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Inglewood officials criticized for withholding report on officer-involved shootings

Community activists say the lack of transparency regarding the killings of unarmed suspects is unsettling. The City Council cites attorney-client privilege in keeping the findings sealed.

September 26, 2009|Victoria Kim

Inglewood residents and community activists this week criticized city officials' decision to withhold from the public a report by an independent consultant who was hired to look into several controversial shootings in which police officers fatally wounded unarmed suspects.

"Everybody is waiting and waiting to see what this report says," said Adrianne Sears, chairwoman of Inglewood's Citizen Police Oversight Commission, which has not been given a copy of the report.

Tony Muhammad, an activist who has also pressed the City Council for the report, said the lack of transparency has led to "discomfort and distrust" among residents.

"Are these guys OK, or are they buck wild?" he asked of the city's police officers. "People are nervous; they're on the edge about their own police department."

In a statement last week, the City Council announced that it had received the report by the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review, a civilian oversight group, but was withholding it because of attorney-client privilege in legal matters involving the Police Department. The council did not specify when the report would be released, stating only that it would "eventually" be made public in its entirety.

"The goal of the review . . . is to inform the public of the reform efforts now underway, evaluate all aspects of the department's operation, preserve public safety, and help officers serve the community at the highest level," the council said in the statement.

City Atty. Cal Saunders declined to answer a reporter's questions about why the report fell under attorney-client privilege, or what legal matters were barring the report's release. Council members and other city officials declined to comment or did not return requests for comment.

The report marks the first independent, external assessment of the department since the shootings, in which officers shot and killed four men over a span of four months in 2008. Three of them were unarmed. The U.S. Department of Justice's civil rights division is also investigating the department's policies and procedures. The L.A. County district attorney's office and the FBI have opened inquiries into specific shootings.

The yearlong review that led to the report began after the third shooting death. Michael J. Gennaco, chief attorney for the Office of Independent Review, said his staff closely monitored the police response and investigation following the fourth shooting, in which officers fired more than 40 rounds at a homeless man with a replica gun in his waistband.

After a process of comments and revisions, the final report was given to the City Council sometime last month, Gennaco said.

"The city has got to decide if and when to release it," he said. "The ball's in their court."

A spokesman said Inglewood Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks discussed the report in staff meetings, where she said many of its recommendations were already being implemented in the department.

Community activists and residents complained that city leaders were not living up to promises that the review process would be open and transparent.

They said the release of the report was important because it would help make the Police Department more accountable to the community

"The public has a right to know," said Erin Kaplan, an Inglewood resident and freelance journalist who has written about issues plaguing the city. "We're all on pins and needles. . . . There is an unease about the department."

Kaplan said the council was being "short-sighted" by withholding the report. She said releasing the findings would help restore trust in the police force.

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victoria.kim@latimes.com

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