The Ted Rall Tapes, Director’s Cut Edition

Before continuing, it’s important to know the process of how the audio was first recorded and then transferred within the LAPD.  Like many officers at that time, the one who stopped Rall was carrying a micro-cassette recorder.  (I carried one myself; I switched to a digital recorder in 2005.)  California law requires that all parties to a private conversation give consent to having it recorded, but there is a provision that allows police officers to record their public contacts without the knowledge or consent of those with whom they speak.  So the officer had his recorder and was in the habit of recording all of his traffic stops, three of which were on the tape in question.  Prior to stopping Rall, the officer cited someone for not wearing a seat belt, and after stopping Rall, he cited someone for having no license plate on the front of his car.  (As an amusing, only-in-L.A. aside, that driver protested that he had been too busy to put the plate on because he had been working “on a feature film.”  He got a ticket anyway.)

When a complaint is made against an officer, the assigned investigator asks the officer if he recorded the incident and, if so, to provide the tape.  In the pre-digital age of the Rall incident, the investigator obtained the officer’s tape and recorded it on another tape recorder, which he also used to conduct any interviews the investigation might have required.  (According to the LAPD, Rall never responded to phone messages requesting an interview, and the tape contains a message left by the investigator on Rall’s answering machine.)

After some time had passed and Rall still had not returned the investigator’s calls, the investigator submitted his findings to the captain at West Traffic Division, who most likely adjudicated the complaint as “unfounded.”  You should note that in his letter of complaint to the LAPD, written less than two weeks after the incident, Rall did not say he had been handcuffed or roughed up or physically mistreated, only that the officer had been “belligerent and hostile,” and that he had thrown Rall’s driver’s license into the gutter.

Again, I have no inside knowledge of how the tape made its way to the editors at the L.A. Times, but I have enough knowledge of how the LAPD works to offer my informed speculation.  When Rall’s May 11 piece appeared in the Times, it was noted by someone in the Media Relations Section, where all references to the LAPD in the local press and elsewhere are collected and disseminated via the department’s internal computer network to anyone who cares to read them.  Rall’s tale of suffering at the hands of an LAPD officer prompted someone to send an email or write a memo to inquire if Rall had ever complained about the incident, and if so, what was the outcome.  When it was learned that the incident had been investigated and found to have occurred in a manner that differed in most respects from the way Rall had described in the Times, someone in the LAPD picked up a phone or walked across the street and contacted someone at the Times.  “Listen to this,” the cop probably said, “and make of it what you will.”

And at the Times, they listened, they were persuaded, and they handed Rall his cards.

“But not so fast,” say Rall and his supporters.  “The enhanced version of the tape tells a different story.”

But does it?  I’ve listened to the tape several times using high-quality Bose headphones, and I’m unable to hear some of the things Rall claims to hear.  I also note that some of the things I can hear are incorrectly transcribed.  For example, the transcript has the officer saying he’s with the “L.A. County Police Department.”  There is no such police department.  What the officer says is, “Officer Durr, Los Angeles Police Department.”  The officer goes on to explain the reason he has stopped Rall, and Rall responds by saying he’s “sorry.”  The officer obtains Rall’s driver’s license, and what follows is traffic noise and mostly unintelligible voices as the officer writes out the citation.