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Report Finds LAPD Cops Rarely Face Discipline for Violating Deadly Force Policy

by Jo Ellen Nott

When cops in L.A. wrongfully use deadly force, they seldom, if ever, receive serious punishments according to a report by the Los Angeles Police Department’s Inspector General. Between 2015 and 2020, sixty-six officers wrongfully used deadly force. Twenty-seven of them were not disciplined and 13 received only a written entry on their employment records. Of the 26 officers who were punished, only one was fired. Others received unpaid suspensions ranging from 2 to 55 days.

Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered the newest report in January 2022 after a May 2021 Inspector General’s report showed that discipline panels made up of civilians were more lenient than panels with two LAPD officers and one civilian. The new report confirmed the mayor’s concerns that stiff penalties supported by police and elected officials are often mitigated by the department’s complicated system for discipling officers.

Of particular concern, for example, are the six officers whom police officials said should have been fired but instead only received suspensions from the discipline panel that makes the final determination in a misconduct hearing.

An officer who was suspended for 55 days received this sanction after getting drunk and wandering through skid row in the middle of the night. He shot a homeless man during an altercation. LAPD Chief Michael Moore recommended that Detective Michael Johnson, the officer in question, be fired, but his disciplinary panel opted for the suspension.

In a particularly egregious case from 2017, 12 SWAT officers opened fire on one alleged burglar after he had exited a home, rolled off a patio, and dropped into a ravine. Anthony Soderberg, 29, was killed in the shower of bullets. One of the officers on the SWAT team said it was an example of the culture of violence that governed the group, glorifying using deadly force. All 12 officers were found not guilty of misconduct after appealing their cases directly to discipline panels known as Boards of Rights.

Salvador Sanchez was the only officer fired for not adhering to the department’s deadly force policy during the six years under review. Sanchez was off-duty and waiting to sample sausages in Costco when he killed a mentally ill 32-year-old man during a confrontation. The parents of Kenneth French were also badly wounded in the shooting. Sanchez will stand trial on manslaughter and assault charges brought by the California Attorney General’s Office.

Mayor Garcetti is committed to finding a path forward with Police Commission President William Briggs and LAPD independent watchdog Mark Smith regarding the report’s findings. LAPD Chief Michael Moore had no comment on the report according to his spokesman but is on record as saying he should be given the authority to fire officers directly because the Boards of Rights are too lenient.

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