A still image from surveillance video shows a confrontation between LAPD police officers and Michelle Jordan in the Tujunga area on Aug. 21, 2012.
A San Fernando Valley community leader is rallying behind the LAPD captain who was removed from his command after video -- first reported on NBC4 -- showed officers in his division knocking a woman to the ground during a confrontation after the woman was stopped for talking on her cell phone while driving.
Jesse Torrero, a well-known local radio personality and realtor, sent a letter (PDF) Saturday urging LAPD Chief Beck and other senior LAPD officers to reinstate Capt. Joe Hiltner, who was removed from his command at the Foothill Division last week.
“I am deeply disappointed in the treatment of Captain Joseph Hiltner, Commanding Officer of the Foothill Division Police Department,” Torrero wrote in his letter. “I know his fellow police officers admire and respect him as I have talked to many of them at one time or another and they have expressed that to me. This is a good, moral, ethical, honorable right thinking and fair leader and man.”
LAPD spokesman Andy Smith did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Reached on Saturday, Hiltner declined to comment.
Hiltner was removed from his command after the video of the incident, captured on a Del Taco surveillance camera, shows a patrol car pulling over a car at 11:15 a.m. on Aug. 21 near Foothill Boulevard at Saluda Avenue in the Tujunga area.
The video shows Michelle Jordan, 34, getting out of the car and being handcuffed. After some discussion, perhaps argumentative by Jordan's own account, one of the officers appears to throw her to the pavement. She was thrown to the ground at least once more before being put into the police car and arrested, police said.
Jordan was treated for wounds (pictured, below) to her face, arms and shoulder and booked into jail on suspicion of obstructing an officer, a misdemeanor, police said. She has since bailed out, police said.
One officer was put on paid leave and a second was assigned to non-patrol duties while a use of force investigation was launched into their actions. Hiltner was removed from his command on Wednesday and placed on paid leave.
The department is seeking to downgrade his status.
He would retain the rank of captain, but would receive a pay cut of up to 11 percent, according to a memorandum of understanding between the chief officer’s union and the department. As a Captain 3, the highest-ranking LAPD captain, Hiltner earns in excess of $160,000, according to LAPD salary information posted online.
Document: Jesse Torrero's Letter (PDF)
He goes on to question the role of Hiltner, a 34-year LAPD veteran, in the officers' behavior.
"If you could prove that Captain Hiltner directed them to act as such then yes swift action must take place against him, otherwise if he is to blame for those patrolmen’s decisions, then you are to blame as well," he wrote. "Where does the buck stop?"
In the letter, Torrero describes himself as a resident of the Foothill Division community for more than half a century, and says he has played an active role in improving the area by painting over graffiti, picking up trash, and offering sports programs at local parks to help curb gang activity.
He credits Hiltner with playing a crucial role in partnering with the community in these efforts.
"I have seen his hard work, his caring, his compassion, his leadership, his on and off duty efforts, his real caring," Torrero wrote. "And his ability to bring all the factions of our community together under one cause that is to fight crime, and help each other."
Torrero said he believes the chief made a hasty and political decision because of the high-profile nature of the Foothill Division, the same division where police beat Rodney King 21 years ago.
He also believes the LAPD is looking for a "scapegoat" to take the fall as several other high-profile police incidents, including an in-custody death of a mother of two, a confrontation between police and a skateboarder in Venice that was caught on video, and back-to-back police shootings in Anaheim have focused attention on police conduct.
“I believe (Hiltner’s) being railroaded,” said Torrero, who has been publicly critical of the LAPD in the past. “It’s more of a political move than anything.”
He said the chief has removed the wrong man.
“I have not seen the police force more effective in my community,” he said. “Capt. Hiltner is getting it right.”