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L. A. District Attorney’s Disappointing Record On Police Accountability

By Charlene Muhammad -National Correspondent- | Last updated: Jan 11, 2017 - 9:56:29 AM

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District Attorney Jackie Lacey discusses plan to divert mentally ill offenders from county jail. Photo: L.A. County District Attorney office.

LOS ANGELES— Some residents expressed pride, some trepidation, when Jackie Lacey made history in becoming L.A.’s first Black female and first non-White district attorney. But those sentiments have grown to outrage and disappointment because since becoming L.A.’s 42nd District Attorney in 2012, Atty. Lacey has continued in the same vein as her predecessors, and failed the Black community, particularly on the issue of police accountability, human rights attorneys and activists told The Final Call.

“Her record is terrible!  I mean, the thing is that when it comes to where it counts, her record is terrible,” said human rights attorney Nana Gyamfi.

According to Atty. Gyamfi, recently D.A. Lacey has adopted a position of criminalizing and jailing children who are victims of sex trafficking until pushed to understand that was wrong.

“She was putting them in jail!  She was grabbing them, arresting them, and putting them in jail.  So people had to be like, no, this is not the way that you should be operating, and that is just a general thing,” Atty. Gyamfi said.

D.A. Lacey’s record also includes the prosecution of Jasmine Abdullah for attempted lynching, in order to appease the Pasadena Police Department, Atty. Gyamfi said.  “But it’s not surprising considering that you haven’t found a killer cop that you think is deserving of prosecution,” she argued.

Atty. Gyamfi represented Ms. Abdullah, then a Black Lives Matter activist, in a case stemming from a park incident with Pasadena Police officers on August 29, 2015.

Ms. Abdullah was convicted of one count of attempted felony lynching (taking someone from the lawful custody of police by means of a riot), a law believed to be designed to protect Blacks from White lynch mobs.

“It’s clear that she is completely complicit and feels beholden and loyal to these police departments, even when we had a meeting where she revealed that there is a contractual agreement between the district attorney’s office and all 50 plus law enforcement agencies in L.A. County that the D.A.’s office will not investigate police shootings, police killings until after the law enforcement agency has investigated itself, even though they have the power and the duty to investigate from the very beginning independently,” Atty. Gyamfi said.

“But no.  She said why we can’t do that is because we have a contract with these people, that we will let them do their own investigation and we won’t get involved until after they are done with their investigation, which is a complete abdication of her duty to independently investigate those crimes in total support of the police.  There’s no other reason to have such an agreement.  It doesn’t help the people at all,” she continued.

According to the LA Times, in her four years in office, Atty. Lacey has never prosecuted a member of law enforcement for charges of abuse or shootings. On June 5, 2015 LAPD Officer Mary O’Callaghan was convicted of felony assault under color of authority in the death of Black mother Alesia Thomas. Activists argued her 36 month sentence and a judge suspending 20 of them amounted to a mere slap on the wrist.  The Final Call has received no response to its phone calls and email requests for interviews with D.A. Lacey.

Families of victims of police killings still awaiting justice and activists say they are now bracing themselves for a bumpy ride.  They feel Atty. Lacey’s second term is sure to mirror her first four years in office.

Should people have expected police misconduct prosecutions from D.A. Lacey when she did not run on a ‘tough on police’ platform? Not really, though people still hoped for better, but they were under no illusions that would happen, activists said. After all, her mentor was Steve Cooley, whom activists told The Final Call was a “horrible district attorney who did nothing for Black or working class communities.” The reality is D.A. Lacey’s platform was not necessarily on police accountability, Atty. Gyamfi said. 

In fact, there was nothing she ran on that would make somebody think that she was necessarily some great and better D.A., other than the fact that she would be an ear on certain issues, she added.

“It wasn’t like she was particularly, ‘Oh. I’m so for the Black community,’” but she was more of an establishment candidate, Atty. Gyamfi stated.

“She herself failed to prosecute the California Highway Patrol Officer Daniel Andrew for the brutal beating of the mentally ill homeless woman Marlene Pinnock on the 10 Freeway, which on the video everybody could see that it was a savage and unnecessary beating and obviously criminal,” said Jubilee Shine, activist,  and co-founder of the Coalition for Community Control Over the Police.

