LOS ANGELES – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today directed the Maywood City Council to reform its police department in the wake of a 16-month investigation which exposed “gross misconduct and widespread abuse.”
Brown will immediately seek a stipulated court order to secure adoption of reforms and oversight by the Attorney General’s office.
“Over a period of five years, the Maywood Police Department violated the trust of the community it was supposed to serve and protect,” Attorney General Brown said. “This investigation has revealed gross misconduct and widespread abuse including unlawful use of force against civilians. It is imperative that the city council take immediate and concrete steps to rein in the department.”
Brown today released a 30-page report that found that the City of Maywood Police Department routinely used excessive force, did not obtain probable cause to justify arrests and searches, and operated without adequate oversight by the Maywood City Council and the City's Chief Administrative Officer.
Investigators examined some 30,000 pages of documents from January 2002 through April 2007. Sixty-four witness interviews were conducted with sworn officers, city council members, City of Maywood administrative personnel, city residents, and civil rights attorneys.
The investigation was launched in response to a 2007 request by then-Speaker of the Assembly Fabian Núñez. The investigation was headed up by Senior Assistant Attorney General, Louis Verdugo, who was assisted by special agents from the Attorney General’s office, and Joe Brann, former Hayward Police Chief and Director of the COPS Office under President Clinton.
Over the course of the investigation, Brown’s office has been in contact with the Los Angeles District Attorney.
The City Council has taken limited steps to reform the department, most notably by hiring a permanent Chief of Police. Nevertheless, reform efforts are just beginning and many of the underlying structural causes have not been remedied.
Brown has sole legal authority under California Civil Code 52.3 to ensure that police departments do not deprive “any person of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States or by the Constitution or laws of California.”
Brown’s investigation uncovered five major areas where the Department had violated the rights of community members, identified ten factors that allowed these violations to develop, and offered a 12-point plan of reform.
Attorney General Brown’s investigation found that:
• Maywood police officers routinely used excessive force, and police department management did little or nothing to stop these abuses. In September 2006, for instance, officers, tased, assaulted and beat a father and son in front of their home after the son witnessed officers assaulting a man across the street. The son asked one of the officers for his badge number. As he wrote it down, he was assaulted by the officer. Other officers joined in. The young man was repeatedly shot with a Taser while he was handcuffed. At one point, the father yelled “what are you doing to my son.” The father was then assaulted by several officers. Both men were taken to the hospital for medical treatment. They were charged with battery of a police officer, and resisting and obstructing an officer. The charges were later dismissed.
• The lack of probable cause to justify arrests and searches and reasonable suspicion to detain members of the public. A former Maywood police officer who was interviewed stated that officers routinely dispensed with probable cause and reasonable suspicion requirements when dealing with members of the public. In fact, he was told by his training officers that when he saw someone walking down the street he should stop them and “brace them” (i.e., confront, aggressively question, and search); there was not any interest in establishing probable cause. He also stated that it was common for officers to dispense with pat-down searches; instead, the officers would put their hands into the pockets of the persons detained.
• Substantial evidence supporting allegations of sexual assault. In May 2008, the LA District Attorney charged a Maywood Police Department officer with the sexual assault of three women. The assaults took place in 2006 and 2007 and occurred while the officer was on duty. The assaults all commenced with detentions for which there was no legal cause or justification. In February 2009, following a preliminary hearing, the officer was held to answer seventeen felony counts related to these assaults. The case remains pending.
• Evidence that the Department discouraged the public from filing complaints and refused to provide forms as required by law.
• Evidence that the Department’s policy of stopping drivers without probable cause and impounding their vehicles violated the law. Federal law requires traffic stops to be initiated only if there is reasonable suspicion that a traffic code is being violated. Maywood police officers often disregarded this requirement and initiated traffic stops arbitrarily. Between February 1, 2002 and April 30, 2007, the Maywood Police Department towed and impounded some 17,773 vehicles.
The Attorney General’s investigation found that the abuse was caused by the following factors:
• Failure of Maywood City Council to ensure that its administrative staff provided strong management of the police department.
• Failure, until quite recently, to recruit and retain a permanent Chief of Police who could competently run the Police Department.
• A chain of command where officers were not held accountable by their sergeants for misconduct, and sergeants were not held accountable for the lack of supervision.
• Poor hiring practices that failed to screen out unqualified candidates.
• The lack of clear written polices to ensure that policing was done in a manner consistent with the law and contemporary police practices.
• Failure to ensure that officers consistently prepared and submitted use of force reports, and failure of supervisors to review the reports that were submitted.
• Failure to provide adequate training.
• Failure to consistently accept and investigate citizen complaints.
• Failure to adopt an Early Intervention System to identify police officers that may be engaging in unlawful activity or use of force.
Brown called for the following key reforms:
The City Council must provide comprehensive and effective oversight of the Department; the City must retain an outside police professional to submit an annual report regarding the state of the Department; the City Council must provide for the recruitment and retention of highly qualified police chiefs to ensure that the reforms below are carried out. These reforms include:
1. Adoption of hiring practices to ensure that only qualified candidates for sworn and civilian candidates are hired and unsuitable applicants are screened out.
2. Updating written policies and procedures to ensure that police services are provided in a lawful manner.
3. Ensuring that following use-of-force incidents, reports be submitted and reviewed by management.
4. Providing adequate training on use of force, probable cause and reasonable suspicion, and use of Tasers.
5. Making sure that residents can lodge complaints and that those complaints be investigated.
6. Requiring that reports be clear and provide sufficient information to determine the probable cause for an arrest or search, or reasonable suspicion for a detention or pat-down search.
7. Requiring the implementation of an Early Intervention System to track and monitor the activities and actions of sworn personnel to deter inappropriate or unlawful conduct.
8. Retaining an independent outside expert to evaluate the department’s management structure to ensure that there is accountability up and down the chain of command.
9. Requiring the Department to purchase digital audio recorders, and ensuring that officers use them.
10. Requiring the installation of video cameras on all Department vehicles and in the lobby of the police station and other areas of the station where officers interact with the public.
11. Changing the culture of the department and eliminating inappropriate sexual innuendo and harassment, vulgarity, discourtesy to members of the public and between officers, and cultural, racial, and ethnic insensitivity.
12. Adopting a community-oriented policing philosophy.