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Hawthorne officers accused of abuse weren't questioned during internal probe

Police personnel, including the chief's son, accused of breaking man's jaw during arrest were never interviewed during the internal affairs query. Victims and witnesses weren't called either.

February 13, 2009|Richard Winton and Jack Leonard

After Anthony Goodrow complained that he had been brutalized by Hawthorne police officers during an arrest nearly three years ago, department officials said they "conducted an in-depth and thorough internal investigation."

Their conclusion: Officers acted appropriately and did not use excessive force.

That finding, however, appears at odds with the city's payment of $1 million in late January to settle Goodrow's lawsuit alleging excessive force.

Evidence in the case included a photograph that Goodrow's attorneys say shows an officer about to kick their client in the face; a police video of officers slapping high-fives while an injured Goodrow was booked into the city's jail; and reports from the officers acknowledging that they punched and kicked Goodrow several times during the arrest.

A Times review of records in the lawsuit found that internal affairs investigators never interviewed Goodrow nor the officers involved, one of whom was the police chief's son.

Goodrow's attorneys say internal affairs also failed to contact several witnesses who bolstered their client's claim that he was kicked in the face so hard that his jaw was broken.

Experts on police misconduct investigations said Hawthorne's probe fell far short of how other law enforcement agencies handle similar complaints. At many departments, they said, it is standard practice to interview officers accused of misconduct, and agencies will order officers to cooperate if need be.

"There is really no excuse for not doing it," said Merrick Bobb, a Los Angeles-based attorney and national expert on police practices.

Police Chief Michael Heffner declined to talk about his department's investigation or his son's involvement in the case. Officer Thomas Heffner said he punched Goodrow several times during the July 21, 2006, arrest, records show.

Goodrow, 26, was at a house party with his then-girlfriend, Karla Henriquez, when police responded to a noise complaint. Henriquez, 25, complained loudly that the officer had no right to enter the home and insulted Heffner, prompting another officer to take her into custody.

Goodrow said he questioned her arrest and was asked whether he wanted to go with his girlfriend. When he replied yes, the officers grabbed him, he said.

Officers said in police reports and depositions that Goodrow initiated the confrontation by cursing and acting belligerently, taking a "fighting stance" by clenching his fists and puffing out his chest.

According to the officers' accounts, an officer put Goodrow in a choke-hold and Heffner punched him in the stomach. The officers said they forced Goodrow to the ground, where they said he continued resisting attempts to handcuff him. One officer punched Goodrow several times in his face and Heffner testified that he delivered two punches to Goodrow's back. Another officer kicked Goodrow twice in the ribs, according to police.

Goodrow never struck back and finally submitted, the officers said.

At the city's jail, Goodrow threatened to sue the officers, according to a deposition by Reserve Officer Renee Descant, a first-grade teacher at a Hawthorne elementary school. A police video shows Descant and another officer slapping high-fives as Goodrow is being searched. Descant testified that they did so out of relief that they had not been involved in the confrontation with Goodrow.

From jail, Goodrow called his mother and said he needed medical attention.

Sheila Goodrow called the jail and told an official that her son's jaw was broken, according to a police recording of the call.

"He is in actual pain right now," she told the jailer. "He needs to see a doctor."

"It will happen on the Police Department's timetable," the jailer replied.

Goodrow's attorneys said he was released more than three hours later without being treated, despite a department policy that requires officers to seek medical attention for suspects with visible injuries.

Goodrow was charged with a felony for allegedly resisting an officer. At a preliminary hearing, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Donna Groman rejected defense claims that officers used excessive force, concluding that Goodrow "was resisting with his body . . . with stiffening of the body, making it very difficult for the officers to handcuff him."

But the charge was later dismissed by another judge who ruled that Goodrow's attorney should have been allowed to present more witnesses at the preliminary hearing.

Deputy Dist. Atty. John Lynch said prosecutors declined to refile the case, concluding that Goodrow's actions should be handled as a possible misdemeanor. He said prosecutors never saw the videotape of the high-five and were unaware of the civil lawsuit.

After reading about the settlement in The Times last week, Lynch said he referred the matter to a division within his office that reviews allegations of police brutality.

In his lawsuit, Goodrow accused police of kicking him in the face while he was handcuffed on the ground.

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