In a commentary published today, a son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy accused Los Angeles police of launching "a cheap bid for attention" this week with a "macabre" display of bloody clothing his father wore the night of his 1968 assassination.
Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck, while stressing his department had not meant to cause anyone pain, responded by saying the clothing items were historical and displayed "in a museum-quality setting."
"I am the son of Robert F. Kennedy, who was murdered in Los Angeles more than 40 years ago," Maxwell Taylor Kennedy wrote in a commentary published by the Los Angeles Times today.
"As a child of a crime victim, I am guaranteed by the state constitution that my family and I will be treated with respect and dignity," he wrote.
"Yet I was horrified to learn earlier this week that the Los Angeles Police Department had included the shirt, tie and jacket my father was wearing when he was assassinated in an exhibition at the California Homicide Investigators Association conference in Las Vegas."
The Kennedy items were part of an exhibit titled, "Behind-the-Scenes: The LAPD Homicide Experience," at the four-day conference that began Tuesday at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.
The items were on display most of Tuesday. Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck said they were removed immediately after he was contacted by Kennedy family members.
Beck discussed the controversy in an interview on KTLA5 this morning, acknowledging that "the family was upset."
But, he said, "I think you have to frame this in a perspective. These are very historical artifacts. They were done in a museum-quality setting. These are certainly not the only clothing items ... on display from the deaths of noted people.
"... Out of a great sense of respect for the family, I took them out. And it was certainly not intended – and that was not the focus of the exhibit – to cause any pain to anybody. It's an educational piece, not only for homicide detectives, but also for the public.
"You know, homicide gets sanitized and glorified, sometimes in [the] entertainment media, and it's important for people to know just how horrific it is."
Maxwell Kennedy wrote that "when I called to express my surprise and disappointment, the chief maintained to me that hanging my dad's bloody shirt from a mannequin in a casino was part of an effort to train detectives.
"Perhaps he believes that, but to me it seems like a cheap bid for attention. It is almost like a traffic cop inviting motorists to slow down and take a good look as they go past a tragedy."
Kennedy, an author and former assistant district attorney who lives in Los Angeles, also called the display "part of a macabre publicity stunt."
"It is almost incomprehensible to imagine what circumstances would have led to a decision to transport these items across state lines to be gawked at by gamblers and tourists," he wrote.
Robert Kennedy was gunned down by Sirhan Sirhan at the Ambassador Hotel on June 5, 1968, moments after declaring victory in the California Democratic presidential primary.