Lead Story West Edition

Police violence and Rams return are top stories in 2016

Years from now, 2016 will be remembered as the year Donald Trump was elected president and the city and county of Los Angeles finally began to address the homeless problem.

But 2016 also will be remembered in South Los Angeles for several more police shootings, contentious Police Commission meetings, the death of a black woman in a jail cell on Easter Sunday and the year the Rams came back to Southern California.

Those are some of the stories we re-examine in our look back at 2016.

LAPD reports

35 officer shootings

Dozens of officer-involved shootings happened in and around Los Angeles in 2016.

Sheriff’s deputies fatally shot 27-year-old Donnel Thompson Jr. July 28 during a police chase of a carjacking suspect in Compton. The Sheriff’s Department later said Thompson was not involved in the carjacking.

The LAPD faced heat from Black Lives Matter and Lisa Simpson, the grieving mother of 18-year-old Richard Risher, shot and killed by police in what investigators called a “running gun battle” in the Watts Nickerson Gardens public housing complex.

The year proved deadly in Compton as sheriff’s deputies shot and killed 31-year-old Donta Taylor Aug. 25 as he ran from police who stopped to question him. The deputies reported that Taylor had a gun and pointed it at them, but investigators did not find a weapon.

That same day in Compton, FBI agents went to serve a warrant at Mona Martinez’s home for a parolee-at-large, and ended up shooting and killing 31-year-old David Coborubio Jr. His family has retained former Rodney King attorney Steven Lerman in a multimillion dollar lawsuit against the FBI and the Sheriff’s Department.

On Oct. 1, LAPD officers shot and killed 16-year-old Daniel Perez who they say pointed a gun at them. It turned out to be a replica gun, which police said had the orange tip painted black.

On the same day they also shot and killed 18-year-old Carnell Snell after police say they saw him get out of a potentially stolen car with paper plates. He ran from them, and police say he pointed a gun at them. Surveillance video from a nearby strip mall seems to show Snell pulling a gun from his waistband.

On Nov. 28, Newton Division police officers shot and killed 23-year-old Pablo Cartagena, who they suspected of car burglary on Maple Avenue, near 27th Street when they say he ran from them. Police said they found a loaded handgun near Cartagena’s body.

On Dec. 18, another officer-involved shooting left 20-year-old Ryan Joseph dead after police responded to the call of a man with a gun in his waistband in the 6000 block of South Western Avenue. Police said they found a 9mm gun at the scene.

LAPD officials report that in 2016, 35 officer-involved shootings took place and that a suspect was armed with a gun or a replica in 23 incidents.

For both the LAPD and the Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office ultimately reviews the evidence to decide whether criminal laws were broken. 

Commission meetings

remain contentious

Meetings of the Los Angeles Police Commission are full of tension. The five-member body appointed by the mayor acts as a liaison between the Los Angeles Police Department and the community it is tasked to serve and protect.

Some in the black community say the LAPD is not living up to its mission, and they are not shy about making their voices heard. The Black Lives Matter organization may have started after the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012, but members in L.A. put the police department squarely in their sights following the civilian group’s agreement with Police Chief Charlie Beck that officers acted within police policy in the shooting death of female robbery suspect Redel Jones, 30, who police say came at them with a knife.

The shooting happened after police stopped Jones who they say matched the description of the suspect who had robbed a pharmacy near Baldwin Hills in August 2015.

After the July 12 commission ruling on Jones’ death, the Black Lives Matter organization staged a prolonged protest at the police department, demonstrating around the clock for nearly three weeks, walking around City Hall, and chanting “Fire [police chief] Charlie Beck.”

Besides requesting the chief’s dismissal, the group made four other demands of Mayor Eric Garcetti, including working with the City Council to form a reparations policy for those traumatized by police, financial and mental help for victims’ family members, holding police commission meetings after work hours, and calling on the mayor to appoint “real community advocates to key commission seats, rather than to campaign donors and political supporters.”

