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The Raid That Still Haunts L.A.

In 1988, police smashed two apartment buildings in their zeal to crack down on drugs. The city paid nearly $4 million in damages, but the episode was only a precursor of worse to come.

March 14, 2001|JOHN L. MITCHELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"There wasn't a lot of care taken," he said. "That was the mentality. At the time, if you were selling dope, we were going to knock your house down with a battering ram. And we were sure going to dump the sugar on the counter. It was the standard method of operation of the LAPD.

"We weren't just searching for drugs. We were delivering a message that there was a price to pay for selling drugs and being a gang member. With that mentality, 39th and Dalton was born. I looked at it as something of a Normandy Beach, a D-day."

The invaders found Gloria Flowers taking a bath. She scrambled, naked, to check on her two young children when she heard glass shattering and was confronted by gun-wielding officers rushing into her three-bedroom apartment.

"I got about as far as the bathroom door," she said. "And then the police kicked the apartment door in, and the next thing I knew there was a gang of police officers in my house, pointing their guns at me.

"I tried to cover myself, and a lady police officer said, 'Get your hands over your head and lay on the floor.' Another officer threw a blanket on me."

When she asked what was going on, an officer told her: "You're being evicted."

"'I remember a fish tank my mother gave me," she said. "'It wasn't much, but it was mine, and they busted that up."

In another unit, Johnnie Mae Carter was sitting down to watch her favorite television show, "Jake and the Fatman," when officers burst in and ordered her to go outside.

Her son Raymond, 21, was returning home with pizza when police pulled him over.

"Where do you live?" an officer asked him.

"He looked at the address on my license and said, 'Oh yes, you're one of them.' I said, 'One of what?' And he said, 'Don't play stupid. You're one of them.' He started pushing me to my yard. When I got there, I said, 'Oh my God!' The whole neighborhood was there."

As he lay handcuffed in the frontyard, Raymond Carter heard his mother plead for her blood pressure medication. In the apartment, officers ripped furniture and bashed in walls.

"'My mother couldn't believe it," he said. "It was like the apartment had been hit by a pack of wild animals."

Hildebrandt Flowers, Gloria Flowers' brother and a longtime gang member who police suspected was a drug dealer, was standing across the street watching the arrests when police spotted him.

"They handcuffed me, kicked my feet out from underneath me and then beat . . . me," Flowers recalled, adding that he and Carter were taken to the station house, where officers ordered them to whistle the theme from the "Andy Griffith Show."

"They hummed a few choruses," Flowers said. "I refused to whistle. One officer grabbed me and pushed me down with his knee. But I had been hit so many times, I was numb and didn't feel any pain."

The next day, Elfmont went to the buildings to see the destruction firsthand. Initially, police blamed gang members for the damage. But Elfmont suspected otherwise and began gathering evidence to bring charges against officers.

The raid scattered the drug dealers from the corner of 39th and Dalton, but the crack cocaine epidemic persisted. The dealers simply moved on.

Police Commission Is Questioned

"The management failures were so obvious," former LAPD Assistant Chief David Dotson said of the raid. "The department was preparing people as if they were going to war. A police officer's job is not war; it's solving complex problems on a minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day basis. That's a difficult job, and it doesn't require screaming at people, putting their faces down in the street like dogs."

Officers on the Dalton raid--and in the Rampart scandal--had the sense that the rules didn't apply to them, said Temple University professor Fyfe, a former New York City officer.

From there, he added, it's "a short step to other forms of abuses, like stealing money."

To the Christopher Commission, which examined Dalton in its investigation of the King beating, the raid showed a lack of control by the City Council and the civilian Board of Police Commissioners, mayoral appointees who are titular supervisors of the department.

"Police commissioners were kept only marginally informed on the progress of the department's own investigation," the Christopher Commission report said. "The 39th and Dalton raid, and the Police Commission's failure to investigate or exercise any oversight in the aftermath of the raid, prompted some--including City Council members--to express serious doubts about the Police Commission's effectiveness in providing citizen oversight of the Police Department."

Former Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher Darden, who later became well-known as part of the O.J. Simpson prosecution team, prosecuted three of the officers charged with misdemeanor vandalism in 1991. All three were acquitted.

Darden said he was stymied by the Police Department "code of silence," which deterred officers from testifying against one another.

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