I was detained again recently (actually handcuffed and placed in the patrol unit) in Hollywood while photographing some people I’ve been following for a couple of weeks. My account of what happened, along with my footage (which is securely online already and stored on multiple hard drives that are not at my residence), will be released in the near future, but the experience has motivated me to finally comment on some letters I received in November 2010 from LAPD’s Chief of Police Charlie Beck and Paul Espinoza—the Northeast Patrol Division officer who unlawfully detained me because I photographed him and his partner performing a traffic stop on Hollywood Boulevard in February 2010.
The first paragraph of Chief Beck’s letter states the following:
An investigation into your complaint that was reported on February 21, 2010, regarding the conduct of an employee of the Los Angeles Police Department has been completed. The investigation has gone through several levels of review, including myself and the command staff of Internal Affairs Group. Your allegations that an officer was discourteous and unlawfully detained you were classified as Sustained. This means the investigation determined that the act alleged occurred and constitutes misconduct. An appropriate penalty will be imposed; however, Penal Code Section 832. 5 precludes me from disclosing the specific penalty.
And Paul Espinoza’s apology letter says:
I am the officer with whom you had contact on February 21, 2010. You should know there was a complaint lodged against me and I am sure you will be informed by the Department that complaint has been sustained. I wanted to write you a personal letter to apologize for my actions on that day. The Department has provided me training and I assure you I will handle similar situations in the future much differently. I am very proud to be a Los Angeles Police Officer and will do my best to serve you and the community to the best of my abilities in the future.
I hope the next time we meet it is under better circumstances. Again, please accept my apologies.
When I first received the letters I was initially pleased and certainly felt vindicated—especially towards my harshest online critics who inaccurately claimed that I was never detained and should have waited for the supervisor to arrive to say whatever it is that they thought I should have said to him.
Well, as all will know now, as some of us already knew then—I was unlawfully detained and treated disrespectfully. It’s that simple, and for full-brained people it really isn’t all that hard of a reality to grasp once you see the video.
As for the people who criticized me for not sticking around to speak to the supervisor, what they may not realize is the fact that speaking to a supervisor might well not resolve anything. More important, I don’t need to complain to Espinoza’s superior at the time; I can complain by filing a complaint with LAPD later. The two do not go hand in hand. Which, are both very good reasons why I left.
This was not my first time being detained, and I understand how the detainment and complaint process works. Plus, I have a lawyer friend who I can contact when I need advice or a legal question answered.
So once all the Monday-morning shutterbugs decide to stop taking family portraits, studio shots of fruit and martini glasses, and macro-shots of flowers and bugs and get their detainment cherry popped for taking legal pictures in public (which are decent enough to share with the rest of the world), then I’ll listen to what they have to say.
Sorry to digress, but all things must be addressed.
Then I read the letters again and thought about the outcome a little more. What did they do to make sure Espinoza wouldn’t do something like this again? And why does California Penal Code Section 832.5 (as well 832.7) prevent me and the public from knowing Espinoza’s “appropriate penalty”? For all I know, Espinoza’s appropriate penalty was to write a forced apology letter because he was caught on video screaming about his First Amendment rights, while at the same exact moment derailing my constitutional rights.
I should have the right to know Espinoza’s penalty, and so should you. We have the right to know the complaint history against all law enforcement officers in this country. This should be easily accessible information, rather than locked up and hidden from public scrutiny.
Penal codes such as 832.5 and 832.7 (which prevent LAPD from releasing information even about complaints that were determined valid), should not exist because all they do is raise credibility issues within the confines of law enforcement and stir contempt throughout the public.
We need to change this.