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No proof of hit-run in hate crime case

August 17, 2007|Joe Mozingo | Times Staff Writer

The severe beating of three white women by a group of black youths last Halloween in Long Beach raised racial tension in a city that prides itself on its diversity.

Concern over the attack turned to fury when police announced that gang members had intentionally rammed a young woman's car in retaliation for testifying in the case.

Now, however, Long Beach police say they never found any connection between the damage to 18-year-old Kiana Alford's car and the Halloween case.

"We never could connect it to the trial -- or even remotely related to the trial," said Cmdr. Scott Robertson. "It may have been just a random hit-and-run."

The source of the initial report was another police commander, Jeffry Johnson, who often attended the trial of nine girls and one boy charged with assault and hate crimes after the attack. Johnson told the media that witnesses saw a car with three or four black males reverse into Alford's 1986 Toyota Corona, totaling it. The men were dressed in colors normally worn by the Baby Insane Crips, the witnesses said, according to Johnson.

But police found no witnesses to the crash, and therefore no description of who was driving or what the purported occupants of the car wore, according to police reports obtained this week by The Times. The detectives interviewed Alford and her boyfriend, talked to neighbors and tow-truck drivers -- but no one saw the crash, according to the reports.

Police spokeswoman Nancy Pratt said Johnson appeared to have relied on word around the department for his account.

"I think he may have been just talking to people within our own department and not in the investigation," Pratt said. "I think some of it was people speculating what was going on."

Several days before the ramming, Alford had reported seeing four men sitting on her car, talking to each other. Alford, who had already begun testifying in the Long Beach hate crime case, said she was frightened. "She went out the back way of her residence and she used her aunt's car," according to a police report.

Alford was wrapping up her testimony when her boyfriend, Quinshawn Davis, also the father of her baby, called to say her car had been rammed. But Davis told officers he did not see the incident, according to a police report. Rather, he heard a crash and went outside, where a man walking by told him he had seen a white truck with oversized tires hit the car and drive away, the report said.

Johnson relied on what Davis told Alford during that phone call for his statements, according to Deputy Chief Bill Blair. "The information [Davis] told her was that Baby Insane did it," Blair said. Johnson did not return a call seeking comment. Alford could not be reached.

As Davis inspected the damage, some men dressed like members of the Baby Insane Crips were flirting with women across the street. Police Det. Todd R. Johnson, the report's author, wrote that they "did not try to intimidate [Davis] or say anything to Davis when he was looking at the damaged vehicle. He told me they looked over at him but continued to talk to the. . . girls."

The only other gang reference in the police report was to Felix Poke, who "used to hang out" with Alford and was identified as an alleged member of the Baby Insane Crips.

Poke was questioned eight days after the ramming about his contacts with Alford and her sister and asked whether he knew about the Halloween beating. "Felix told me the only reason I am messing with him is because I think he is the leader" of Baby Insane Crips," Det. Johnson wrote. Poke denied knowing anything, the report said.

That interview on Dec. 13 was the last one conducted in the probe, according to the police file. The incident was classified as an unsolved misdemeanor hit-and-run.

But the story of the car being intentionally rammed by three or four members of the Baby Insane Crips was repeatedly raised by the prosecutor at trial and was a major point of the public outrage during and after the trial.

The day after the crash, the Long Beach Press-Telegram stripped the headline "Witness' Car Hit in Apparent Message" across the top of the front page. The story was picked up by newspapers around the nation.

An irate Deputy Dist. Atty. Andrea Bouas argued in court that the incident showed "consciousness of guilt" by the youths accused in the beating. And the judge made an extraordinary though short-lived ruling that all nonpolice witnesses would testify anonymously -- a precaution normally reserved for Mafia trials.

Later in the trial, Bouas cited the alleged intimidation in trying to show that one defendant was connected to the Baby Insane Crips. Bouas wanted to present what she said was gang writing on the defendant's website.

"I believe it's relevant because my witness' car. . . was destroyed and the suspects are Crips," Bouas said. "And I want to bring in his Crip connection. . . . It goes to his credibility and it goes to the witness intimidation that has gone on in this case."

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