Alex Sanchez?

ALLEN DIAMANTE:

Well, first of all, Alex Sanchez — I have him on the other line, and I’ll make an attempt to do a conference call in a little bit.

AMY GOODMAN:

Excellent.

ALLEN DIAMANTE:

First of all, Alex Sanchez is an ex-gang member. In fact, he was considered a leader. And he was deported back in '94 back to El Salvador. While he was in El Salvador, his child was born in the United States, and he felt it was incumbent upon him to come back to the United States to father his child. So he came back to the United States and decided to choose a — more of a righteous path of nonviolence and — but at the same time, he still felt, though, he had that fraternity with fellow gang members. And what he did is, he made it a mission of his own to not only improve himself, but to try to improve others that he's always been affiliated with. And that’s how he got involved in Homies Unidos which is an organization that uses a different approach than, let’s say, LAPD, an approach to maintain the confidence and the trust of the youth and try to convert them from a violent lifestyle to a more productive lifestyle.

And while Alex was doing this, he got his GED, continued his education in technical college. Meanwhile, he was very active in the community in converting these youth — in other words, a peacemaker. When there were gang wars, he would get involved as an arbitrator, and he started making a lot of contacts in the community, was recognized for his work, maintained relations with Senator Tom Hayden’s office and other community leaders, and was making a name for himself as an active community organizer.

During this time, he recognized the acts of the LAPD, and what I mean by “acts” is acts of harassment. Personally, he was harassed by several police officers, harassed, attacked. He heard stories from other youth about the harassment that they were suffering. So he voiced this. And in fact, he voiced it to a panel of community leaders. It was taped, recorded, and which case, he mentioned certain officers that would continuously harass him. One name is Jesus Amezcua, a police officer in the Rampart Division. And Amezcua had received several complaints; in fact, I think at one time fifty complaints were filed against him. And he’s still walking the streets today. And in fact, some of the youth spoke out that he’s still harassing them, and he even jokes around about what’s going on right now in the LAPD.

And meanwhile, Alex Sanchez was arrested by Amezcua in mid-January, enforcing an INS warrant for his arrest for unlawful reentry, and which is in violation of Special Order 40, which is, I think, like a twenty-year-old LAPD policy, that police officers aren’t to act like INS officers, where they harass people of color, Latinos, for their papers. And it was in direct violation of the LAPD policy, and he arrested him. And part of the harassment that Alex Sanchez would suffer was that he was threatened that he would get arrested, he would be detained, he would be deported, and this officer, Amezcua, came through with his threat.

Charges were filed against him — criminal charges, federal criminal charges — for unlawful reentry. Several letters were sent to the US attorney’s office in Los Angeles, and the US attorney, in the interest of justice, decided to drop the case. However, INS had reinstated a prior deport order and is intending to go forward with that order. However, he is still detained with INS, because Alex Sanchez has revealed to INS that he has fear to return back to El Salvador, because several gang members have been killed in El Salvador, and community leaders, and he feels that he’ll suffer the same demise.

AMY GOODMAN:

Now, did you say Alex Sanchez is on the line with you?

ALLEN DIAMANTE:

He’s on the other line. I have to call you back to try to conference the call. I’m not sure if I’ll be successful, but I’ll give it a shot.

AMY GOODMAN:

OK, just one second, before you do that, since we might lose you. Now, explain exactly how they ended up arresting him and what the case of the other young man is who’s charged with a double murder, the case that Alex Sanchez was going to be a witness in.

ALLEN DIAMANTE:

OK. Well, to answer the latter part of the question with respect to the murder case, a fourteen-year-old is being charged with murder. Alex Sanchez is a witness in that case, and this is just another reason why we made an argument for INS to not deport him, because he’s a witness in this case. This fourteen-year-old that’s being charged with murder was accused by these Rampart Division officers of the crime. He has an alibi: he was with Alex Sanchez and others at the time.

And this is one of the things that’s going on that now people are speaking out is that INS and LAPD were working together. LAPD officers would arrest certain people, and if they would find out that some of the witnesses that would be used, I guess, to contradict the LAPD officers, those witnesses would be targeted and deported. And all this is coming out right now. The officer — the lawyer handling that murder case went to the district director of INS and asked on behalf of his client that Alex Sanchez be allowed to stay here so he could testify in that case. The case is still pending.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, Allen Diamante, you can hang up and then call us back with Alex Sanchez, but hold on for one minute, because our producer will talk to you and tell you a line to call back on.

