Wednesday, July 17, 2002
Board Criticizes Cooley for Refusing to Discuss Arrest Of Man Who Filmed Inglewood Officer Hitting Teen
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
District Attorney Steve Cooley, citing an ongoing investigation into the beating of a black teenager by a white Inglewood police officer, yesterday declined to appear in front of the county Board of Supervisors to speak about the arrest of the cameraman who videotaped the incident.
“Any public discussion by this office at this stage would be improper and would compromise an on-going criminal investigation,” Cooley wrote in a July 15 letter to the board.
Mitchell Crooks, who was staying in a nearby Inglewood motel, videotaped the July 6 arrest of 16-year-old Donovan Jackson who, while handcuffed, was slammed onto a patrol car and then punched in the face by Officer Jeremy J. Morse at an Inglewood gas station. Two sheriff’s deputies had stopped Jackson’s father, Coby Chavis, to investigate his car’s expired registration tags.
Crooks himself was arrested July 11 by investigators from the District Attorney’s Office in front of CNN offices in Hollywood after he failed to appear in front of a Los Angeles County grand jury which is investigating Jackson’s arrest. Crooks’ arrest was captured by a video surveillance camera.
Supervisor Gloria Molina harshly criticized Cooley, who is an independently elected official, for failing to appear in front of the board.
“It’s really unfortunate that the district attorney refuses to show up and answer some basic questions,” Molina said.
Molina said the actions of Cooley’s investigators during Crooks’ arrest, during which Crooks could be heard screaming from inside a darkly tinted sport utility vehicle, take away from the credibility and integrity of law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office.
“Whether he was making it up or not, it sounded vicious,” Molina said.
Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke also took Cooley to task for being a no-show after his investigators arrested Crooks.
“Everyone was looking and you would expect every attempt would be made to avoid another incident,” Burke said.
Cooley defended the actions of the arresting investigators.
“I am completely satisfied with the conduct of the involved District Attorney investigators,” he said in his letter. “I am personally proud of their efforts.”
Cooley, in his letter, explained Crooks was arrested on a warrant issued by the Placer County Superior Court following his conviction in that same court and subsequent failure to appear to serve his sentence.
“Mr. Crooks, in addition to being a fugitive from justice, had been and was peddling to the media the evidence he possessed at the time of his arrest, i.e. the original video tape of the incident in question,” Cooley said.
District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Jane Robison said it is “routine” for investigators to make arrests for outstanding warrants.
Peace officers are required by law to arrest a defendant who has an outstanding warrant, and if they fail to fulfill their obligation, they could face up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine, Cooley wrote.
But Molina accused the District Attorney’s Office of regularly using witnesses who have outstanding warrants to testify in court without making arrests, despite knowing about the warrants.
District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Jane Robison said she was not familiar with what Molina was talking about and could not comment on the allegation.
Crooks denies the outstanding warrants were the reason for his arrest and says he was taken into custody in retaliation for his videotape. He also claims the arresting investigators roughed him up.
“I was basically pushed around and like, I was squeezed, my shoulder was pressed on the ground,” Crooks said in an excerpt from a jailhouse interview posted on ABC’s Good Morning America website yesterday. “I have bruises on my body.”
In Cooley’s absence, supervisors had to rely on information from Assistant Sheriff Dennis Dahlman to fill in details of the arrest as best he could without jeopardizing the department’s own investigation.
The department has reviewed the reports written by the two deputies on the scene, Carlos Lopez and Daniel Leon. The reports were completed in a timely manner and were filed before the existence of a videotape was revealed, Assistant Sheriff Dennis Dahlman said.
“They accurately reflected what happened as far as we can tell now,” Dahlman said.
Dahlman also assured Molina that Crooks was allowed to visit with a lawyer while he was in Sheriff’s Department custody, despite news reports to the contrary.
The supervisors unanimously approved a motion by Burke to lend the services of County Counsel to all independent cities in the county to help set up boards to investigate complaints of excessive force by officers.
“Our community continues to be victimized because some officers continue in violent behavior against members of the public without fear of any discipline or consequence of their actions,” Burke said.
Burke’s motion asks that a letter signed by all five supervisors be sent to the mayors of all independent cities in the county to encourage them to forward excessive force cases to the District Attorney’s Office for review.
The letter will also encourage the creation of the citizen review board, with the guidance of County Counsel, to oversee excessive force cases for cities who have their own police departments.
“I think the important thing is the law and how to set it up,” Burke said.
On Sunday the Rev. Al Sharpton and others at a news conference at Los Angeles International Airport urged Washington lawmakers to pass reforms including civilian oversight panels for any police agency that receives federal funds.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company