By John Schick, Retired California Department of Corrections
In the early nineties, I was working on the Complex Transportation Team. We were responsible for moving inmates from one facility to another inside our prison. We also transported to other local facilities such as county jails (LA, Orange, Feds, etc.), and sometimes upstate if the state bus crews had wheelchair bound inmates their buses
couldn’t accommodate. More importantly for this story, we did transports to federal court downtown for inmates who had pending civil rights lawsuits. We’d slip them into the Jim Clinton suit their attorney provided in an attempt to make them look “civil”, and drive them to court. It was a pain, overall.
One escort in particular was different. We had a black inmate who had filed a civil rights violation lawsuit against Long Beach PD. The year was 1993. No big deal, except the Rodney King jury was in deliberation. No one on our team wanted to go downtown, if you get my drift. Although we were armed, it just wasn’t a desirable place to be. We went anyway.
So, we get to court, and the place was going crazy! Federal, local, and county cops were everywhere! Helicopters were buzzing overhead. I recall seeing TV reporter Henry Alfaro standing there with his minions surrounding him.
We had a time getting a free elevator. FINALLY, we snag one, and as we were going up we came to a stop. Damn! The door swings open and there stands LAPD Officer Lawrence Powell with two other guys. Here we are in street clothes with a black inmate in full restraints between us. I thought to myself, “Ah C’mon!” Powell who was a big guy looked in and said, “I think I have the wrong elevator!” That was damn right!
We got to our court’s floor, and as we were walking down the hall, we see the what to me looked like the entire Long Beach Swat Team lined up on both sides of the hall. Obviously, an intimidation move. The looks we got were as if to say, “You’re involved in this, too!”
So, we settle in court for what seems like hours. The tension was awful. We just wanted to get the hell out of there before the riot we all expected broke out. Five o’clock rolled around, and we hauled butt outta LA.
Not long the chaos started, and our court escort details came to a halt for safety issues. Our SERT teams had to go into LA to extract Parole Office personnel, and sometimes parolees out of the area.
What a time!
Read Thonie Hevron’s books: By Force or Fear, Intent to Hold, and With Malice Aforethought are all available through Amazon. Thonie will be at Copperfield’s Books August 26th, Saturday from 1:30-3:30. Also, she will be at Copperfield’s Santa Rosa Store October 1, 2017, Sunday from 1:30-3:30.
The following story is true. I’ll use first names unless there is a civil rights issue. This story will deal with my experiences during the L.A. Riots. I don’t usually put politics in my stories, but after 35 years of being politically correct in the L.A.P.D. I can’t be quiet anymore. These opinions are mine alone and are in direct contrast to the opinions of the L.A. Times, but I don’t care! We were told to refer to the riots as civil unrest. BS, there was nothing civil about what happened.
In March of 1991, the CHP pursued a speeding car into the San Fernando Valley. The car stopped and the passengers were arrested without incident. The driver, Rodney King, resisted arrest and even charged the officers. L.A.P.D. officers took over the incident because the CHP Officers were placing themselves in danger. The arrest was videotaped and broadcast on all TV the stations for months. The media conveniently omitted the first few seconds which show King resisting arrest. King was described as a black motorist by the media when in fact he was a paroled convict and under the influence. A trial was held in Simi Valley and the officers were acquitted. On the evening of April 29, 1992 the city broke out in riots.
There were two riots that broke out in LA that day. The riots that the media reported and the riots LA cops experienced. One based on a racial issues the other based on multi-racial people who saw an opportunity to get free stuff. Again my opinion.
I was a Senior Lead Officer in Hollywood Division. The Police Department mobilized, which means everyone works 12 hours shifts. I was assigned to A watch 6 A.M. to 6 P.M.
The watch started out slow, a few reports of looting in South Central L.A. As we checked all the Hollywood business districts, we could hear that the looting was spreading north. By noon the looting was sporadic in Hollywood. As officers caught looters and took them to the police station, we had fewer resources to deal with newer looters on the street.
