The admission by the Los Angeles Police Department that it had arrested the wrong man in the beating of San Francisco Giants' fan Bryan Stow hardly marks the department's finest hour. But it's not an utter failure either.
From the start, the case against Giovanni Ramirez had its problems. He offered an alibi, and witnesses described him as having had a full head of hair on the day of the beating (the assailants apparently were bald). And though his neck tattoo is distinctive, Ramirez is hardly the only Los Angeles man with a florid display. Tellingly, the L.A. County district attorney's office declined to file charges against Ramirez even as Police Chief Charlie Beck and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa expressed confidence that the LAPD had the right man. Those accusations now turn out to be false, and they have damaged the department's credibility.
But even as the LAPD falsely tarred Ramirez with the beating, detectives from the department's vaunted Robbery-Homicide Division continued to pursue leads, challenging the longtime contention that the city's police routinely rush to judgment in high-profile cases. Instead, detectives concluded that Ramirez was innocent and closed in on other suspects, three of whom were arrested Thursday.
It's true that Ramirez has been in jail since May, but that's not because he's been held in connection with the attack on Stow. When he was arrested, Ramirez was in an apartment where a gun was present, a violation of his parole. So the time's he done is no injustice. Even Ramirez's lawyer credited the LAPD with pursuing the case in good faith.
Los Angeles leaders were under intense pressure to make an arrest in the Stow case, which had embarrassed officials from the city and the Dodgers. That pressure manifested itself in the heedless and overconfident remarks of the mayor and chief but, fortunately, did not dissuade detectives from doing their jobs. Indeed, as the new information came out about the latest arrests, Villaraigosa acted as if he'd learned his lesson: Asked Friday morning for an update on the case, he declined to comment until he had a chance to review the details.
Much has been said and written about the LAPD's transformation from its violent and high-handed origins to the more modern, professional institution it is today. In this case, the mayor and chief could offer further evidence of that with a simple gesture: They owe Ramirez a public apology.