Since then Black Lives Matter has continued its occupation of police commission meetings on Tuesday mornings. They often disrupt the meetings and at times shut them down completely.

The meetings became especially tense following officer-involved shootings here in L.A. Often group members yell or curse out the commission, despite the commission naming black entertainment lawyer Matt Johnson as president last year, along with the appointment this year of black attorney and former California Coastal Commission member Cynthia McLain-Hill to the civilian body.

From time to time the commission allows for the arrests of some of the activists who refuse to step away from the podium during public comment.

Beck provides regular reports to the commission including one in March that showed Los Angeles police officers used force on members of the public nearly 2,000 times in 2015, including 48 police shootings with 38 people, hit, and 21 people who were fatally shot. The report indicated that more than one-third of the 38 people struck by bullets were mentally ill. Half of the 38 were carrying a gun, according to the report, and 11 officers were injured in officer-involved shootings.

Members of the public did not always trust the police reports, and even commissioner McLain-Hill requested more details as police department critics expressed incredulity that virtually every complaint made by the public about racial profiling by LAPD officers has been deemed unfounded, in the department’s periodic audits and reports on such complaints.

In the fall , the commission adopted a use-of-force policy after traveling to other parts of the country to research successful policing.

Rams fans gathered in the parking lot of the Forum last January after NFL owners voted to allow the Rams to return to Southern California after a 21-year absence. (Photo by Nick Koza)
Rams fans gathered in the parking lot of the Forum last January after NFL owners voted to allow the Rams to return to Southern California after a 21-year absence. (Photo by Nick Koza)

 

Rams to build

Inglewood stadium

It faced worthy challengers, but the city of Inglewood persevered and dove into the end zone as the new home of the Rams after NFL owners voted 30-2 last January to allow the team to move back to Los Angeles.

Inglewood was selected over Carson. Rams owner Stan Kroenke, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Inglewood Mayor James Butts broke ground in November on the upcoming $2.6 billion stadium and surrounding entertainment district expected to open in 2019.

For some icing on the cake, in May the league announced Inglewood would host the Super Bowl in 2021.

“Having the Super Bowl awarded to the city of Inglewood is the exclamation point for the story that has been written for the last five years,” Butts said. “When I took office, the city was six months away from bankruptcy and receiving the Super Bowl takes us from national attention to international notoriety.”

Following the January announcement that the Rams would come to Inglewood, they spread the love throughout Southern California by choosing California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks as their temporary practice site, Oxnard for their off-season team activities, UC Irvine as the home for their summer training camp, and the place they started in 70 years ago, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for their temporary home games.

The team held its first practice and Rams Family Day Aug. 6 at the Coliseum, and defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 28-24, in a pre-season game Aug. 13.

The new Inglewood stadium will be impressive. The massive structure is expected to be the centerpiece of an entertainment and commercial center spanning roughly 300 acres. It will sit on Kroenke’s property, the former home of the Hollywood Park racetrack, with an estimated seating capacity of 80,000, expandable to as much as 100,000 for major events. There will be 275 luxury suites for wealthy ticket holders, and more than 16,000 premium seats also will be available with the entire facility taking up nearly 3 million square feet of usable space.

Contractors said the stadium construction will create more than 3,500 on-site construction jobs and more than 10,000 jobs overall in Inglewood once complete. The area around the stadium is also expected to include a 6,000-seat arena, nearly 1.5 million square feet of retail and office space, 2,500 residential units and possibly a 300-room hotel, along with 25 acres of parks and open space. 

Woman found dead

in jail cell on Easter 

She died in a jail cell on Easter Sunday.

Wakeisha Wilson’s mother has now filed a claim for $35 million in damages against the city of Los Angeles, disputing the city’s account that her daughter killed herself.

Wilson came into contact with police after they received a call that someone was assaulting a patient at a medical facility in the 1300 block of Hope Street. Authorities arrested Wilson and took her to the Metropolitan Detention Center, where she was booked on suspicion of felony battery, police said.

