More than a dozen LAPD officers are under investigation for allegedly falsifying some data collected during traffic stops in South LA, causing the names of some innocent citizens to be labeled as gang members in police databases, multiple law enforcement sources told NBC4.
LA County prosecutors are already considering criminal charges against one of those officers, Braxton B. Shaw, who's been on administrative leave since the sources said a review of his body-worn-video recordings showed events allegedly inconsistent with his written reports. In 2016 prosecutors decided not to charge him with perjury in an unrelated case, when LAPD Internal Affairs reported Shaw's courtroom testimony conflicted with a recording from his patrol car's dashboard camera, according to a memo from the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.
It is unclear if the other officers under investigation are suspected of filing falsified data themselves or were simply present when known false incidents occurred, one source said. Some of the officers have been stripped of police powers and others have been removed from field assignments, the sources said, who spoke to NBC4 on condition of anonymity.
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Two of the officers initially named in the case were exonerated after detectives reviewed their body worn video.
"Public trust is the foundation of community policing and the LAPD has zero tolerance for any employee that would violate that trust," the LAPD said in a statement in response to the I-Team's inquiry.
"An officer's integrity must be absolute," Chief Michel Moore said in the statement. "There is no place in the Department for any individual who would purposely falsify information on a Department report."
Shaw could not be reached for comment. The union that represents him and the other officers, the LA Police Protective League, said in a statement from its Board of Directors:
"We are aware of reports of discrepancies contained on a limited number of field interview cards that the department is looking into and we have confidence that Chief Moore will oversee a thorough and fair process to determine the facts, and to also ensure that any impacted officer is accorded his or her due process rights," the League said.
A false gang database entry could have an immediate effect on the citizen, according to Sean Garcia-Leys, a senior staff attorney with the Urban Peace Institute, which works on gang intervention issues.
"If an officer believes you are a documented gang member, the officer will treat you differently," he explained.
"You will be subject to more aggressive policing. And when you combine gang allegations with criminal charges, probation orders, or immigration proceedings, being labelled a gang member can get you arrested or deported," he said.
Shaw and some of the other officers under scrutiny are assigned to the Metropolitan Division, which was rapidly expanded in 2015 and dispatched to South LA to help address rising violent crime rates with aggressive street patrols. Shaw was amongst the cadre of officers swept into Metro during the summer of 2015, the sources said.
The street patrols became the subject of complaints in early 2019 from the ACLU and 11 other community groups, after the LA Times reported that data collected in the LAPD's 77th and Southeast Divisions showed African American drivers were stopped, "at a rate more than five times their share of the population," by Metro Division officers. The Times noted the data alone was not proof of racial profiling.
Last week the California Department of Justice issued its annual report on statewide police stops and said its most recent dataset from 2018 showed, "a higher percentage of Black individuals were stopped for reasonable suspicion than any other racial identity group," even though Black motorists represented fewer overall stops than Hispanic and white motorists.
The state Department of Justice began centralizing the collection of stop data several years ago. So far, the state's 8 largest police agencies contribute information including the LAPD and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
LA Mayor Eric Garcetti said last year he was, "deeply concerned," and asked LAPD Chief Michel Moore to find ways to refocus Metro officers efforts. "I have directed the chief of police to prioritize other elements of our comprehensive crime reduction strategy, beyond vehicle stops, until we learn more," Garcetti said in a statement.
The LAPD and the Police Commission's Inspector General were both expected to issue public reports about Metro Division's crime suppression activities and traffic stops and their effectiveness as a crime suppression technique.
The law enforcement sources said prior to the media attention on the traffic stop statistics 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.'
The actions and statements of two LAPD supervisors were said to be under scrutiny, but it was not clear they were part of the group under investigation by Internal Affairs.
In the instances now under review it appeared officers were filing "field interview" cards for these contacts with falsified information that labeled some drivers, passengers, and pedestrians as gang members, when, in fact, they were not, the sources said. The entries on the cards were later added to an LA County and a statewide database of gang members, "Cal-Gangs," potentially leading to future legal problems for those individuals.
One source familiar with the LAPD's Internal Affairs Group investigation said they'd never seen, "such a falsification of…paperwork," as widespread as what's been uncovered in this case. The case has been under investigation for many months, the source said.
The LAPD said late Monday the investigation began when a mother received a letter from the City last year that said her son had been identified as a gang member. The mother reported what she believed was a misidentification to a supervisor at a police station, and three officers were placed under investigation.
As the case progressed additional officers came under scrutiny, and the LAPD said, "given the serious nature of the alleged misconduct, all involved officers have been assigned to inactive duty or removed from the field."