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A town where impunity lives

September 05, 2008|STEVE LOPEZ

I didn't get very far Thursday at City Hall in Inglewood, the town whose public officials keep filling the pages of this newspaper, often without saying a word.

Mayor Roosevelt Dorn, or someone at his house, hung up the phone when one of my colleagues called the other day to ask about a string of fatal shootings involving officers from the city's Police Department.

Of course, a low profile may be the best move for the mayor, given his own troubles. Dorn has pleaded not guilty to charges of conflict of interest and misappropriation of $500,000 in public funds, money that came from a below-market loan program he had voted in favor of.

Before visiting the mayor's office Thursday, I stopped by the Police Department and tried to get a few words out of Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks.

I knew it was a long shot going in. She seemed to have developed lockjaw about the officer-involved shootings, which have left four people dead in four months.

Seabrooks couldn't yet discuss those cases, I was told by Lt. Michael McBride, a guy I've dealt with before and liked.

Why not?

Investigations and inquiries are still underway, said McBride, and there are "personnel issues" to consider, among other things.

What's the word I'm looking for? Oh, yeah.


I'm aware that formal investigations of officer-involved shootings take time. But that doesn't mean a police department shouldn't immediately lay out the basic facts of what happened.

That's what the LAPD and countless other agencies do, if for no other reason than to avoid the appearance that it has something to hide.

Maybe the officers in each Inglewood case will be cleared in the end, I don't know. And McBride promised the chief would be meeting with one of my colleagues later Thursday to discuss the cases. She eventually did, and said seven officers have been placed on administrative leave.

But we shouldn't have to wait so long for the names of the officers who fired at least 40 shots Sunday, killing a homeless man who had a fake gun. State law makes their names a matter of public record.

And it would have been nice to know more about why Officer Brian Ragan, who was involved in the still-sketchy May 11 killing of an unarmed 19-year-old, was back on duty July 21, when he was involved in the killing of a 38-year-old man in what may have been a case of mistaken identity.

And by the way, when Chief Seabrooks was reached by a Times reporter after that May killing, she chided him for calling her at home during off-hours.

Why not avoid such hassles in the future by issuing a directive for her officers to shoot unarmed citizens only during business hours?

When I left the Police Department I went up to Mayor Dorn's office to see if I could chat with him about the Police Department, if not his own problems. His staff told me he was unavailable, which did not exactly come as a shock.

Inglewood's ruling class, like those in dozens of towns across Southern California, probably figure nobody's really watching. Not every town has a local paper, and when The Times swoops in periodically, busted public officials figure they can take the heat for a while and then go back to business as usual.

After leaving City Hall, I drove to the home of Larry Aubry to talk it over with the longtime Inglewood resident. Because he is a journalist and former human relations commissioner, I figured Aubry would have more than a few insights.

Aubry, almost 75, hasn't lost his oomph.

"They don't get it," he said of city leaders and Chief Seabrooks, telling me he was flabbergasted when she told a reporter not to call her at home after business hours. "A man's been killed and you're the chief of police."

The city needs a good citizen-led police review commission, he said, not the "toothless" operation now in place. A mayor with a spine and a City Council doing its job would demand that very thing, he added. Late Thursday afternoon, the City Council finally woke from its slumber with a statement calling for more officer training, among other things, but why so little so late?

As for Dorn, "I'm no fan," Aubrey said. In the interest of full disclosure, he noted that Dorn lost a libel suit against him in 2004 over a column Aubry wrote for the Sentinel.

Aubry had accused Dorn of being influenced by campaign donations in a vote on a proposed Wal-Mart.

Aubry described Inglewood -- with its many years of controversial police activity and second-rate leadership -- as a place where most residents aren't paying attention, and "they're being exploited to the hilt" by city leaders. Of Dorn, he said, "people have given him a blank check, and he rules the roost."

Not that Inglewood has a lock on run-amok leadership that's made possible by public apathy. The same holds true for much of the country, Aubry said, arguing that materialistic pursuits have left people disengaged from one another and less inclined to hold leaders accountable.

How many people are worked up about Long Beach Rep. Laura Richardson's outrageous defaults on home mortgages?

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