LAPD is in the middle of hosting a series of community meetings following three highly publicized use of force incidents in recent weeks. At Tuesday's meeting of the Police Commission, commissioners who've attended such gatherings across the city said that some meetings have been fairly sedate (such as in West L.A.) while others (like at the 77th Street Station in South Central) have given venue to considerable discontent.
Wednesday night's meeting at the Bethel AME Church with gang interventionists from the Ceasefire program, saw an amicable but pointed crowd.
The group has been meeting there nearly every week since its formation almost seven years ago at the funeral for Stanley "Tookie" Williams at Bethel AME.
Ceasefire member Sister Herron said the group prefers to talk about its primary goal, reducing gang violence in L.A.'s most troubled neighborhoods. But the group also feels compelled to take the police department to task on behalf of the people of those neighborhoods when anger flares over use of force.
Particularly, Herron and others present were concerned about the death of Alesia Thomas, a 35-year-old woman who was arrested after dropping her children off at the Southeast station. Police say Thomas resisted arrest and an officer allegedly kicked her. Thomas was also placed in ankle restraints before her breathing turned shallow and she died in the back of the patrol car.
"If you have a mother who turns her children in to the police station, that's a mental health issue right from the very top," Herron said. "And the fact that they went out immediately to affect an arrest—we have to come ask them why."
Police Commissioner Robert Saltzman and Inspector General Alex Bustamante were on hand and explained the process for reviewing incidents like this one. LAPD is also facing accusations of excessive force in two additional incidents. One involved a Venice skateboarder who suffered injuries in a take-down after failing to follow police orders to stop — police say he was skateboarding on the wrong side of the road. The other inolved a woman forcefully arrested after a traffic stop in the Foothill Division. The latter incident provoked internal controversy at LAPD when Chief Charlie Beck demoted a top commander for what he considered an inadequate response.
LAPD Commander Bob Green, soon-to-be deputy chief of the South Bureau, told Wednesday's crowd that LAPD takes accusations of misconduct very seriously, and thanks to past legal settlements, has an extensive process for investigating use of force. Green urged the crowd to put faith in that process and said that the truth of what happened in the Thomas case is sure to come out, as the incident was mostly captured on video.
"In the last couple of decades, this department has done some things to lose trust in the community," Green said. "We now have digital in-car video in every single black and white that rolls out in our streets in Operations South Bureau. In categorical use-of-force incidents and personnel complaints, that tells the story, bad or good."
>Police have not released that video to the public, as the investigation into Thomas's death proceeds. Thomas's family is currently preparing a lawsuit against the department.