And as we wait to hear from you and Alex Sanchez, who is currently being detained by the INS, we’re going to go to two other of our guests, Ramona Ripston and Diop Kamau. Ramona Ripston is executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, instrumental in the formation of a Coalition for Police Accountability, which includes a number of community and human rights groups in the LA area. Diop Kamau, a former detective with the Hawthorne and Ventura police departments in California, and now executive director of the Police Complaint Center.

The stories that are coming out of Los Angeles right now, not unbelievable to people in communities who have been subjected to abuse, but perhaps for people around the country, that this information is coming out. They dealt thousands of dollars in drugs. They shot and beat police — people for fun, sometimes going on what they called "hunts" for unsuspecting victims. They conspired to send innocent people to jail. They celebrated their rampages with all-night parties and awarded each other plaques for every man shot or killed. No, not a common criminal street gang. We’re talking about the Los Angeles Police Department and an anti-gang unit called the CRASH Rampart Division.

Now, because one of their own has flipped, providing fifty hours of testimony to investigators, the corruption scandal, the largest in the history of the Los Angeles Police Department, is now unfolding. And federal authorities are moving in. More FBI investigators are coming in, as well, to investigate what has become a massive national scandal.

Ramona Ripston, can you tell us the latest on what has come out?

RAMONA RIPSTON:

Well, I think in the last few days, nothing particularly new has come out. Up until earlier this week, every day there was more information about the activities of the officers in the CRASH unit. What happened two days ago was that the police chief has called in the FBI. So the federal government is now involved, and on Monday there is a meeting with the state attorney general to see what he can do. The problem with all of that is that they, the FBI, the state attorney general, they’re all interested in the criminality of this CRASH unit. And, of course, we have to get to the bottom of this. We have to know how widely spread this scandal is.

But we really need more than that. It just can’t stop with prosecuting, you know, twenty officers or fifty officers or the entire CRASH unit. It has to go beyond that. The police chief himself has said that for many years, there has been inadequate supervision in this police department. Why nobody was able to pick up what was going on is mind-boggling. The kinds of things that you just mentioned, I mean, in some —- there are other things, for example, the officers had a pad a couple of blocks from the station, outside the division headquarters. And they would take prostitutes there at lunchtime, give them drugs, have sex with them. One man, Mr. Obando, has become a paraplegic, and he wasn’t doing anything. People, who in this area, this Pico-Union area, this area you just heard about, are for the most part -—

AMY GOODMAN:

Are you saying that he was shot by police?

RAMONA RIPSTON:

Yes.

AMY GOODMAN:

Oh.

RAMONA RIPSTON:

And he wasn’t doing anything. Now, this scandal broke last September, and the entire city was quite quiet about it. Nobody seemed to be incensed. It is only in the last few weeks that you feel any outrage on the part of people who live in Los Angeles.

AMY GOODMAN:

Ramona Ripston, we’re going to break for stations to identify themselves. When we come back, Diop Kamau will join us also, former detective from the Hawthorne and Ventura police departments. And we also hope to be joined by Alex Sanchez, the Latino activist in Los Angeles who is currently in a detention facility in San Pedro, California. We’re trying to get State Senator Tom Hayden on the line from Belfast in Northern Ireland, but we haven’t been able to reach him yet, as he calls for the Justice Department intervention into the LAPD scandal. You’re listening to Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN:

You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, the Exception to the Rulers. I’m Amy Goodman. In the last segment of today’s show, we’re going to be talking about Pelican Bay, one of the most high-secure, but not security, not secure prisons in this country, considering what has happened over the last few days. Looks like about fifteen prisoners were shot by guards. Two are critically wounded, one is dead. And we’re going to find out the latest of what the authorities are calling a race riot and what it means.

But now we’re talking about the ever-widening LAPD corruption scandal with Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, and Diop Kamau, Diop Kamau, former detective with the Hawthorne and Ventura police departments.

But we have just learned that we have on the line with us right now Alex Sanchez, who is currently being held at the federal immigration detention facility in San Pedro, California, along with his lawyer, Allen Diamante, so we’ll go to them first, considering we might lose this line.

If you just joined us, we’re talking about the case of a young Latino activist who says that the Rampart Division CRASH officer pursuing a case against a fifteen-year-old accused of a fatal double shooting, attempted to arrange the deportation of Alex Sanchez, whose testimony could clear the youth of murder charges.

