‘Rough rides’ in Baltimore police cars are ‘screen tests’ in LA

Law-enforcement personel watch from their vehicle as demonstrators walk along a street in east Los Angeles on April 7, 2015. A ride to the police station or jail can involve being thrown around in the back seat of a police car, according to some activists.
Law-enforcement personel watch from their vehicle as demonstrators walk along a street in east Los Angeles on April 7, 2015. A ride to the police station or jail can involve being thrown around in the back seat of a police car, according to some activists. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

Six Baltimore police officers have been charged in the death of Freddie Gray as some question whether cops gave Gray what’s known as a rough ride - a practice some in Los Angeles call a "screen test" in a dark play on Hollywood.

A screen test is when a police officer hits the brakes so hard that suspects fly into the metal mesh that used to separate the front and back seats of patrol cars. Those screens have mostly been replaced with plexiglass.

“I’ve had multiple clients describe this,” said Attorney Dale Galipo, who files police abuse cases.

“The police officer would accelerate, suddenly slam on the breaks and laugh when the un-seatbelted client is tossed around the back seat.” 

It's unclear how often it happens and the practice is condemned by police departments.

“Clearly it's an improper thing to do, even though I’m sure it's happened on occasion,” said former LAPD Captain and police tactics consultant Greg Meyer. He knows the term "screen test” but said he's never seen it happen.

“I’ve definitely heard of the screen tests,” said Pete White, co-director of the LA Community Action Network, a Skid Row group that watchdogs the police. “It's backseat justice. It’s also a bizarre practice of brutality.”

Sometimes, it’s the result of an officer’s frustration with what he or she perceives is an uncooperative suspect, Galipo said.

“Suspects may mouth off, and it sets an officer off,” he said.

The punishment can take different forms, said White. He’s also heard of cops closing the windows and putting the patrol car heater on as high up as possible on hot days.

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