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City Council, police panel examine reopening disciplinary hearings

January 17, 2007|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Facing another chorus of community outrage and warnings that public trust is at stake, the Los Angeles City Council and Police Commission separately launched reviews Tuesday to look for ways to reopen police disciplinary board hearings to the public.

More than a dozen community leaders, most of them African American, attended a City Hall hearing to protest the Los Angeles Police Department's decision to hold a secret disciplinary hearing that overturned the Police Commission ruling that a police officer acted out of policy in the shooting death of 13-year-old Devin Brown.

"Our people are very tense, and our people are very explosive," warned Nation of Islam leader Tony Muhammad. "When an officer is involved in a shooting there should be no secrets."

The Rev. Lewis Logan II of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church likened the secret hearing that cleared the officer to "terrorism," because it had a shocking effect on the public and was conceived behind closed doors.

The secret hearing that cleared the officer "contradicts justice and creates an anxiety and a sense of tension and a lack of trust on behalf of the community in reference to the LAPD," Logan, a city commissioner, told the council.

Police Commission President John Mack announced he has appointed a working group to determine how the LAPD might be as open as possible in holding boards of rights hearings while also supporting state legislation to reopen the hearings.

"This is essential if we are ever to achieve mutual trust and eliminate suspicion and distrust" by the public, Mack said.

Appearing before the council, Mack said police commissioners were frustrated that a court ruling based on current state law has been interpreted by the city attorney to require that boards of rights be closed, after being open to the public for decades.

Councilman Jack Weiss introduced a motion, to be considered at a future meeting, to support state legislation that would reopen them. In addition, council members asked the chief legislative analyst to look at all options that would allow the hearings to be opened.

Councilman Bernard C. Parks, a former police chief, said he was concerned that the boards of rights were closed without the city attorney and LAPD appearing before the council to explain the change.

"No one can understand why the change was made. There has been no public discussion," Parks said.

In response, a lawyer for the city attorney's office said the court ruling that police personnel files are confidential required the closing of hearings where the files were discussed.

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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