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After police raid, bitterness replaces pride for LAPD officer

A SWAT unit rousted Randolph Franklin from his South L.A. home in 2006. They found nothing. Today, still on the job, he wants to know why they came that morning.

May 28, 2009|Joel Rubin

Until it all went bad, Randolph Franklin used to talk with pride about his life in the Los Angeles Police Department. Wear a badge for nearly half of your 50 years and somewhere along the way it becomes more than just a job.

He was proud as well of the life he built on Woodlawn Avenue -- an unremarkable street set amid the gang violence and poverty of the city's southern swath. It's an odd place for a cop to live. But it was where a black kid from a Mississippi trailer park managed to buy a real house. It was where he turned an old, beat-up bungalow into a real home with dark red trim, marble fireplaces and trendy bamboo stalks along the edge of the lawn.

In the early morning darkness of May 25, 2006, Franklin's two worlds -- his life on Woodlawn and his life in the LAPD -- collided.

The phone in his upstairs bedroom woke him from a dead sleep at 4 a.m. His wife was away visiting her family, and their two small children slept down the hall. The voice on the line identified himself as a lieutenant with the LAPD's elite SWAT unit. The house, he told Franklin, was surrounded. Peering out of the bedroom window, Franklin saw it was no joke: a knot of heavily armed officers were pressed up against the house. Snipers were perched on the neighbor's porch. A helicopter hovered overhead.

Franklin had no idea what his own Police Department would want with him. He asked for time to roust his 7-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son. He had 20 minutes, the SWAT officer said, or police would come in and get him.

Before Franklin pulled open the front door and walked into the blinding glare of spotlights, he put himself between his little boy and girl and took their hands in his own. "I wanted the police to be able to see our hands," he recalls. "I didn't want to give them any reason to shoot us."

Franklin is a tightly wound man. When he describes the LAPD's six-hour search of his house, his jaw clenches and he seethes words like "degrading" and "humiliating." He recalls how he was made to sit in the back of a police van with his children, guarded by someone wearing the same uniform he wore each day. He remembers how neighbors gathered to gawk as drug-sniffing dogs were led inside, dogs that left paw prints on his bed. He talks about the quiet fury he felt as his demands for an explanation were ignored.

"They came into my house," he says. "That's my family. My reputation."

What happened that morning is not in dispute. Why it happened, however, is.

If the explanation of officers who oversaw the search is to be believed, the incident was an unfortunate mistake born of honest police work. However, Franklin, in a lawsuit and interviews, has alleged that the search was the culmination of a campaign of retaliation orchestrated by his supervisors, with whom he had feuded.

Over the course of a year, LAPD officials reviewed Franklin's accusations and dismissed them as unfounded. So, Franklin sued the officers who ordered the search, as well as the LAPD, for violating his civil rights, inflicting emotional distress, and negligence. Late last year, 12 jurors listened to what Franklin had to say and decided the officers should never have disturbed his life on Woodlawn. Corners were cut, they decided, lies were told.

After nearly five years in the Marine Corps, Franklin joined the LAPD in 1984 and established himself as a capable, if unremarkable, cop. His personnel file is full of positive performance evaluations, noting his work ethic and unbending adherence to department policies. Franklin was rarely disciplined -- his most serious misstep coming when he berated a patrol officer who stopped him for a traffic violation.

But he is not a cop's cop. By his own account, Franklin has reported several partners for perceived abuses, even telling a suspect once that his partner had unlawfully arrested him. In 2000, after being promoted to sergeant, Franklin was assigned to the department's Pacific Division on the Westside, where he solidified his reputation as a strict, by-the-book supervisor and a rabble-rouser who didn't shy away from criticizing other cops. More than once, he says, he raised eyebrows when he ordered officers to release suspects taken into custody under dubious circumstances.

Almost from the start, Franklin's in-your-face personality led to clashes with the division's command staff, he said. They formally accused him of misconduct at least six times, alleging neglect of duty, failing to complete reports and similar missteps. Each time, Franklin challenged the charges and, with one exception, was cleared either by an appeals panel or when supervisors abandoned the discipline proceedings. Franklin also represented several other Pacific officers during discipline proceedings. Much to the frustration of the division's command staff, he says, allegations against several of them were dismissed or reduced.

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