Alex Sanchez, welcome to Democracy Now!

ALLEN DIAMANTE:

Well, apparently Alex Sanchez is not on the line. This is Allen Diamante.

ALEX SANCHEZ:

I’m here.

AMY GOODMAN:

Oh, he’s right there. We hear him.

ALLEN DIAMANTE:

Oh, OK, great, great.

AMY GOODMAN:

Alex?

ALEX SANCHEZ:

Yes.

AMY GOODMAN:

Tell us where you are.

ALEX SANCHEZ:

I’m in San Pedro, INS detention center.

AMY GOODMAN:

And now, Allen Diamante, your lawyer, laid it out a bit what has happened to you, but in your own words, can you explain what you’re doing there?

ALEX SANCHEZ:

Well, I’m being held on review of deportation, after being arrested by LAPD officers, a CRASH unit, on an INS warrant.

AMY GOODMAN:

Now, what was the LAPD doing working with the INS?

ALEX SANCHEZ:

Well, those are questions that they refuse to answer. I mean, INS agents already said that LAPD worked on their own in arranging these stakeouts and arresting youth that have been deported before and then turned them in to INS. So the INS went ahead and picked them up from the stations or from the county. In my case, INS, I mean, the LAPD CRASH units picked me up, and they hold me until the INS picked me up.

AMY GOODMAN:

And explain the case that you’re going to testify in, why you feel that the LAPD is trying to have you deported, not to participate in this case?

ALEX SANCHEZ:

Well, after all the scandals with the Rampart CRASH unit of the LAPD, this youth was one of the most active youths in the program that we started here for the youth.

AMY GOODMAN:

And his name?

ALEX SANCHEZ:

His name is Jose Rodriguez. He was fourteen at the time. He’s fifteen now. But he was accused of murder and attempted murder, well, that supposedly had taken place during the time that he was at the program. So, you know, we all decided to — we had to testify on his behalf, because we knew his whereabouts at the time this incident was supposed to have taken place.

AMY GOODMAN:

Now, you’re talking about the program being Arts Expand, which is a theater and poetry workshop of your group Homies Unidos?

ALEX SANCHEZ:

Yes.

AMY GOODMAN:

So, you say that he was there acting in a skit with you at the time that the murder was reported?

ALEX SANCHEZ:

Yes.

AMY GOODMAN:

And you were going to testify to this at his trial?

ALEX SANCHEZ:

Yes, I was. Well, I still am, hopefully.

AMY GOODMAN:

And it was then that you were picked up. Did the LAPD know you were going to testify?

ALEX SANCHEZ:

No, that just marked the beginning of a long harassment period. After they found out that he saw me at the juvenile court supporting the parents, he took it upon himself to initiate harassment against me and the Homies Unidos program. I had a — it has been a series of stops, harassment, pushes and searches that ended up in me being in pain.

AMY GOODMAN:

It’s very interesting — what do you mean “in pain”?

ALEX SANCHEZ:

Well, he used — the searches were really rough, kicking me and my legs wide open 'til they couldn't go no further, and searching me all the way up to my crotch, and actually slamming them.

AMY GOODMAN:

So if you are deported, if you’re taken out of commission from this trial, that would be removing one of the key witnesses for Rodriguez, is that right?

ALEX SANCHEZ:

Yes.

AMY GOODMAN:

That he was at the meeting at Homies Unidos.

ALEX SANCHEZ:

Yes.

AMY GOODMAN:

I’m looking at a piece in the Los Angeles Times that lays out your case, and Anne-Marie O’Connor, the Times staff writer, says the — talking about the INS — federal authorities said they were blindsided by your arrest and mystified by an LAPD news release that said that the INS had been actively looking for Mr. Sanchez.

ALEX SANCHEZ:

The piece right there which states that — well, they knew my whereabouts, INS knew my whereabouts, and so they had been — I guess it had brought to their attention. I was brought to their attention, so they knew of my whereabouts. They could have gone and get me themselves, since they have their own ways of doing their warrants. I mean, the way that this LAPD went about handling this was a form of getting — eliminating me from the streets, since they couldn’t find a criminal way for me to get arrested for.

AMY GOODMAN:

How are people organizing around your case? You have become a major cause celebre in the community, having been taken before you were going to testify.

