A Van Nuys teen-ager who sued Los Angeles police for false arrest after he was questioned in the slaying of high school teacher Hal Arthur was never placed under arrest and consented to be interviewed by detectives, according to documents prepared by the city in its defense.
Hai Waknine, a 16-year-old who was cleared of any involvement in the killing, was represented by an attorney who allowed him to take a polygraph test while in police custody, according to the documents. Asked if he would answer questions by investigating officers, Waknine replied "Sure," the statement said.
Details of Waknine's questioning by police are contained in the city's first response to allegations in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on March 29 against Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and several officers.
Arthur, 60, a well-liked teacher at Grant High School in Van Nuys, was shot to death March 24 in front of his Sherman Oaks home as he was stepping into his car to go to work. His killing remains unsolved.
Waknine, a former Grant student who was transferred to another school a month earlier after a campus fight, was questioned for nearly six hours on the day of the slaying after several students told detectives that he may have been involved.
Though police said Waknine was not arrested or handcuffed during the questioning and went willingly with officers, the teen-ager filed a $10-million lawsuit five days later that alleges that police violated his rights by arresting him without proper cause or evidence.
Documents made available by the city attorney's office on Wednesday contain police answers to questions submitted by Waknine's attorney, Marion R. Yagman.
According to the documents, this is how investigators were led to and questioned Waknine:
On the morning that Arthur was killed, police interviewed staff and students at Grant High and described a shiny dark car, possibly a BMW, a witness saw speed away from the shooting.
One student told police: "I think Hai Waknine was involved," according to the documents. A student told officers that Waknine drove a black BMW and took karate lessons from an instructor who taught him "how to shoot guns and kill people."
Another student reportedly said Waknine was known to have guns and was an associate of a gang whose members possibly were involved in a recent fight at the school that had been broken up by Arthur.
Stopped by Police
Later that day Waknine was seen driving a gray BMW near his home. He was stopped by patrol officers who called Detective Mel Arnold, the lead investigator in the murder case, to talk to him.
"Detective Arnold explained that the officers were conducting an investigation and wanted to interview him," the documents say. "The plaintiff responded, 'Sure.' "
Waknine reportedly allowed police to conduct quick searches of his car and home for weapons. When officers could not locate the teen-ager's mother or father, Waknine agreed to go with officers to Van Nuys police station for questioning. Arnold left a note at his home that asked his parents to call the station as soon as possible.
Officers said that at the station, Waknine was told he was not under arrest and had the right to remain silent and consult an attorney, but he waived his rights and again agreed to talk to detectives.
While he was with police, Waknine was allowed to call his home and talk to his brother. When his father finally called the station, police asked if they could give his son a polygraph test. About 20 minutes later an attorney, who was not identified in the documents, called police and granted permission.
Cleared of Involvement
After the polygraph test, Waknine was taken home, and police said he was cleared of any involvement in the slaying.
The lawsuit documents prepared by Assistant City Atty. Victoria G. Chaney conclude that the officers had probable cause to stop and interview the youth and did not infringe on his rights. "The officers acted in a reasonable manner and in good faith," Chaney said.
The lawsuit has not been scheduled for trial.
Yagman could not be reached for comment. She is the wife of Stephen Yagman, who has filed more abuse lawsuits against police agencies than any other attorney in California. Earlier this year, he was suspended from practice for six months by the California Supreme Court, which upheld a finding by the state Bar Association that he had been "hostile, forceful and aggressive" with his own clients.