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No discipline for officer who killed a 13-year-old
LAPD whitewashes shooting

By Kurt Krueger | January 19, 2007 | Page 2

TWO YEARS after 13-year-old Devon Brown was fatally shot by one of its officers, a Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) disciplinary board secretly decided not to punish the officer.

Meeting behind closed doors, the LAPD Board of Rights determined that Officer Steven Garcia was justified in shooting Brown, an African American youth, after he stole a car and, after a brief pursuit, allegedly backed the vehicle toward the officer. Garcia--who claims his life was threatened, even after stepping out of the way of the car that was moving at 2 miles per hour--fired 10 shots. Seven hit Brown, who died at the scene.

Last June, the city paid $1.5 million to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Brown's family. The department's new decision also rejects an earlier ruling by the civilian Police Commission that the shooting violated department policies and Garcia should be punished.

The commission, appointed by the mayor, acts as the civilian oversight body for the LAPD and has the authority to shape policy, but it cannot discipline officers. Last year, the commission voted to withhold the names of officers involved in shootings and other uses of force--including baton strikes, punches and the use of stun guns. The Brown case was the first in which the commission invoked this new policy.

This decision reflects a change in the way the LAPD metes out discipline. Previously, whenever serious misconduct was alleged, the LAPD heard evidence publicly.

But last summer, the California Supreme Court ruled that police officer personnel documents were not public records, and in response to this ruling, the LAPD closed its disciplinary hearings. As a result, the charges against Garcia were heard in secret, and the explanation for the board's decision was also withheld.

After an uproar in the media, Garcia was compelled to waive his privacy rights and release a transcript explaining the board's decision.

Adding to the absurdity, it was recently revealed that an LAPD captain who voted not to discipline Garcia had warned him on a previous case that one more offense would probably get him fired.

In May 1997, Garcia and his partner chased a car three miles from Koreatown to Echo Park, where a passenger, Francisco Morales, jumped out and was found in some bushes, with his hands raised in surrender. Garcia kicked Morales in the face and handcuffed him. Later, Garcia admitted to his ex-girlfriend that he intentionally kicked Morales in the head and was going to lie to investigators about how the man was injured.

But this history was ignored at the secret hearing--because LAPD rules don't allow an officer's past misconduct to be considered unless the officer is found guilty of an offense. Garcia was found not guilty, so his past was considered irrelevant.

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