It was a shabby little bit of journalism, and it came back to bite them.
Last November, KTTV, the Fox affiliate here in Los Angeles, aired a news story that alleged two LAPD officers had perjured themselves in the prosecution of a gang member they had arrested for possession of a handgun. Officers assigned to the gang unit at Hollenbeck Division, east of downtown L.A., stopped a white Mercedes driven by Rafat “Danny” Abdallah when they saw the car had no license plates. A subsequent search of the car turned up a handgun which Abdallah, a previously convicted felon, was forbidden to possess.
Abdallah later produced a video that purported to show him driving away from his business just before the traffic stop, and when the tape was enhanced the car’s license plate was clearly visible. If the officers had lied about their probable cause for making the stop, the gun they said they recovered would be inadmissible in court. Abdallah would be cleared, and the officers themselves would likely have found themselves in the dock.
Or so it may have seemed. Jim Epstein, Abdallah’s attorney, shopped around for a sympathetic media outlet and was lucky enough to find a reporter with a degree of credulity one hopes is rare in the trade. “The cops lied, clearly,” Epstein told reporter John Schwada, who swallowed the tale whole. And Epstein went on to heap further slander on the officers. “My client denies he had any knowledge of that gun in his car,” he said, “and we think it could have been planted by the police.” Schwada concluded his report with this woeful coda: “Abdallah said he’s had multiple run-ins with the LAPD and is so fed up with them he’s moving his business elsewhere.”
He’ll be moving elsewhere, all right, but his only business will be making license plates. Abdallah has admitted through his attorney that the “exculpatory” video he peddled to KTTV had been fabricated, a fact the station reported Monday.
Okay, anyone can be hoodwinked. Reporter Schwada was presented with a story that, if true, was newsworthy and compelling. If the two officers had indeed trumped up a case against Abdallah, they would have deserved all the official sanction and public scorn Schwada and his television station hoped to arouse. But given the gravity of the allegation, wouldn’t a bit of journalistic legwork have been warranted? If Schwada or anyone else at KTTV attempted to seek a response from the officers or from the district attorney’s office it was not reflected in the story broadcast last November 17. The station did update the story on November 19, reporting that prosecutors were challenging the veracity of the video, but there was no interview with either prosecutors or police officers, and the report concluded with Schwada repeating Epstein’s claim of police misconduct.