The LAPD Box Score Reads: Two Runs, Two Hits, One Error
Back in April, I wrote about the beating that took place in the Dodger Stadium parking lot following the Opening Day game between the Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants. Giant fan Bryan Stow, visiting from Santa Cruz, Calif., was set upon and beaten into a coma by two men who then fled in a car driven by a woman. A child, evidently the next generation of hoodlum, was also in the car.
Given the setting, the case generated a good deal of media attention, attendant to which came intense pressure on the LAPD to find and arrest the suspects. The beating was seen as more than an assault on one man. The Dodgers’ reputation had been damaged, as had indeed that of the entire city of Los Angeles. The notion that thugs could roam the stadium parking lot and beat visiting fans nearly to death without fear of consequence was one the team and local politicians were eager to see quashed.
So it fell to the LAPD to do the quashing, and the sooner the better. Homicide detectives were assigned to the case, an unusual step in a crime that didn’t result in death. If Stow had instead been beaten in a restaurant parking lot on Sunset Boulevard somewhere near the ballpark, no one but the cops who investigated the crime would have heard of it. And, I’m sorry to say, it’s likely that no one would have been arrested for it, either. Indeed, so far this year there have been four murders in the LAPD’s Northeast Division, which includes Dodger Stadium, yet none of these crimes has received even a fraction of the attention given to the Stow case.
And people have been arrested for beating Bryan Stow. Alas, one too many.
In the early morning of May 27, a SWAT team arrested Giovanni Ramirez, 31, at an apartment in East Hollywood. Ramirez came to be a suspect in the beating when his parole officer noticed a resemblance between him and the composite drawing of one of the Dodger Stadium suspects. Witnesses to the crime picked out Ramirez from photo lineups, providing sufficient probable cause for a judge to issue a warrant for Ramirez’s arrest and another authorizing a search of his home and the apartment where he was found.
The afternoon of the arrest, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and officials from the Dodgers held a press conference at Dodger Stadium to voice their relief at having nabbed one of the men responsible for the beating. There was nothing expressed at the press conference to indicate there was anything less than certainty in the police case against Ramirez.
Now we know better. The case soon began to fall apart as detectives were unable to produce any evidence that placed Ramirez anywhere near Dodger Stadium on Opening Day. The investigation was transferred to the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division, an elite unit that handles some of the city’s most high-profile crimes. When RHD detectives were likewise unable to find evidence placing Ramirez at Dodger Stadium on the day of the beating, they began working their way through the accumulation of other clues that pointed to other suspects. On July 21, police arrested Louie Sanchez, 29, and Marvin Norwood, 30, and booked them for the assault on Bryan Stow. Police believe it was Sanchez’s sister, Dorene Sanchez, who drove the car that day, and that his 11-year-old son was the child seen in the car.
And now what of Giovanni Ramirez? While the investigation continued, Ramirez went to a parole hearing where it was determined he should go back to prison for ten months for “having access to a firearm.” On the day he was arrested, a handgun was discovered in a laundry basket in the apartment where he was staying. California parolees are forbidden not only from possessing weapons, but also for having access to them.
Chief Beck has announced that Ramirez has been exonerated of any involvement in the Stow beating, going so far as to write an op-ed piece to that effect that ran in the July 30 edition of the Los Angeles Times. But that wasn’t enough for Times columnist Sandy Banks, who thinks Beck owes Ramirez an apology. “Chief Beck and his department have nothing to be ashamed of,” writes Banks. “And neither does Giovanni Ramirez.”
Giovanni Ramirez was not some naïf snatched from his home or his job and hurled into the machinery of the criminal justice system based on trumped-up evidence. He was a gang member and convicted felon on active parole for a weapons charge. According to the L.A. Times, he has at least two other previous felony convictions, one for robbery and the other for attempted robbery. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported the victim of the latter crime was an elderly woman. To Sandy Banks, none of this is anything to be ashamed of.
Furthermore, we have yet to hear an explanation from his defenders as to why Ramirez was staying at the apartment in East Hollywood, far away from his home and gang territory in East Los Angeles. This, too, is a violation of his parole conditions, albeit a technical one. And now we learn that Ramirez’s girlfriend, Denise Piccione, 26, has been arrested in Las Vegas for methamphetamine trafficking and possession of a dangerous weapon. Associating with drug dealers is also a violation of his parole conditions.
It was Ramirez’s own prior conduct, it was the decisions that he alone made as to how he would live his life, that led to his being a suspect in the Bryan Stow beating. And isn’t it ironic that Ramirez chooses to shave his head in the manner typical of Latino gang members. One advantage this offers is to make it difficult for crime victims and witnesses to identify them from one another, but in Ramirez’s case it was turned against him. In choosing to look like so many other thugs in Los Angeles, he was mistaken for one of the most wanted men in town.
So Sandy Banks can shed all the tears she likes for Giovanni Ramirez, but neither she nor he should be waiting by the phone for that apology.
Elsewhere in the LAPD, the department brass has been tripping over their own feet as they try to turn a minor incident into a scandal. On July 7, officers from the LAPD’s 77th Street Division held an off-duty party at a bar in Gardena. Billed, perhaps a bit imprudently, as a “hood day” party, mimicking those held by gang members, the party was attended by officers and supervisors alike. I’m told it was quite a bash.
A sign was posted at the bar’s entrance -- again, perhaps a bit imprudently -- advising that any cop who had agreed to comply with new financial disclosure rules for gang and narcotics officers would be unwelcome at the party. When those rules went into effect in March, only the lieutenant in the 77th Street gang unit agreed to comply with them and remain in his position. All of the sergeants and officers exercised the option to be assigned to other duties rather than complete the disclosure, a decision they were advised -- at every level of the chain of command, right up to Chief Beck himself -- would be accepted without consequences.
But there are still hard feelings among the brass that so many cops refused to roll over, so the investigation into the party is seen by many cops at 77th Street as a chance for the department to get even. In a move sadly typical of LAPD management, they overreacted to a minuscule incident in a way that will only make matters worse. The investigation had barely begun when four police officers and a lieutenant, all experienced veterans at 77th Street, were unceremoniously transferred to other stations. Before it’s all over, internal affairs investigators will likely claim a few more scalps for some perceived indiscretions, but none of it will make working the 77th Street gang unit any more attractive than it was before. A police station’s morale can be shot to hell overnight, but it takes a long time to bring it back.
Illustrating the stubborn endurance of bad ideas, the financial disclosure rules at the root of the fuss described above are among the last vestiges of the federal consent decree imposed on the LAPD in the wake of the so-called Rampart scandal of the late 1990s. The consent decree was a colossal waste, enriching those who made a career out of enforcing it and only diverting vast quantities of money and other resources away from the fight against crime in Los Angeles. We now learn that one of the consent decree’s chief architects, Donna Murphy, has been nominated by President Obama for a judgeship for the Superior Court of Washington, D.C.
Murphy currently serves in the Justice Department, where she worked under Janet Reno and Bill Lann Lee in the Civil Rights Division at the time the consent decree was crafted. Back in March, Hans von Spakovsky made the case here on Pajamas Media as to why Murphy’s nomination should not go through, to which I would only add that I would hate to be a police officer called to testify in her court. Crime in D.C. is bad enough without another liberal activist on the bench looking for ways to excuse criminal behavior.