ALEX SANCHEZ:

Well, it’s something that — it’s been happening for years, you know. We’ve been under attack by this CRASH units and LAPD, overall, in different areas. The fact that the youth — and they’ve been peacemakers, like myself. I’m not the only one that has been under harassed. There have been a series of other organizations under attack by LAPD.

AMY GOODMAN:

Diop Kamau, as you listen to this story of what has happened to this leading Latino activist, who is now speaking to us from the federal immigration detention facility in San Pedro, after his January 21st arrest by a Rampart officer, what is your take on this story? Diop Kamau, by the way, executive director of the Police Complaint Center, who was with us last week, as we began to explore the LAPD scandal. He’s a former detective himself with the Hawthorne and Ventura police departments in California.

DIOP KAMAU:

Well, first of all, it’s no surprise. I was actually contacted more than six years ago by black gang members who reported exactly the same thing. As you may recall, after the uprising following the Rodney King verdict, there was a lot of so-called "organizing" around stop the violence and bringing youth together, and gangs — rival gangs, Bloods and Crips and other so-called gang members, were trying to find some resolution in the community. And they repeatedly called me and said, "The police are intentionally trying to disrupt our talks. They’re harassing folks. Anyone who identifies himself as a leader or a peacemaker is going to be a target.” And so, I was unable to verify these allegations, but I knew that it was going on.

And I think that, in part, this whole issue centers on the organized — in my opinion, organized devaluation of minority youth, both black and brown, through these so-called gang — or units within LAPD and other police departments across the country. There’s been a long collaboration going back to the Dragnet series, where police departments have utilized the media to justify their conduct in the community, in minority communities, and in this case, the CRASH unit — Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums. And as I said last week, what do you expect them to do, when that’s their name? When they organize a government unit against a minority population with the terminology that these folks are going after are street hoodlums, that basically justifies any behavior they might engage in.

Moreover, you have to again look at the history of the LAPD. It’s not just the young Latino gang members who are being attacked. They are attacking day workers, people who are waiting to get jobs. They’ve attacked other folks. And it’s always when they know that it’s black or brown, and particularly when it’s Latino, that the INS threat is a trump card that they’ll play in a minute.

And so, it goes to a mentality within the department that when they approach these folks, these young brothers and sisters are considered second-class citizens. They’ve already been reduced by virtue of this terminology, “gang member.” No one — I mean, I think even — again, I think Ramona Ripston mentioned the lack of outcry around this issue. If these were young white kids under similar circumstances, there would be an uproar across the country. But it’s still as if Los Angeles is sleepwalking through this scandal, because these people who have been violated don’t have any standing in the community.

AMY GOODMAN:

Ramona Ripston, at this point, what are the various community and human rights groups in Los Angeles under your — the Coalition for Police Accountability calling for?

RAMONA RIPSTON:

Well, we want reform. As I started to say before, it’s important that the criminality of the police officers be examined. We need to know how widespread this whole thing is. I believe that it’s not just the CRASH unit in Rampart. I think it’s far beyond Rampart.

But once we know the extent, we cannot permit the police department to say that it was just a few bad apples, that it was twenty police officers, and that everybody else is clean. Now, that doesn’t mean that everybody else is dirty or that all police officers act in this way. I don’t believe that, and I don’t think anybody does. But we need to institute some reform within this police department, because this has been going on for far too long.

Number one, we need another blue ribbon commission outside the department to examine the pattern and practices of this police department, to look at the structure of the police department. The Christopher Commission looked at brutality and looked at racism. We now know that the problems go beyond those two things. So, number one, we’re calling for an outside study of the police. When I say “outside”, I mean done by outsiders. At the moment, there is an internal group, sixty police officers, called a board of inquiry, and they are examining the department, and on March 1st, they’re supposed to tell the community what’s wrong with the department. We don’t believe that anybody, anybody, can look at themselves and give an honest evaluation.

Beyond that, we — there are other reforms we need. If you try to make a complaint about a police officer in Los Angeles, you go to the police department itself. More often, you have to go to the division where the mistreatment took place. We want civilian oversight of complaints. We want people to be able to make the complaint. You know, up until quite recently, it was — you could be sued by a police department if you made a complaint to — about an officer. Fortunately, the ACLU sued and had that law declared unconstitutional. But for that, that was the extent to which people have been discouraged from making complaints about police officers.

