LONG BEACH — The Long Beach Police Department referred seven cases of alleged excessive force to the district attorney for review in 1989, the first time in five years that the department has sought the opinion of county prosecutors on brutality complaints against officers, county records show.
The district attorney's Special Investigations Division declined to prosecute in six of the seven cases, rejecting three the same day they were referred.
In the seventh case, prosecutors filed misdemeanor charges of assault and writing a false incident report against Officer Mark Dickey, whose videotaped arrest of activist Don Jackson brought national attention to the Long Beach department last January. A false report charge was also filed against Dickey's partner, Mark Ramsey.
Mike Tracy, president of the 620-member Long Beach Police Officers Assn., characterized the referrals as administrative harassment that is part of a broader Police Department strategy to weaken and quiet his union, which has been locked in contract negotiations with the city for nearly a year.
Though referrals may sometimes be appropriate, the number of cases referred in 1989 shows that the department has used them in an effort to punish officers who are critical of their superiors, Tracy said.
"This has been a major issue" first raised by the union last summer, he said. "The district attorney's office is being used to harass our police officers. And it's a misuse of power and authority by the (police) brass.
"It's a real heavy burden to hang over a police officer's head," Tracy said, "to tell (him) you're taking a case downtown to get a filing."
Thirty cases were referred to the district attorney's office last year by all police agencies in the county, including the seven from Long Beach. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department referred 10 and the Los Angeles Police Department nine. Each are more than 10 times larger than the Long Beach department.
Acting Police Chief Gene Brizzolara confirmed that the department referred no excessive force cases to the district attorney from 1984 through 1988. He said numerous other cases involving misconduct, shooting and in-custody deaths were referred.
Brizzolara acknowledged that filings in 1989 were unusually high because the Jackson case forced the department to conduct a thorough review of its handling of citizen complaints of officer abuse.
Until the Jackson arrest, during which an NBC camera caught Dickey slamming the activist's head against a glass window, the department had responded to criticism of its officers by saying that alleged misconduct was aggressively pursued by internal affairs investigators, Brizzolara said.
"Chief (Lawrence) Binkley stood behind the department's policies and procedures," said Brizzolara, who has temporarily replaced Binkley while the chief is on medical leave.
After the Jackson incident, a department "sting" operation showed that citizen complaints were not all being reported to internal affairs, Brizzolara said.
Binkley doubled the internal affairs staff and ordered a review of old complaints to ensure that they were fully investigated.
"The result was that some cases surfaced where there were questions about whether law had been violated and those cases were submitted to the district attorney," the acting chief said.
Tracy noted that a 1987 case against a police union board member was one of the seven sent to the district attorney.
"They went back two or three years to dredge that case up because Tim Uribe is a member of our union board," Tracy said.
Brizzolara said the Uribe case was referred because the department concluded that the officer and a partner, Paul Wegner, may have used unlawful force against a man who claimed he was beaten and kicked after he was arrested for public intoxication.
Deputy District Atty. Kenneth Freeman said in a report that he declined to file charges against the officers because the alleged victim would not cooperate, failing to appear for scheduled interviews.
The other five Long Beach cases on which prosecutors did not file charges involved a 16-year-old youth whose allegations of brutality were unconfirmed; a 34-year-old man who officers said was kicked in the groin only after he repeatedly resisted arrest for intoxication; a suspected prostitute who claims she was slapped and kicked by officers; a 30-year-old man who several witnesses say was battered by officers when he resisted arrest, and an off-duty officer who was accused of waving his gun at four other customers in a dispute two weeks ago.
In all cases, prosecutors said they declined to file because the allegations could not be independently confirmed or could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.