A black Hawthorne police sergeant who heads a coalition of police officers fighting discrimination in local police departments is mounting his own brand of undercover "sting" operations against Los Angeles-area officers he claims harass minorities.
Sgt. Don Jackson, 29, said he carried out his first off-duty operation Saturday night by taking half a dozen black youths, a video camera and several "witnesses" to Westwood Village, where police have stepped up foot patrols since a Long Beach woman was killed in an apparent gang shooting Jan. 30.
The operation ended with Jackson's arrest about 9:45 p.m. Saturday on suspicion of obstructing a police investigation. He was released on his own recognizance a few hours later. The youths with him were detained briefly, but not arrested.
'Like a Feeding Frenzy'
"It was like we dropped meat on the street and they came after it within 40 minutes of our arrival," Jackson declared in an interview Sunday. "It was like a feeding frenzy. . . . It's a sting operation on the LAPD. They do sting. We do sting."
A spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department, Cmdr. William Booth, categorized the incident as "an act of civil disobedience" by the off-duty sergeant.
"As far as I'm concerned," Booth said, "he was forcing an arrest by interfering with officers who were simply following instructions . . . to make sure peace is enforced in Westwood Village. . . . We'll let the courts determine if he can do that or not."
Booth charged that Jackson's group was blocking a sidewalk near the corner of Gayley and Kinross avenues. When officers told them to stop blocking the area, he said, "everyone complied but him (Jackson) and he verbally forced a confrontation of some sort."
Booth declined to specify what Jackson said to force the confrontation.
A press release issued by the LAPD's West Los Angeles Division said the group was "dressed in a fashion similar to gang members" and that officers went up to the group to determine if they were gang members and to identify them. Jackson "refused to cooperate with the officers," the press release said, and refused to identify himself.
Jackson heads an organization called Law Enforcement Officers for Justice, which has brought lawsuits against the police departments of Santa Monica, Glendale, and Hawthorne.
In an earlier interview, Jackson said that the coalition has 38 members from 15 police departments in Ventura, Los Angeles and Orange counties. Most of the 38 are Asian and black.
Jackson was placed on a stress disability leave from his post with the Hawthorne Police Department last April, after he allegedly experienced racism from fellow officers in the department. He is suing the department, but said Sunday he hopes to return to active duty in March.
In an interview Sunday, Jackson said that he had served two years' duty as an undercover officer and decided to use those skills to mount a plainclothes campaign in several areas of Los Angeles County to "raise public consciousness that people are having their rights violated on a daily basis."
He said his first target was Westwood, because blacks and other minorities have been complaining recently of harassment there since the killing of Karen Toshima, 27, allegedly by a black gang member.
When Jackson went to Westwood on Saturday night, he said he took with him six young black men, all of whom had been "victims of police abuse." Some had police records, he said, but none had outstanding warrants.
Jackson said he directed the young men to wear normal clothing, to obey all laws and engage in no provocation with police.
"Let them make the mistakes," he said the youths were told.
A videotape taken of the youths being detained shows them wearing shirts and pants. One wore a Dodger jacket. Jackson himself wore a checked shirt and brown pants.
"They wore jeans and T-shirts and golf caps," he said. "Do you have to dress preppie to go into Westwood?"
The tape, taken by one of several other "witnesses" from across the street, shows only the conclusion of the incident, with young men standing with their arms up on a busy Westwood street corner and Jackson being led away quietly in handcuffs.
Jackson contended that he and his "volunteers" were careful to avoid violating any laws, including loitering.
"The only thing I did was I asked the officer why he was contacting me, which is my legitimate right," he said.