The number is staggering and horrendous. Fifteen hundred. That is the number of times deadly force has been used by the Los Angeles Police Department and L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies in the past two decades.
To put this in even more deadly and horrific perspective, sheriff’s deputies and LAPD officers have shot more people than police in all the European countries combined during that period. During these two decades, the LAPD and the Sheriff’s Department have consistently averaged between 50 and 100 shootings a year.
To further put it in deadly perspective, Syria, which is the most war-racked country on the planet, did not have this number of police only shootings during this period.
It’s even uglier. Thirty sheriff’s deputies were involved in three or more shootings. Several LAPD officers had the same record for frequent gunplay.
Many of the shootings were of civilians and were dubious and questionable. Some of them were even ruled out of policy by the Los Angeles Police Commission. In at least one case, a recommendation was made by a police chief for charges to be brought against an officer involved in one particularly outrageous shooting.
Yet, neither he, nor any other of the shooters has been prosecuted by a Los Angeles County district attorney during these years.
Jackie Lacey is the most conspicuous of these turn-a-blind-eye to the dubious shooting district attorneys. Her non-action on the shootings was rammed back into public focus when Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison wasted no time in slapping tough charges against the four former Minneapolis police officers who either choked or aided and abetted the choking death of George Floyd.
It was further rammed into focus when Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, like Ellison, wasted no time in slapping murder charges on one former Atlanta cop and other charges on his partner in their slaying of Rayshard Brooks.
It took massive protests after Floyd’s murder, loud calls for Lacey’s resignation, and a sharp attack by her challenger George Gascon for her do nothing stance on police violence cases, for Lacey to bring charges against LAPD officer Frank Hernandez who made like Mike Tyson and pummeled a homeless man in Boyle Heights.
Keep in mind that Hernandez had been involved in three other shootings and Lacey did not file any charges against him.
Lacey has justifiably been on the hot seat for the past few years because of her dogged refusal to bend on police abuse cases. But now the hundreds of dubious shooting cases by sheriff’s deputies and LAPD officers now more than ever scream for a second and even third look.
Lacey, like other district attorneys, has the authority to reopen any case she chooses. If she did, it would be the first time a district attorney has reexamined closed cases when circumstances change. The change has been the exposure of many police agencies for lying, covering up, and doctoring facts in dubious shootings to ensure that the officers involved avoid any in-depth scrutiny of their actions.
By any account, Lacey has been a huge disaster in this one area that above all has been one of the most painful, sensitive and contentious. That is the issue of police abuse and the overuse of deadly force by officers. Lacey has been unshakeable on this, even when police officials request or indicate they will not oppose a prosecution.
Lacey enjoys a cozy relationship with L.A. politicians and police brass, rakes in lots of campaign dollars from the police unions, and apparently sees herself as the top legal bulwark against violent crime in Los Angeles County.
What makes her unyielding stance even more infuriating is that many district attorneys around the country have shown that they can be tough on crime, yet still hold cops accountable when they break the law. Lacey instead has turned her office into a zero-sum game with her hard-line stance on crime versus reform.
The result: her office has become a virtual war zone, with groups such as Black Lives Matter and other police and criminal justice reform groups practically laying siege to her office. They denounce her for her refusal to prosecute cops who overuse deadly force. Her refusal has even prompted a call from civil rights groups for a recall campaign against her.
Like other district attorneys, Lacey can bring any case she wants whenever she wants. She showed this with her speedy announcement that she will prosecute Hernandez on felony assault charges. Speedy, because she announced the prosecution literally within days after the murder of Floyd, and tens of thousands of enraged protesters demanded that she do her job and start prosecuting abusive cops.
This forced her hand on prosecutions. Now it’s time for her to take the next step.
That’s to take a real hard look at the pile of cases where the LAPD and sheriff’s deputies gunned down unarmed civilians, always with the flimsy excuse that they feared for their life. That’s no longer good enough, and a relook at these cases by Lacey may just prove why it isn’t.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of “Why Black Lives Do Matter” (Middle Passage Press). He also is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.