CA AG Revokes LAPD's Access to Gang-Tracking Database

CNS News
July 14, 2020 - 9:23 am
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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has revoked access to CalGang records generated by the Los Angeles Police Department, following LAPD Chief Michel Moore's decision to permanently withdraw from the program after an internal audit uncovered significant misuse of the gang-tracking database by LAPD personnel, the AG's office said today.

The restriction applies to all statewide users of the CalGang database. The state's justice department has issued a bulletin to all law enforcement authorities urging agencies that use CalGang's database to strongly consider measures, including a thorough internal audit, to validate the integrity of their entries into the system.

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Becerra is also encouraging the state Legislature to reexamine the CalGang program and consider further reforms.

The LAPD recently placed a moratorium on the use of the CalGang System, a statewide database used by law enforcement for sharing intelligence regarding potential gang members.

"I've said it before and I'll say it again: CalGang is only as good as the data that is put into it," Becerra said. "If a quarter of the program's data is suspect, then the utility of the entire system rightly comes under the microscope. The Legislature tasked DOJ with oversight of the CalGang database and with the development of mechanisms to ensure the system's integrity. That's why we're formally revoking access to the records generated by LAPD. Public safety tools must provide a real benefit to the public and withstand the durability test of constant scrutiny. It should now be obvious to everyone: CalGang must change."

Criminal charges have been filed against three Los Angeles Police Department officers accused of falsifying records that claimed people they had stopped were gang members or gang associates, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced Friday.

Braxton Shaw, 37, Michael Coblentz, 42, and Nicolas Martinez, 36, were charged late Thursday with one count each of conspiracy to obstruct justice and multiple counts of filing a false police report and preparing false documentary evidence, according to the District Attorney's Office.

The three were each released on their own recognizance shortly after their arrests by the LAPD's Internal Affairs Division, jail records show. They are set to be arraigned Oct. 13 at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse.

In a statement posted on Twitter, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said, "Public trust is the bedrock of community policing and these allegations shake that foundation. The actions of these few tarnish the badge we all wear. The department is committed to continuing this comprehensive investigation in our effort to restore the confidence of the people we protect and serve."

The charges stem from a "misconduct investigation" conducted by the LAPD's Internal Affairs Group and monitored by the Office of the Inspector General, according to the department.

The LAPD noted that one of the defendants -- which of the three was not specified -- was "relieved from duty" in January when Moore concluded that the officer's actions were "a serious violation of department policy." That officer has been "directed to an administrative tribunal for the purpose of removal," according to the LAPD, which said the other two officers have been assigned to home duty.

The LAPD also said there are 21 other officers under investigation over the completion of field interview cards, which are used by officers to interview people while they are on duty. Ten of those officers are assigned to "home pending the outcome of the investigation," eight are assigned to administrative duties, five remain in the field and one has retired since the investigation was launched, according to the LAPD.

Shaw, Coblentz and Martinez -- who were assigned at the time to the LAPD's Metropolitan Division -- allegedly falsified field interview cards and misidentified dozens of people as gang members. Some of the false information contained in the cards was used to wrongfully enter people into a state gang database, prosecutors allege.

In some instances, the three are accused of writing on field interview cards that a person they stopped admitted being a gang member, even though video from body-worn cameras showed that the individual was never asked that question, according to the District Attorney's Office. In other instances, the defendants allegedly wrote on field interview cards that a person interviewed admitted to being a gang member even though the person denied it, according to the District Attorney's Office.

Shaw -- who could face up to 31 years and eight months in county jail if convicted as charged -- is charged with 43 counts of preparing false documentary evidence involving the field interview cards, along with eight counts of filing a false report and one count of conspiracy.

The overt acts included with the conspiracy charge allege that Shaw falsely documented some people as gang members with gang tattoos and gang monikers and that he falsely documented a "fictional person" as a gang member on 15 occasions between March 2018 and January 2019.

Coblentz allegedly falsified seven field interview cards. He is charged with seven counts of preparing false documentary evidence, five counts of filing a false report and one count of conspiracy, and could face up to seven years and eight months behind bars if found guilty.

Martinez -- who allegedly falsified two field interview cards -- is charged with two counts each of preparing false documentary evidence and filing a false report and one count of conspiracy, and could face a maximum of four years and four months in jail, according to the District Attorney's Office.

"Action was taken quickly to put safeguards in place to ensure this type of behavior does not happen again," an LAPD statement read. "These actions included retraining of all Metropolitan personnel on the proper completion of a FI (field interview) card and random audits of officer's body- worn video with increased frequency of audits. While we had been using a more stringent criteria in the collection and review of information associated with the California Gang Database, we recently committed to no longer using the database for anything other than removing individuals from it."

The LAPD was investigating alleged misuse of CalGang after it was announced in January that a teenager with no gang affiliations was entered into the system.

Becerra announced in February that his office would audit the department's records and policies on the use of the database.

"Right now, LAPD's (CalGang) inputs are under the microscope, and we all have a stake in making sure that we all get this right," Becerra said then. "We do not yet have a clear or full picture of what occurred, but we know enough to know that we must act. Any falsification of police records and abuse of the CalGang database is unacceptable. If Californians are falsely included in the database, that could potentially subject them to unwarranted scrutiny."

The CalGang system was overseen by individual police departments until the Legislature passed Assembly Bill 90 in 2017 giving the Attorney General's Office authority over it.