The next day she called her mother to wish her a happy Easter, and promised to call again later in the day as the family gathered to wish her mom a happy birthday. But the call never came. Police said Wilson was found hanging from a piece of cloth tied to a phone cord minutes after she hung up the phone.

An attorney for the family said Wilson had been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, but her family members said she had been arrested before, and that this arrest would not have caused her enough distress to take her own life.

Since Wilson’s death, her family members have shown up faithfully to police commission meetings, chanting, “Say her name! Wakeisha Wilson” along with members of the Black Lives Matter organization as they look for answers.

The group cites the department’s response to Wilson’s death as one of the reasons Police Chief Charlie Beck should be fired. Wilson’s mother Lisa Hines regularly talks to the commission during public comment, at one point saying, “I miss my baby. I’ll never get her back.”

In the lawsuit she filed, Hines said her daughter became involved in an altercation with a jailer or police officer related to moving her to a different cell. In June, the LAPD claimed Wilson was properly monitored, based on video footage taken from the jail.

Wilson’s family questioned the account of suicide, citing the fact that she planned to call again later in the day. Still, the claim accuses the city of failing to properly train jailers and police to detect mental health conditions and take them into account.

Hines said Wilson failed to show up at a court hearing following the phone call she received on Easter Sunday. Jailers told her they didn’t know where she was. A watch commander finally gave her a phone number she called, only to discover the coroner’s office on the other end.

“If this was your child, and you were looking for her, and somebody gave you a number to call … and when you do call the number, the coroner’s office answers, what would be going on in your body, mind and soul?” she said.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, head of the National Action Network, flew out from New York in February to lead a rally and protest march regarding the lack of diversity in this year’s Academy Awards nomination in the best actor and actress categories and the best supporting actors and actress categories. The Academy later added new members to improve its diversity. (Courtesy photo)
The Rev. Al Sharpton, head of the National Action Network, flew out from New York in February to lead a rally and protest march regarding the lack of diversity in this year’s Academy Awards nomination in the best actor and actress categories and the best supporting actors and actress categories. The Academy later added new members to improve its diversity.
(Courtesy photo)

Diversity becomes

issue at Oscars

Race became a hot-button issue at the 2016 Academy Awards due to the lack of diversity in choosing Oscar nominees.

#Oscarssowhite trended on Twitter when the announcements were made in January and many moviegoers realized that some favorite black actors and actresses would not get nominated for their work. Notably, actor Will Smith was passed over for best actor in “Concussion,” and Idris Elba for “Beasts of No Nation.”

The best picture nomination proved elusive for some movies with black casts like “Straight Outta Compton.”

The lack of diversity in 2016 was a particularly stinging rebuke to some after the same happened in 2015 when “Selma” about the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was passed over for best picture.

Academy Awards host Chris Rock faced heavy pressure as celebrity colleagues including Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith and Spike Lee blasted the awards and staged a boycott of the Feb. 28 event.

Civil rights activists also piled on, including those from the L.A. branch of the National Action Network started by the Rev. Al Sharpton. Local NAN political director Najee Ali who helped organized a protest at Sunset Boulevard and Highland Avenue, the drop-off point for limousines carrying celebrity guests on the day of the Oscars, all but accused Rock of shucking and jiving while blacks were dismissed as integral parts of the entertainment industry.

“Chris Rock hosting an all-white Oscar’s would be insulting and demeaning,” Ali said. “It sends the message African-Americans are good enough to be presenters and entertain us, but not worthy enough to be nominated for awards. Your job is to keep us laughing as whites only will receive Oscars tonight,” Ali added.

Rock responded during his opening monologue. “I thought about quitting. I thought about it real hard,” he said. “But they’re not going to cancel the Oscars because I quit. And the last thing I need is to lose another job to Kevin Hart.”

In response to the firestorm of criticism, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first African-American president of the The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences responded with plans to diversify the Academy Awards. The goal was to double the number of women and minority members by 2020. Also members would lose their voting privileges if they become inactive in the industry after 10 years, as an effort to make room for fresh faces.