Furthermore, we think that if one officer wants to give information about another officer who is breaking the law, that officer should not have to go to the department. It should not be looked at internally. It should be looked at by a civilian body that’s been charged with looking at the police department. And the complaint should be kept confidential, until such time as enough information is developed. And at that point, the complaining police officer’s identity can be told.

We — there’s just a series of reforms. This is an old-style police department. The police chief wants to keep control of this department. He does not want to let anybody in. He does not want to let anybody look at the department. He admits his department is out of control, yet he himself resists, along with the mayor and a majority of the city council, any outside body looking at the department. What are they afraid of?

Everything that you’ve heard this morning, I know to be true. My office is in the Rampart Division. There are good officers in this division. But there are far too many officers out of control in the entire police department. You know, the Christopher Commission came up with a series of reforms. One of the reforms was to have a comprehensive computerized system, where every police officer’s personnel file would be entered. You would know, somebody looking at an officer’s name, you would know how many complaints there have been about that officer. You would know everything about that officer. The police department has resisted it. They even got money from the federal government to begin this approach to keeping files, and they have not set it in place.

AMY GOODMAN:

Ramona Ripston, we have Tom Hayden on the line from Belfast right now in Northern Ireland, who — the state senator has been calling for the Justice Department to intervene in the LAPD scandal.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, State Senator Tom Hayden.

SEN. TOM HAYDEN:

Hi, Amy. How are you?

AMY GOODMAN:

It’s good to be with you. We —

SEN. TOM HAYDEN:

Hi, Ramona.

AMY GOODMAN:

We also have Alex Sanchez on the line, who’s currently being held at the federal immigration detention facility in San Pedro, California, picked up by the LAPD after he was going to — it became clear he would be testifying in a trial of a young man that they were charging with murder, and he was a witness to the fact that he was somewhere else at that time. What are you calling for right now, State Senator Tom Hayden?

SEN. TOM HAYDEN:

First, I’d like to thank you and say hello to Alex, hombre muy valiente. I think that the wheels are now turning. A number of us, civil rights attorneys included, have asked for the Justice Department and Attorney General Lockyer to intervene, because Los Angeles is, like any city, notoriously unable to wash its dirty linen without at least some review and some push.

I want Alex Sanchez released unconditionally by the INS. He is a case, among many, of people who have been railroaded by the CRASH units into the hands of the INS, against city law, against INS policy, and sent out of the country.

The people will say, "Well, Alex is here illegally. So how can you say that?" Well, number one, the US prosecutor for Los Angeles has dropped that charge against Alex, because he doesn’t want to be involved, apparently. Number two, Alex has a family. He has a son. And above all, he has been a reformed individual and a peacemaker who helped save lives and should not be targeted, nor should his organization, Homies Unidos. And number three, the US government, as you know, already allows people illegally in the country to stay if they’re informants for the police. So all we’re asking for is one peacemaker to be allowed to stay, perhaps subject to an annual review, but that’s got to be the first step in renewing any kind of trust here.

AMY GOODMAN:

State Senator Tom Hayden and Alex Sanchez, we have to break for stations to identify themselves. When we come back, I want to ask you what exactly, overall, in terms of this unfolding scandal that is enveloping the police department and all of Los Angeles, could bring down the city budget — now, the mayor, Mayor Riordan, is talking about — talking about using cigarette money from the cigarette settlement to pay for the lawsuits that are expected to be more than $100 million. What exactly is going to be the final result of what we have seen unfold? You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN:

You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. As we look at the ever-unfolding police corruption scandal in Los Angeles, Los Angeles State Senator Tom Hayden on line with us from Belfast, Northern Ireland. What are you doing there, by the way?

SEN. TOM HAYDEN:

Police reform. I go back and forth. I’m an Irish American. And I find it invaluable to have the ability to do comparison of inequality and investment issues and police issues in these two cities which I consider home.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, right now in Los Angeles, we’re talking about a scandal that’s resulted in twenty officers being relieved of duty. Forty tainted convictions have been overturned. Several hundred more cases are under review. Right now, the police officer who flipped, Perez, is going to be sentenced today for — what, cocaine possession?

SEN. TOM HAYDEN:

Sale.

AMY GOODMAN:

Cocaine sale. So, can you tell us, give us an overall picture of where you see this all going?

