The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office filed dozens of felony charges against three LAPD Metropolitan Division officers suspected of falsely labeling innocent motorists and pedestrians they stopped as gang members.
Braxton Shaw, Michael Coblentz, and Nicholas Martinez were each charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice.
The 59-count criminal complaint also charged Shaw with falsifying 43 field interview cards that allegedly labeled people as gang members, according to a statement from the DA’s office. Coblentz was charged with falsifying seven cards and Martinez two cards.
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If convicted, Shaw could face a maximum sentence of up to 31 years and 8 months in jail; Coblentz faces up to 7 years and 8 months in jail; and Martinez faces up to 4 years and 4 months in jail, the DA’s office said.
“Public trust is the bedrock of community policing and these allegations shake that foundation,” Chief Michel Moore said in a statement. “The actions of these few tarnish the badge we all wear. The Department is committed to continuing this comprehensive investigation in our effort to restore the confidence of the people we protect and serve.”
According to a 59 count criminal complaint, the three were charged with conspiracy, filing false reports, and preparing fraudulent documents for court. It was not immediately clear how many of each of the charges applied to each officer.
NBC4’s I-Team first reported in January that more than a dozen LAPD officers were under investigation for allegedly submitting field interview reports that falsely labeled people they questioned as gang members, data that was later added to a statewide law enforcement database of gang intelligence information called “Cal-Gangs.”
Chief Moore ordered officers last month to stop using the system, and was expected to announce a reorganization of the department that included changes to Metro Division and the size of its staff.
“Based on recent audits and ongoing complaint investigations, the accuracy of the database has been called into question,” Moore wrote in an internal memo obtained by NBC.
“To strengthen community trust and avoid any adverse impact on individuals, particularly in communities of color, the Department has enacted a complete moratorium on the use of the CalGang System," Moore wrote.
CalGangs is managed by the California Department of Justice and the office of the California Attorney General. Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced in February his office would begin to "independently review" LAPD submissions to the database, and said LAPD could potentially lose its access to the system if widespread problems were detected.
"As we learn more, we may need to do more," Becerra said in February. "We can, and will, take further steps as authorized under AB-90, including suspending or revoking LAPD's access to the Cal-Gangs database."
AB-90 was the bill that gave Becerra’s office oversight of the system. The state is also in the process of revising and limiting the criteria for when a person’s profile can be added to the database.
"This kind of behavior is reprehensible, and it undermines the courageous work that our officers do to keep Angelenos safe every day," Mayor Eric Garcetti said Friday in a statement. "I was deeply troubled when these allegations came to light last year. That’s why I suspended all new entries into the CalGangs system, and barred the use of the database for any police investigation research. Any officers found to have violated Angelenos’ trust should face serious consequences."
The LAPD was also expected to announce organizational changes Friday following the false entry investigation and complaints from community groups and activists that Metropolitan Division officers had been pulling over a disproportionate number of Black and Hispanic drivers during crime suppression patrols in South L.A.
The law enforcement sources said those changes could include the removal of large groups of officers, called platoons, from Metro Division and their reassignment to neighborhood police stations or other roles.
"Our expectation is that any officer filling out a police report or field interview card does so with care and accuracy," the Los Angeles Police Protective League's board of director said in a statement. "While we are not privy to all the facts that make-up the District Attorney’s case, the LAPD's national model on police accountability and rigorous internal investigative processes is on full display with regards to this incident. It is our expectation that the Department will continue to investigate this matter fully in a fair and objective manner to determine the facts, ensure that officers are accorded their due process rights and any proven mischaracterizations are corrected. "
An internal memo sent to Metro Division officers that was obtained by NBC4’s I-Team said as of Thursday, July 09, “at this point, it’s simply speculation on the part of everyone.”
Captain LeLand Sands told officers in the memo, “I want you to know that no decisions have been made for the future of Metro.”
At least 20 officers were placed under investigation by the LAPD’s Internal Affairs Group detectives, who were checking whether or not handwritten field interview cards submitted after contacts with the public matched up with recordings from body worn video cameras, especially in cases where the cards reported an individual was a member of a street gang.
Moore said while many of those video comparisons validated the officers’ reports, “…we have also found inaccuracies,” that were in conflict with the physical evidence.
Only one officer suspected in the falsified data investigation had been publicly identified before now. A criminal case against officer Braxton Shaw was submitted to prosecutors early in 2020 and Chief Moore confirmed that the same officer would be sent to an internal administrative trial, called a Board of Rights.
Shaw was investigated in 2016 after his testimony in court appeared to conflict with a video recording from a camera mounted in a patrol car. No charges were filed in that case.
Shaw and some of the other officers under investigation were assigned to the “C-Platoon” of the LAPD’s Metro Division. The unit was rapidly expanded in 2015 and often dispatched to conduct street patrols in areas of South Los Angeles that had experienced spikes in crime.
Multiple law enforcement sources told NBCLA’s I-Team that Metro Division officers had been pressured by their commanders to show that their patrols were productive.
Officers assembled daily statistics about the number of people they stopped and questioned, the number of contacts with gang members, the number of arrests, and other metrics. Each day's statistics was captured for analysis by LAPD executives, and the sources said officers were told, "the more gang contacts the better."
Chief Moore and other LAPD officials have denied there was pressure to produce any particular type of statistics, and Moore has said the motive behind submitting the alleged false reports wasn’t clear.