After the countywide homeless count last January revealed that the number of homeless had grown 5.7 percent in the previous year, officials in both the county and city of Los Angeles began to plan ways to handle the homeless crisis. (File photo)
After the countywide homeless count last January revealed that the number of homeless had grown 5.7 percent in the previous year, officials in both the county and city of Los Angeles began to plan ways to handle the homeless crisis. (File photo)

Officials address

homeless issues

Last January, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority conducted the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, an annual attempt to assess how many homeless people live in the county.

In early May, the numbers were released: homelessness had increased in the county by 5.7 percent from 2015.

There were 46,874 homeless people living on the street on any given night in the county, the report said, spurring elected officials at City Hall and in the county Hall of Administration into action.

The Los Angeles City Council eventually placed Measure HHH on the November ballot, a measure that would authorize the city to issue up to $1.2 billion in bonds to buy, build or remodel facilities to provide housing and services for the homeless.

It passed easily with more than 76 percent of the voters in favor of the measure.

Things weren’t as simple in the county.

In July, the county Board of Supervisors voted to place a measure on the November ballot that would tax marijuana sales to fund the fight against homelessness. A week later, the board rescinded the its action, after Supervisor Sheila Kuehl backed away from the tax proposal, saying she was concerned by a lack of support among homeless advocates.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas opposed the marijuana tax proposal after he couldn’t get support for his own proposal for a quarter-cent general sales tax increase to fund homeless programs to get homeless people off the street.

Ridley-Thomas also failed to convince Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state emergency on homelessness to free up additional funding.

By the end of the year, the Board of Supervisors reconsidered Ridley-Thomas’ sales tax proposal and voted to hold a special countywide election in March to consider the quarter-cent sales tax increase.

The March election will coincide with municipal elections in Los Angeles, West Hollywood and several other cities.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate in November, becoming the second African-American female to serve in the Senate. Harris replaces the retiring Barbara Boxer. (File photo)
California Attorney General Kamala Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate in November, becoming the second African-American female to serve in the Senate. Harris replaces the retiring Barbara Boxer. (File photo)

Kamala Harris

elected to Senate 

While Donald Trump was winning the national election, California Attorney General Kamala Harris was making history in California. She was elected to the U.S. Senate, replacing the retiring Barbara Boxer.

Harris becomes the second black woman to serve in the Senate, following in the steps of Carolyn Moseley Braun, who represented Illinois in the Senate from 1993 to 1999.

More closer to home, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors became a woman-dominated board with the election of Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger giving women a super majority of 4-1. Hahn replaced 20-year incumbent Don Knabe in the Fourth District. Barger replaced her boss, Fifth District Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who had held office for more than 30 years.

Antonovich and Knabe were forced out of office by the county term limits law.

Pot legalization

draws concerns

A month before voters in the state approved the recreational use of marijuana for adults over 21, a town hall meeting convened in Boyle Heights addressing the dangers that increased exposure to marijuana could pose to young people.

The group Rethinking Access to Marijuana (RAM) collaborated with Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar to host the meeting.

RAM is composed of nonprofit agencies and clarifies that it does not take a stand either for or against legalization but seeks to educate the public and limit youth access to the drug.

Catherine Branson, a member of the Prevention Fellowship Program run by the Department of Public Health, many California cities are still “vague” about the guidelines they would set.

She did say that if Proposition 64 passes, marijuana should be “strictly regulated up front, because then it’s impossible to go back.”

Austin Fernald, a Los Angeles police officer, said that when he has asked heroin and meth addicts what was the first substance they abused, 90 percent of them said marijuana.

“I think we may be opening a Pandora’s box by legalizing it,” he said.

The panel said that since the drug is used medicinally, its perception of harm is falling; while at the same time, advanced technology is allowing for a detailed picture of its damaging affects on the brain.

“It makes me concerned that we’re rushing into something without a full understanding of the implications,” Branson said.

Many area cities also felt concerns. Norwalk established a moratorium on any permits for the sale or cultivation of marijuana within its limits and several other cities began exploring their options on controlling the use of marijuana within their boundaries.

