Call it a case of imprudent candor. A Los Angeles Police Department detective today finds himself on the hot seat over some, shall we say, unfiltered comments he made during a training session at the Los Angeles police academy last November. Detective Frank Lyga, a 28-year veteran of the LAPD, was addressing a group of officers attending in-service training when he veered from whatever the course syllabus might have been and into a tangent about a 1997 shooting that has, despite his many accomplishments as a detective, overshadowed his career.
I pause here for full disclosure (or as full as someone writing under a pseudonym dares): I have known Detective Lyga since before the 1997 shooting, though I do not know him well. It has been some years since I’ve seen or spoken with him, but for some time in the 1990s I was assigned to a narcotics squad that often worked in conjunction with Lyga’s. At that time I knew him to be an outstanding detective, among the most thorough and tenacious I’ve ever worked with. He was tireless in pursuing leads into a drug conspiracy, arresting a street dealer and then developing information that led to his supplier, and then to the next guy up the chain, and so on. He would nab the guy with the grams, then the guy with the ounces, and finally the guy with the kilos, often working overtime well past the point that his coworkers, myself included, were exhausted and ready to go home. It seemed as though he worked late every night and was in court every morning.
And during that period, Det. Lyga worked with officers of both sexes and all ethnicities, and not once did I hear any cop of any description even hint that Lyga was anything less than professional in his relationships with his coworkers. All he cared about was that you pulled your weight and could handle yourself when things got messy, as they often did. He was precisely the kind of cop you wanted next to you as you went through the door on a search warrant. In the years since, his reputation as a cop has remained unsullied, at least as far as his peers are concerned.
Many of his superiors, however, would no doubt offer a different opinion. Which is just fine with Det. Lyga, as he has grown accustomed, as many of us have, to being disappointed by them. But his cynicism about the LAPD management runs far deeper than that harbored by most of us, deeper even than my own. But not without good reason, for in the aftermath of that 1997 shooting he saw just how far some in the LAPD were willing to go to pursue political expediency at the cost of one man’s reputation and career. Det. Lyga survived the ordeal, but only because the facts of what occurred were overwhelmingly on his side.
I’ll explain. The 1997 shooting is today being mischaracterized as having arisen from a road rage incident, with the implication being that Det. Lyga was somehow at least partly to blame. Yes, Lyga and the man he shot were both driving in cars, but there had been no dispute about one driver cutting the other off or anything of the sort.
The shooting went down as follows: On the afternoon March 18, 1997, Det. Lyga was working as a plainclothes narcotics detective in Hollywood. He and other members of his squad had followed a lead into the adjacent area of North Hollywood, and having finished their investigation were on their way back to Hollywood. Det. Lyga was riding alone in an unmarked car, a Buick Regal. Stopped in traffic at the busy intersection of Lankershim and Ventura Boulevards, Lyga saw a green Mitsubishi Montero come to a stop to his left. Rap music was blaring from the Montero, and Lyga turned to see a black male behind the wheel. The Montero driver seemed to be staring in Lyga’s direction and shaking his head, and Lyga assumed he was looking at something or someone on the sidewalk to his right. He looked over and saw that the sidewalk was empty. Turning back to the Montero, Lyga saw the driver still staring at him.
Lyga rolled down his driver’s side window. “Can I help you?” he asked the man in the Montero. “Roll that window up, you punk mother****er,” came the reply. “Get out of my face or I’ll put a cap in your ass!”