“Even the instance of the homeless man that was killed in Venice not too long ago, the Chief of Police Beck has called for the District Attorney to prosecute the officer, and she has even refused this call, coming from the very chief of the department … so it’s been apparent, abundantly clear that she has no interest in doing her job as prosecutor to ensure justice and protect the rights of the community when they’re victims of abuse and assault and being killed at the hands of police officers,” Mr. Shine stated.

The common factor in all of the cases not prosecuted by Atty. Lacey involving law enforcement were vulnerable Black victims:

• Marlene Pinnock, mentally ill, homeless grandmother beaten by California Highway Patrol Officer Daniel Andrew on July 1, 2014.  Mr. Andrew was never charged and was allowed to resign in settlement.

• Ezell Ford, young, mentally ill man, stopped on ‘reasonable suspicion’ and killed in his neighborhood by LAPD Officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas.  Neither was charged, even Mr. Wampler, who was found out of policy for violating Mr. Ford’s rights by the L.A. Police Commission.

• Brendon Glenn, homeless Black man shot and killed by LAPD officer Clifford Procter, May 15, 2015, has not been charged.

• Charly “Africa” Leundeu Keunang, homeless Skid Row resident killed after being tasered inside his tent by LAPD officers.  Prosecutors ruled Sergeant Chand Syed and Officers Francisco Martinez and Daniel Torres acted lawfully stating police body cam video shows Mr. Keunang reached for an officer’s gun. Activists demand the DA’s office and LAPD release the footage.

• Wakiesha Wilson, Black mother who died March 27, 2016 in LAPD custody after being found hanging in her jail cell.  Police claim she committed suicide but according to her attorney, she died from strangulation and was found lying on the floor.  No charges have been filed.

Residents have taken to the streets in frustration and anger over several years in response to what they charge is lack of police accountability for wrongdoing.

In August 2014, activists held a march and rally at the D.A.’s office to demand justice for Mr. Ford, as well as Omar Obrego, a Latino father fatally beaten by officers one week before the Ford killing. In September 2015, a host of civil rights organizations demonstrated outside her offices and called for her resignation to no avail. 

On October 17 last year, just weeks before her re-election, the Coalition for Community Control Over the Police protested her appearance at a community town-hall entitled, #AskLacey.

“She has the power if she wanted to, to go further and prosecute things that we know as a community to be clear and blatant violations of our people’s rights, including the killing of Brother Africa and so many others,” said Dr. Melina Abdullah, chair of the Pan African Studies Department at California State University L.A. and organizer with Black Lives Matter Los Angeles. Dr. Abdullah is also a member of the L.A. County Commission on Human Relations, which has initiated a countywide Policing and Human Relations Project.

“She hasn’t even indicated that she’s going to do anything by way of her investigatory powers to look into the killing of Wakiesha Wilson, so there’s a whole lot that she could be doing that she’s not doing and I don’t think that she will.  I think that she has shown that she is on the side of the system, on the side of the police, and not on the side of the people,” Dr. Abdullah told The Final Call.

Mr. Shine attributes D.A. Lacey’s unopposed win to L.A. County’s demographics. Once a person is elected to county-wide positions, it’s realistically very difficult to unseat an incumbent, he said.  It’s rare such officials are removed from office, but that’s the reality of the L.A. political landscape, Mr. Shine added. 

“Even though there’s obviously real opposition to her, there really just is not the capacity and resources to mount a county-wide campaign where you’re talking about millions of dollars and tens of thousands of votes necessary to just mount a viable challenge,” he added.   For now, the community plans to keep organizing and fighting for justice. 

There’s always the capacity and power of the people to rise up, to recall her, and to demand her resignation, Dr. Abdullah said, and that’s something they should absolutely consider. 

She also feels people should consider the lesson of allowing D.A. Lacey to run unopposed and skate into office. 

“We shouldn’t have allowed that to happen, so moving forward, we can’t allow that to continue to happen with elected officials who continue to do this kind of thing,” she said.

“I think people are disillusioned with electoral politics, and we have a right to be disillusioned.  At the same time we can’t underestimate the power of elected officials and as we’re working towards revolution, we also need to remember that the people who are in office have power right now, and we need to figure out how to mitigate some of the damage that they’re doing right now.”

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