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Federal Monitor Praises, Criticizes LAPD

August 19, 2004|Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

Car theft suspect Stanley Miller was complying with orders when an officer struck him repeatedly with a heavy flashlight, the federally appointed monitor overseeing reforms of the Los Angeles Police Department has said.

Michael Cherkasky, in one of his most laudatory reports of the LAPD'S progress toward reforms, nonetheless called the incident, which was caught on videotape and broadcast nationwide, "questionable."

Cherkasky, head of New York-based Kroll Associates, has never been shy about criticizing the LAPD, but in his 12th quarterly report, released this week, he declared himself "pleased with improvements" the department has made.

However, the June 23 Miller incident "came as no surprise to anyone in the criminal justice system," Cherkasky wrote.

"The incident immediately conjured up images of Rodney King and reignited the emotions that had surrounded that incident a decade ago," the monitor stated, recalling the 1991 beating of the motorist by four LAPD officers.

But he said the systems established since then to investigate misconduct seemed to have worked to this point.

"The civilian overseers of the department, the Police Commission and the office of the inspector general have been deeply engaged in the process," Cherkasky said.

He said that the continuing investigation by the LAPD's Professional Standards Bureau, headed by Deputy Chief Michael Berkow, had been "extremely thorough and well thought out," that the inspector general and prosecutors had been properly notified and that community reaction had been restrained.

The city signed the consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department three years ago and agreed to a series of reforms rather than fight federal allegations that it systematically abused the rights of citizens.

The court mandate followed the Rampart corruption scandal, in which former Officer Rafael Perez told authorities that he and other officers had routinely falsified evidence, framed suspects and covered up unjustified shootings

"The monitor was largely complimentary of the department's response to the Miller case," said Gerald Chaleff, civilian chief of the LAPD's Consent Decree Bureau. "It demonstrates that the system that the consent decree mandates and the department has embraced are working."

But the conduct of officers subduing Miller was the subject of a sharp critique. He had led police on a 30-minute car chase that turned into a foot pursuit along Compton Creek.

"From accounts, including a review of the videotape of the incident, it appears that Mr. Miller was in the process of complying with the orders of the police when the force was utilized," the report states.

Police Chief William J. Bratton has said he will complete his investigation by Monday, after which prosecutors will review it.

Cherkasky said that when the city signed the consent decree, it was recognized that the LAPD would be confronted with "questionable uses of force"; the question was not whether such incidents would occur, but how they would be handled.

The LAPD has until June 15, 2006, to demonstrate two years of "substantial compliance" with the reforms.

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