In an attempt to aid a U.S. Justice Department investigation into alleged patterns of civil rights violations by the Los Angeles Police Department, the NAACP held a hearing Friday for minority residents who say they were abused or falsely arrested by aggressive police officers.
The daylong hearing at the Southside Christian Palace Church in south Los Angeles was the first such hearing by the civil rights group.
Its results will be submitted to the Justice Department to supplement the federal investigation of the LAPD that was sparked by recordings of former Detective Mark A. Fuhrman released during the O.J. Simpson trial that allege numerous incidents of police abuse.
Testimony included that of Alberto Morales, who identified himself as a victim of a 1978 beating by Hollenbeck Division officers that appears to match an incident mentioned by Fuhrman in one of the tapes.
"I'm here to tell you that [it] really happened," Morales said.
Rosa H. Roberts, 72, testified that LAPD officers mistakenly arrested her in 1993 for burglarizing her own home. During her arrest, Roberts said, police officers pulled her hair, verbally abused her and kept her in a Van Nuys jail for hours without food before she was released.
"I was so weak, I couldn't move," she told a panel of NAACP lawyers of her stay in jail after her ex-husband reported her as a prowler in a second home they owned together.
"I tried to get them to loosen the handcuffs . . . because they were too tight," Roberts said. "But one police officer told me they couldn't do that because I might run away and then they would have to shoot me."
Bursting into tears, the African American woman added: "They kept telling me things like that."
Collecting similar statements from nine Los Angeles residents trickling into the church throughout the day, NAACP lawyers said they hoped to provide the Justice Department with enough evidence to merit a thorough investigation of what they contend are habitual civil rights violations by the LAPD and other local police department officers during arrests and traffic stops.
Besides the LAPD, the Santa Monica, Long Beach and Gardena police departments and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department were named as offenders by those speaking Friday.
If able to prove that civil rights violations are a "pattern and practice" of these departments, NAACP attorney Tracy B. Jones said, the federal government could file a lawsuit against them or mandate that all police personnel take training in civil rights.
"It's been clear to us for years that these kinds of things are happening in our community," Jones said. "It's just a matter of dealing with it correctly that's going to make it stop."