California Attorney General Jerry Brown on Tuesday said he'll ask a judge to give him oversight of the Maywood Police Department. He made the comment after he issued a report that said Maywood police are engaged in widespread abuse of the people they're sworn to protect. KPCC's Frank Stoltze reports.
Frank Stoltze: Maywood sits a couple miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. It covers one square mile. Thirty-thousand people call it home. For years, says a state attorney general's report, police officers there routinely have used excessive force, conducted illegal searches, made false arrests, and even engaged in sexual assault.
Assistant Attorney General Louis Verdugo Jr. described one case in which a young man asked an officer for his badge number as the officer questioned his father.
Louis Verdugo Jr.: He was handcuffed, Tasered while handcuffed. When the father tried to intervene as to what is happening to my son, of course he was also assaulted. What then happened, of course, they were both arrested, and as you will note in most of the examples which happened, most of the time they go to court and the case is dismissed.
Stoltze: The report said over a five year period, officers impounded more than 17,000 cars in Maywood and neighboring Cudahy in an apparent attempt to win free trips to Las Vegas from a towing company.
Police consultant Joseph Brann helped the attorney general investigate Maywood police, which employs just 45 officers. He said supervisors often failed to intervene in what the report described as "gross misconduct."
Joseph Brann: There's been a high level of neglect. Many of the officers have not even received the training for their specific roles that they should be receiving.
Stoltze: Frank Hauptmann is chief of the Maywood Police Department.
Chief Frank Hauptmann: We have already caused this change to take place.
Stoltze: Hauptmann arrived at the department a little over a year ago. He said that seven officers have left the department since then, and that he's putting in place new procedures for hiring and training. Maywood at one time allowed the hiring of officers who'd been fired from other departments for criminal conduct.
Hauptmann: This is still an ongoing transformation of how we are going to do our policing. I've brought an entirely new policing philosophy into this community. And that is community-based policing and developing partnerships.
Stoltze: Cynthia Anderson Barker calls Hauptmann a "decent guy." She's a civil rights lawyer who represents 14 people who've sued Maywood.
Cynthia Anderson Barker: I think he's trying to do the right thing, but as the attorney general's report pointed out, there's deep seeded cultural problems with reform, and those problems still exist. The code of silence is an issue – officers not talking and coming forth about misconduct.
Stoltze: One of Barker's clients is 63-year-old Humberto Herrera, who says Maywood police beat him up four years ago.
Stoltze: What do you think of the Maywood police department?
Humberto Herrera: Then, it was a mess. Now, it is better. I thought before they were my enemies. Not no more.
Stoltze: At the same time, he's not convinced the department has rid itself of brutal officers. The police chief refused to say whether any officers suspected of engaging in criminal conduct are still on the force. In an unusual position, City Administrative Officer Paul Philips says he's open to state oversight of the department.
Paul Philips: We are more than willing to cooperate with the attorney general. We don't find those folks to be at all difficult, and their investigation has been highly productive.
Stoltze: Philips took over as Maywood's chief administrator two months ago. He's vowed to change the city's policing practices.