Other issues remain to be resolved by the state Legislature this year.

Accompanied by lawyers, Bill Cosby walks into a courtroom earlier this year for one of the many court hearings he attended. Cosby is facing more than 40 accusations that he sexually women after drugging them. (Courtesy photo)
Accompanied by lawyers, Bill Cosby walks into a courtroom earlier this year for one of the many court hearings he attended. Cosby is facing more than 40 accusations that he sexually women after drugging them. (Courtesy photo)

Bill Cosby faces

assault accusations

He was known as America’s dad for decades, but in the last year Bill Cosby has spent much of his time in court defending himself against sexual assault allegations by dozens of women.

In mid-December, a judge began contemplating whether testimony from 13 of the women can be included when the entertainer goes on trial in 2017 for a criminal case brought forward by Andrea Constand, a former Temple University employee.

Constand filed a police report alleging that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her in his Pennsylvania mansion in January 2004. A prosecutor declined to take the case at the time, citing lack of evidence.

But 11 years later, a judge allowed portions of a deposition Cosby gave during Constand’s civil case to be made public, and authorities took the case to court after dozens of other women came forward with their own accusations against the entertainer. During the deposition, Cosby admitted to drugging women with quaaludes in order to have sex with them.

The pre-trial hearings have been contentious at times. A prosecutor and defending attorney yelled at each other during a December hearing over the defense’s desire to make public the names of the 13 other accusers in this case. The judge ultimately decided to allow 11 of the women to be identified.

Celebrity defense attorney Gloria Allred and her daughter Lisa Bloom represent nearly 40 of the women who have accused Cosby of sexual assault. Some of the allegations have not gone to court because prosecutors cite “insufficient evidence” and “statute of limitations.”

Other lawsuits, including that of actress and model Janice Dickinson, who is accusing Cosby of drugging and raping her in 1982, and defaming her when he called her a liar, may still go to court in 2017.

A judge has allowed another suit, filed by actress Judy Huth to move forward. Huth accused Cosby of sexual assault at the Playboy Mansion in 1974 when she was 15 years old.

Cosby has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. 

Lonnie Franklin was sentenced to death after being found guilty in the 'Grim Sleeper' killings. (File photo)
Lonnie Franklin was sentenced to death after being found guilty in the ‘Grim Sleeper’ killings. (File photo)

‘Grim Sleeper’

sentenced to death

He killed black women and threw their bodies away in trash bins and alleys throughout South Los Angeles, and for that the man known as the “Grim Sleeper” was tried in May and sentenced to death in August.

Police arrested Lonnie David Franklin Jr. in 2010 after DNA evidence connected him to the deaths of 10 black women, many of whom were prostitutes and drug abusers. But the nine women in their 20s and one 15-year-old girl were someone’s mother, sister, daughter, friend and many of their loved ones showed up consistently to court during the prosecution of Franklin.

One of his surviving victims pointed out the 63-year-old former police garage attendant and sanitation worker in court as her assailant. Enietra Washington testified that Franklin shot her once in the chest, took a Polaroid-type picture of her, and then pushed her out of a moving car in November 1988.

Washington’s testimony, skin samples from victims’ fingernails and a .25 caliber handgun were all included as evidence to convict Franklin. He was given the Grim Sleeper nickname because of the 13-year gap between some of his killings, which took place between 1985 and 2007. Investigators said Franklin shot or strangled his victims. They found pictures and videos of more than 180 women when they raided his South Los Angeles home in 2010.

His defense attorneys tried to pin the murders on a “mystery man” with a “mystery gun” and “mystery DNA,” but jurors chose instead to believe prosecutors, who called Franklin a “completely irredeemable psychopathic, sadistic serial killer who showed absolutely no remorse,” and “who takes joy in inflicting pain on women and killing them.”

After the death sentence was handed down, Porter Alexander Jr., the father of 18-year-old victim Alicia Alexander said, “We got what we came to get… a just verdict.”

Franklin’s lawyers plan to appeal.