The LAPD Smears One of Its Own
But at the time of the Gaines shooting the Rampart scandal had not yet broken, and there was enormous pressure within the LAPD and city government to find Det. Lyga at fault for having shot Gaines. The shooting was investigated more thoroughly than any other I’ve heard of. Every witness, every frame of security video, every last bit of physical evidence, all of it confirmed Lyga’s account of what had happened.
But that didn’t stop a group of black LAPD officers, including Gaines’s friend and former partner Derwin Henderson, from conducting their own off-duty, unofficial investigation, the aim of which was to undercut Lyga’s story. As detailed in Labyrinth, the black officers intimidated witnesses and attempted to put words in their mouths that would contradict Lyga’s account of the shooting. It didn’t work, and the shooting was ultimately ruled within policy by the LAPD and found to be justified by the L.A. County district attorney’s office.
Still, the city of Los Angeles settled a lawsuit filed by Johnnie Cochran on behalf of Gaines’s family for $250,000, an amount that ordinarily would have to be approved by the city council. The city attorney, James Hahn, who would soon run and be elected mayor of L.A., circumvented this provision in the law by issuing several checks totaling $250,000, no single one of which would trigger alarms within City Hall. The judge who oversaw the case took the unheard of step of writing a letter to Bernard Parks, who at the time of the shooting was in charge of internal affairs but later became police chief, stating that had the case not been settled and instead come before him for adjudication, he would have found for Lyga and the city.
Lyga was removed from field duty and treated like a leper for the duration of the investigation, this despite the complete lack of evidence of wrongdoing on his part.
So it’s important to keep this background in mind as you listen to the remarks Lyga made, remarks that have some people calling for him to be fired. “I tell the truth,” Lyga told his audience at the police academy. “Sometimes I tell the truth to the point where it’s detrimental to me.”
Indeed. In recounting his experiences in the wake of the Gaines shooting, Lyga made some crude and insulting remarks about a lieutenant and a captain, both of whom he described as having a role in the attempt to smear him. It was unprofessional of Lyga to make the remarks in such a setting and he deserves some form of punishment for it, no matter how widely shared on the LAPD his opinions about the named individuals may be. But he should not be fired.
What’s most troubling to me in this episode is to hear people calling for Lyga’s head on a pike for expressing himself freely but crudely about people who engaged the entire LAPD internal affairs apparatus in a vain attempt to ruin him, while those same people are today portrayed as victims for having been coarsely spoken of.
Frank Lyga is a great cop whose tongue can be a bit too loose. No one who knows him would argue either point. Let him get back to work.