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LAPD Chief Charlie Beck responds to wrongful conviction of LA man

John Edward Smith

Rina Palta / KPCC

John Edward Smith, moments after walking out of law enforcement custody for the first time in 19 years. Smith was exonerated of a 1993 murder charge in an L.A. drive-by shooting.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck responded Tuesday to the case of John Edward Smith, a man wrongfully convicted of murder and attempted murder in a 1993 drive-by shooting in the Mid City neighborhood. Smith was exonerated Monday and walked out of Men's Central Jail that evening a free man for the first time in 19 years.

Smith's 1994 conviction was based on a single eyewitness identification. Months after the incident, the second victim of the drive-by, who sustained serious injuries, pegged Smith as the shooter. That witness later recanted his testimony, saying police had pressured him into fingering Smith, who was at that time a member of a street gang.

"I have been briefed on the facts of this case," Beck - who was not chief at the time of the incident - said in a statement. "As a result, I have directed Gerald Chaleff, our Special Assistant for Constitutional Policing and former criminal defense attorney, to form a team to thoroughly investigate the circumstances of this case." 


Chief Beck 'disappointed' with LAPD SWAT officers selling guns

Los Angeles Police Foundation's 10th Annual Fundraising Gala

Toby Canham/Getty Images

Chief Charlie Beck said he'll "at the least" discipline any officers found guilty of misconduct.

Chief Charlie Beck told reporters Tuesday he was "disappointed" when he first heard about members of the LAPD's elite SWAT unit buying and reselling guns at a profit of hundreds of dollars.

"It's an entity in the department that I depend on," Beck said. "It's an entity that this city stakes its life on. I hold them to the highest standards and I don't expect them to do this kind of thing."

Beck was speaking on the heels of a newly launched probe into whether SWAT officers violated any federal weapons laws, city ethics codes or department policy when they bought high-end .45-caliber pistols with a SWAT insignia from a weapons dealer that works with the city, and then sold the guns.

Speaking before the Police Commission Tuesday, LAPD Internal Affairs Commander Richard Webb described an initial investigation into the allegations as "thin," and promised a much more thorough accounting of what happened. He said the person who conducted the initial probe is no longer with the department, though it was not clear why.