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The Spy Who Went Into the Cold : Former LAPD Spy Donald Rochon Is Now Point Man in the Battle Over Bias in the FBI

August 24, 1988|BETTY CUNIBERTI and GARY LIBMAN | Times Staff Writers

At Cal State Northridge, Rochon reported on meetings of the Black Survival Union and the Anti-Bakke Decision Coalition in 1978 and 1979. He also infiltrated the Revolutionary Communist Party and a group called the Communist Party Marxist-Leninist.

In at least eight reports cited in the suit, he commented on the groups' racial makeup. At a meeting in a Los Angeles church on Feb. 20, 1979, he noted that all present were black.

Rochon explained those notes by asking: "Ever look at police reports? They always mention race, age, sex and height."

But when Carolyn Carlburg, a black lawyer who took his sworn statement in Los Angeles, asked him years ago he was unsure why he described his subjects by race.

Rochon, she recalled recently, was a "middle-class, well-spoken nice guy. I mean he's the guy next door. He lives next to Doris Day . . . .

"In the deposition, Donald Rochon was very open about my questions and he virtually admitted that he did not have a grasp of what communism was about nor did he have any appreciation of the fact that (his spying was) a flagrant violation of First Amendment rights . . . .

"It was very clear to me that Donald Rochon was simply doing what his superiors ordered him to do and it was not his job or his role to challenge that. It's absurd to hold Donald Rochon personally responsible . . . .

"Let's be honest," she said, "Donald and a great many minority people--who are being employed as a result of affirmative action programs, many of which have been imposed by the courts--are not in a position to question anything."

Rochon echoed many of Carlburg's remarks in an interview, saying of his Los Angeles work: "I was just a police officer, working under direction and guidance of my superior. Asking if I felt uneasy about it is like asking a Vietnam veteran if he has second thoughts about going to Vietnam. You're told to do your job and you do it . . . .

"It was a very difficult situation and a very difficult job," he said. "I've always had a very liberal outlook. I grew up in a very progressive area. I wasn't a fan of the Vietnam War; I did not support that. But had I been drafted, I would have gone and given a hell of a fight . . . ."

As Rochon sees it, he was not assigned to spy on peaceful minorities. He was ordered to shadow individuals who belonged to violent Communist groups; those people joined the civil rights groups while Rochon was trailing them.

"The people I worked with at the LAPD were just looking to stop violence," he said. "To stop a bombing means a lot more to a cop's self-esteem than to gather information on some group."

Rochon said he was drawn to meetings of the Love protesters while on a police assignment to trail Clay Claiborne, then a member of the Communist Party-Marxist-Leninist. He went with him to meetings of the Southwest Community Justice Committee, which planned the Love protest march on City Hall.

Claiborne, now a self-employed computer repairman in Los Angeles, said he traveled for three weeks in China in 1977 (before President Nixon re-established diplomatic ties with the Communist nation). But Claiborne denied he was a Communist agent or that his group had advocated violence, as Rochon insists.

Denies Charge

Rochon, meantime, denies Claiborne's charge that he was "advocating violence when nobody else was" in meetings to organize the Love protests.

Rochon said he had empathy for the Love protesters and Merriweather, noting: "I was appalled about the shooting (of Love). Being legally right in a shooting doesn't always make it morally right. If Eulia Love had been white and living in Brentwood, she would be alive today."

Rochon is unconvinced that police surveillance of possibly violent individuals is wrong. He noted the settlement "lumps so many different plaintiffs and defendants . . . my being tagged for this is almost guilt by association."

"If they had said to me, 'Don, we want you to see what the NAACP is up to,' I'd have told them to go to hell.

"I was never told to find out what a group was up to. The people I observed who believe in civil rights, I had a hell of a lot of respect for them," he said, adding, "I didn't do any damage to their cause."

But, he insisted: "People involved in a peaceful movement aren't always aware that other people are out to violate the laws. Sometimes these people mesh together."

Rochon was the target of another lawsuit while with the LAPD. In 1977, a middle-aged Los Angeles couple accused him and his partner of police brutality, a claim that was dropped after the couple settled out of court for $20,000.

Most Accusations Against Partner

Most of the accusations were directed at Rochon's partner. But Anna Kiedrowski, 48, asserted in a complaint that she: "was grabbed by officer Donald Rochon. She continued screaming and at this point officer Rochon turned her over on her back and began to choke her to keep her quiet."

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