My partner and I caught two white guys throwing rocks at a business window. So much for the race issue, they just wanted free stuff. They ran but we caught them a few blocks away. I was enroute to the station when I heard officers requesting help for widespread looting. I figured these two guys would be plead out to misdemeanor attempt vandalism. I released them and responded to the “help calls”.
Up and down Western Avenue from Hollywood Boulevard to Beverly Boulevard were reports of looting. Some businesses were set on fire. A supervisor requested all available units to respond to Santa Monica and Western Avenue. When we arrived, numerous businesses were on fire, there were thousands of people in the streets, mostly Hispanic. A shoe store was being looted. We formed up into a skirmish line.
Now I’ve had rocks and bottles thrown at me during demonstrations and at rock concerts at the Palladium. This group was throwing shoes from the shoe store on the corner. I just dodged a ladies pump, the officer next to me got hit with a cowboy boot in the shoulder. I’d never been shoed before. We moved the crowd west until we reached St. Andrews. Another few hundred people were gathered to the north. We didn’t have enough officers to protect our flank if we continued west. We had less than a dozen officers against thousands of people. We stood our ground as rioters threw at us whatever was handy. Most of these people were Hispanic, illegal immigrants, and I wonder if they knew who Rodney King was.
At one point I saw a guy in the back ground raise a handgun and fire off a shot in the air. We were told that the Sears store a block away was being looted, our sergeant says we don’t have enough officers. A few minutes later an unmarked police car drives up to me. It was two policemen and the Deputy Chief and Commander from our Bureau. The Commander, Bob, a great guy asked me is this all the officers you have, I reply “yea”. They turned around and left. About two months later, I was given a VHS tape taken by a news crew. The tape shows the back door of Sears. The two policemen and the Commander are chasing away the crowd. The Deputy Chief is standing at the back door, he has a shot gun and is butt stroking looters as they flee Sears. I’ll bet it was hard to carry a TV, run and be hit in the ass with a shot gun. It was the only justice I saw that day. Nothing politically correct, just old fashioned police work, taking care of business.
Another part of that tape shows a man standing outside a drug store on Hollywood Boulevard. He had a handful of shopping bags and was stopping people walking by and giving them a bag, then directing them into the drug store to take whatever they wanted.
My next story will deal with some of humorous incidents that happened during the “RIOTS”. It won’t be the stuff you see on the news or in the official L.A.P.D. documentary.
Police work in the early 70’s was so simple. You saw a crook and you arrested him or her. If they resisted you overcame their resistance with a degree of necessary force. On occasion a citizen witnessed the arrest. Most times the witness stated, “What an asshole” and he was referring to the culprit.
Modern technology has changed police work forever. I was watching one of those car pursuits on TV, you know the ones famous for Southern Calif. Mainstream media is describing the pursuit and how dangerous they are and the fleeing suspect is endangering innocent citizens. The media never mentions that the cops chasing this guy are also risking their lives. I hated car pursuits. Of all the guys I chased only a few went to prison for their crimes.
The bad guy finally crashes and flees on foot. The cops chase him down and wrestle him to the ground. Routine police work for the cops. Wrong, the news media, has videotaped the entire incident. But on the 5 o’clock news, they only show the cops beating the suspect, who, by the way, was a choir boy. If you look at the bystanders they all have cell phones and are taping the arrest.
The complaints come streaming in and the officers are under investigation. The media is now critiquing the officers’ tactics. The poor suspect has obtained a lawyer and is suing the cops, the city and the poor citizen who caused his crash. Six months later, the officers are exonerated, but the media has moved on—they have other fish to fry. Of course, years later a civil jury will award this thug millions of dollars because he was potty trained late. This is nothing new to street cops.
Video cameras have become a very big part of police work. Not all of it bad. Wasn’t it video cameras that helped identify the Boston Marathon Bombers? Now, the end of my career was near the beginning era of the video camera. I didn’t have a cell phone until the 90’s. It didn’t take pictures or videos. Hell, I now have a camera that takes videos but the instructions were on page 78 and I only read to page 36.