SEN. TOM HAYDEN:

Well, no one really can be sure, but what’s unique about the current police scandal is that it arises from the uncontrolled war on gangs and the related war on drugs being carried out by secret sort of paramilitary units within the police department, which can’t be limited only to Los Angeles.

But there’s been and can be no civilian oversight that’s meaningful, when the politicians are worried about police endorsements and police expenditures and about a public that is supportive of law and order, but particularly when the CRASH budget is unknown — CRASH is the anti-gang unit — when it’s unknown, when it’s secret, when its lines of authority are beyond civilian analysis.

So it’s not the usual case where the police have pulled over a middle-class black motorist or beaten somebody up, it’s not the brutality model. What you have here is a kind of ongoing war that goes back to the ’70s and ’80s, when this unit was formed. So I think that in addition to an inspector general with teeth and all that, the city has to make a decision to dissolve the secret paramilitary nature of this unit and reincorporate it into the guidelines of the police department. And it has to be more mindful of trying to mediate disputes and create truces and create remedial education and training and the rest of it, in place of what’s been a failed war, and like all failed wars that are secretive, there’s inherent abuses. That’s what’s going on.

AMY GOODMAN:

Can you do anything at the state level with legislation?

SEN. TOM HAYDEN:

It’s somewhat frustrated. The mayor asked for $18 million for the war on gangs, and that was blocked, so the state has marginal funding. The state is in charge of certain training programs, and I’ve been working for years to try to get them to have a broader definition of the problem of at-risk youth or gangs. One of the INS people was quoted in the Times just two days ago, saying that he was disappointed and leaving, because those CRASH people at LAPD are attacking a whole race of people. Those were his words. So we could do more on training.

I’ve asked and met with the whole range of people in the attorney general’s office, who I believe now are actively — they’ve been present, but now they’re going to be very actively present. And apparently, the FBI is now present. So, I’ve just tried to do that as a state senator. And so, much of it has to be handled at the local level.

But as I said, Los Angeles has a hard time with dirty linen. You had the Watts riot in '65, the McCone Commission. You've had five commissions — McCone, Webster, COLTS, Christopher, and then another review of Christopher — involving law enforcement personnel in Los Angeles over the past thirty years. Issues like the code of silence, the secrecy, the abusiveness, the lack of an inspector general with teeth have now been around thirty-five years. So for anybody to believe that Los Angeles alone will clean this up is a mistake. And for anybody to believe that it’s isolated to Los Angeles, and not New York and other cities, is also missing the point. That’s why there ought to be — [line cuts off]

AMY GOODMAN:

Are you still there? Well, that does it for the State Senator Tom Hayden, who happens to be in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and I hope he’s OK.

But we were wrapping up, anyway. I do want to give, though, Alex Sanchez the last word, considering he is in the detention facility in San Pedro. We just have thirty seconds before we move on to Pelican Bay in Northern California on the border of Oregon, where the bloodiest uprising has occurred in the prison’s ten-year history. At least one person is dead right now.

Alex Sanchez, last word on your case or the situation overall in Los Angeles.

ALEX SANCHEZ:

Well, I think that, like Senator Tom Hayden was saying, I think it should be looked into by civilians from the outside, not the — not internal by the LAPD. They’ll just cover up themselves along the way. It’s been happening for years.

I believe that the Perez case and him confessing to all these other crimes that’s been happening in Rampart is just — is just the only reason why we are being heard. Because a police officer came forward and brought all these issues out just to save his neck, it’s the only way that we are being heard.

This is a — this has been happening for years, and I’m just one individual that has been trying to speak out. And by speaking out, I’ve been now targeted by these officers. I testified against them on a panel hearing on police harassment. And I became a target. I’m a witness for a youth that has nothing to do with the crime, and I became a target. And it will happen, if it’s not — it’s not taken — something takes action against them.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, Alex Sanchez, I want to thank you for being with us, again, from the federal immigration detention facility in San Pedro, as well as Alex — as well as his attorney, Allen Diamante, who made it possible for us to do this. Again, it is not departmental policy of the LAPD. It violates departmental policy when an arrest is made by the LAPD specifically for purposes of deportation. The departmental policy is not to cooperate with the INS. And we’ll continue to follow your case, Alex. I also want to thank our other guests: Ramona Ripston of the ACLU of Southern California, with the Coalition for Police Accountability, and Diop Kamau, executive director of the Police Complaint Center.

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