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Use of Flashlights Probed in 2 More LAPD Incidents

Chief Bratton says the cases are far different from the highly publicized Miller beating in June.

August 18, 2004|Richard Winton and Arlene Martinez | Times Staff Writers

Two more Los Angeles Police Department officers are under investigation in separate incidents in which suspects were struck on the head with the type of large heavy flashlights that Chief William J. Bratton has announced he will soon ban.

The incidents recalled the attack in June on Stanley Miller, a car theft suspect whose flashlight beating was videotaped and broadcast nationally.

Bratton said that both recent incidents would receive the most serious level of investigation, because both suspects suffered blows to the head, which could cause serious injury.

But Bratton stressed that the new cases were far different from the assault on Miller.

"These incidents are going to happen. There are investigations in both these cases and they will be vigorously investigated," the chief said. "We are going away from these flashlights.

"Initial review would seem to indicate that they used those flashlights appropriately for the circumstances the officers found themselves in," Bratton said.

John Mack, president of the Los Angeles Urban League and head of a special citizens committee monitoring the investigation into the June beating, said the new incidents were "especially disturbing in the light of the Stanley Miller case."

"It says to me that some of the officers are never going to learn," Mack said.

After a car and foot chase, Miller was tackled by officers June 23.

The video showed Officer John Hatfield running up and kicking at Miller and then striking him 11 times with a flashlight.

Police officials said the first of the two recent incidents took place about 11 a.m. Saturday. Ricky Palmer, 26, was struck with a flashlight during a fight with an officer stemming from a spousal abuse call.

Palmer allegedly punched an officer in the face before he was hit with the flashlight.

Palmer was arrested in the 1700 block of Rimpau Boulevard. Palmer, according to LAPD Sgt. Cathy Plows, suffered no injuries.

LAPD Assistant Chief George Gascon said the officer, whom he did not identify, used the flashlight to strike Palmer after an "all-out brawl."

Based on preliminary information, Gascon said it appeared that the officer used the tool in self-defense when he had no alternative.

The second incident occurred shortly before 4 p.m. Saturday outside a Fosters Freeze in the 2700 block of Whittier Boulevard as anti-gang officers questioned a suspect.

According to police officials, Christopher S. Carrillo became verbally abusive and engaged an officer in a fight. During the altercation, Carrillo was struck with a flashlight, officials said.

A preliminary investigation, police said, showed that Carrillo might have fallen on top of the flashlight rather than the officer actually striking him. Carrillo was arrested on suspicion of resisting arrest.

The Police Department declined to identify the officers involved.

Bratton, speaking Tuesday before the special citizens committee established by Mayor James K. Hahn to monitor the investigation into the Miller case, said there were circumstances in which officers had no choice but to use a flashlight as a weapon.

Last week, Bratton announced plans to eliminate the large flashlights and established a committee to work with a manufacturer to design a shorter, non-metallic flashlight. Bratton said he would not rush to deploy new flashlights and would instead spend time developing a flashlight with the correct attributes for police use.

He acknowledged that the change was partly to appease department critics and said statistics showed that flashlights were rarely used to strike suspects by the LAPD -- fewer than 50 times over the last three years.

"The next cop that uses one of those metal flashlights, [the media are] going to jump on him like an 800-pound gorilla, and all of the people complaining currently will be right back out there again," Bratton said.

Miller, 36, has filed a $25-million claim against the city, alleging that he suffered brain damage, spinal injuries and emotional distress.

Bratton pledged again Tuesday to turn over a criminal investigation into officers' conduct in the Miller case to prosecutors by Aug. 23.

He said the LAPD would present the evidence but would not include recommendations.

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