Everyone is familiar with the video of the Rodney King arrest, excuse me, the Rodney King “Beating” as the media called it. Well, the media edited that tape to only show the police hitting King with their batons. They showed it over and over but only once did I see the part where King charged the officers. When a jury saw all of the evidence they acquitted the officers. The city broke out in riots.
During the L.A. Riots, numerous news agencies provided the Hollywood Detectives with video tapes of looting. One particular tape showed an entire neighborhood looting the Sears store. Two police cars arrive and the looters were streaming out the back door. Most had stolen loot in their hands. The tape showed a Deputy Chief butt stroking the thieves with a shotgun as they fled with arm-loads of goods. He was from the old school of police work. Made me proud.
The fact of life is that now days, whatever you’re doing as a cop, there’s a chance that someone is watching you with a camera. It’s a thin line between taking care of business and stepping over the line that will cause you to look for a new career, like maybe doing laundry in an orange jail jump suit. More businesses have video cameras both inside and outside their business. Police cars have video cameras in their cars as well as inside the stations. Hell, even parents video tape their babysitters. I’m wondering if I should dress before going to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Some incidents are being shown on You Tube before the officer has finished writing the arrest report.
As I stated before, cameras can be good and bad for police work. There was a Sears store in Hollywood that had video cameras throughout the store. A security guard would sit in the control room and watch for shoplifters. Some of the tapes were of shoplifters stuffing items in their own clothing and a few that really caught my attention.
I watched one pair of crooks. One approached a register to buy a pair of socks. When the cashier opened the register he dropped the money on the floor. When the suspect and the cashier bent down to pick up the money the second suspect grabbed the large bills from the open register. The cashier didn’t even know that the money was taken. The security guard had to chase the second suspect down Santa Monica Blvd and wrestle him to the ground.
Another time Sears was closed and it was the middle of the night. A motion detector alarm kept going off and the doors were all locked. After 2 hours of alarms we called the Sears security department. They let us in and the security agent went to the video room. We had a K-9 officer with his dog. The Sears in Hollywood was 4 floors and had numerous stairways and elevators. The Security agent advised that he would monitor the 4 floors and stairways on cameras while we searched. The suspect was taken into custody hiding among some clothes. He made a complaint against the officers for excessive force and dog bites. The video tape showed the entire arrest and the officers were exonerated.
One of my favorite dispatches was, “See the security officer holding a lewd conduct suspect at Sears.” My curiosity was piqued, lewd conduct in the middle of the day at Sears? I walked up to the security office and the guard told me, “You have got to see this tape.” I sit down and watch as the security camera followed a rather young attractive girl shopping in the clothing department. As she stopped to look at clothes, this guy knelt behind her and sniffs her backside. He pretends to be looking at clothes but after watching him sniff this girl’s backside 6 times. It’s obvious he’s not shopping for clothes. The girl doesn’t notice because he never touches her.
The suspect, I dubbed the “Sniffer,” then goes behind a sock bin and relieves his pent up tension. All this in the middle of the day in one of the busiest Sears stores in America. Only in Hollywood. His lawyer plead him guilty after viewing the video tape.
It’s a nice Saturday and I’m the Watch Commander at Hollywood Division. I’m playing a game of Free Cell on the computer and my desk officer walks up and says, “Hey Sarge, I have this guy at the desk and he wants to see you, he has a video tape.” Oh crap, this is post Rodney King and a cop’s worst nightmare is a video tape. I run through my mind if this is police misconduct, where’s my list of notifications? If I miss one notification, I’ll get an unpaid 2 day vacation.
I take the tape and walk into the Captain’s Office, the only TV/VCR in the station. I hold my breath and hit the play button. The video shows the north side of the police station. I’m intently staring at the screen. I watch for 10 minutes waiting for the cops to appear. They don’t. This citizen was filming rats running from the storm drain to the station trash cans. I counted at least a dozen rats, a problem—yes. My problem—no! I called Police Facilities to handle the rat problem. I’m used to dealing with a different breed of rat. I breathe for the first time in minutes, no days off without pay and I can get back to my Free Cell game.
Police work is harder now days and cops have to be careful what they do and say, or end up as the 5 o’clock breaking news story.
Police work was easier before all this technology.