Thursday, November 14, 2002
Former LAPD Officers Sentenced to Jail, Probation for Assault of Homeless Man
By LORELEI LAIRD, Staff Writer
Two former Los Angeles police officers were sentenced yesterday to a year in county jail for assaulting a homeless man.
Judge Larry Fidler recommended work furlough for Christopher Coppock, 30, and David Cochrane, 36, but said he would leave that and the possibility of electronic monitoring up to the Sheriff’s Department. That means the defendants could arrange to work outside the county jail during the day, coming “home” at night to their cells.
Fidler also gave the two former officers five years each of probation and required them to pay $5,000 each to the victim, Delton Bowen, and $200 each to the state as financial restitution.
“Listening to Mr. Bowen testify, it was like hearing the script of a bad Dirty Harry movie,” Fidler said. “We have rules, we have laws, and police officers are expected to follow those laws.”
Coppock and Cochrane pled no contest in August to one charge each of assault by a public officer under color of authority. The pleas were part of a bargain with prosecutors, who dropped charges of kidnapping and false imprisonment. If the two had gone to trial and lost, Coppock would have faced up to nine years in prison, while Cochrane, who is accused of using a gun in the incident, could have faced 18 years.
The two former officers are accused of assaulting Bowen after he insulted one of them in October 1997. Sandra Salazar, then a rookie officer tagging along with Coppock and Cochrane, testified that they forced Bowen into their patrol car, then drove him to a tunnel leading to the Los Angeles River and threatened him. Bowen said he was handcuffed during the incident, and kicked down an embankment as the police officers left.
Bowen was not beaten and sustained only a scratch on his finger. But prosecutor Kraig St. Pierre asked Fidler to imagine the victim’s terror at being brought to the pitch-black, graffiti-covered tunnel, especially as an homeless alcoholic who had been arrested many times before.
“They picked on the least among us, the poorest of the poor,” St. Pierre said.
St. Pierre also said the two should get the maximum sentence of one year in jail because they threatened Salazar with retribution should she testify against them, and lied to internal investigators “as police officers, with badges on their chests” when two other officers were wrongly accused of Bowen’s assault. He contended that if the case against the other officers had gone to federal court, Coppock and Cochrane would likely have lied there as well.
The two former officers were sued at least twice by people who claimed they were wrongly imprisoned after Coppock and Cochrane planted cocaine on them. Both lawsuits were settled. St. Pierre said the District Attorney’s Office has had to seek release of 11 people from prison so far because they were convicted solely on Coppock and Cochrane’s testimony, which he said the state no longer considers trustworthy.
The LAPD has been accused of other incidents of brutality against the homeless. Most notoriously, Edward Larrigan shot a mentally ill homeless woman named Margaret Mitchell in May of 1999. In that case, witnesses’ reports contradicted the police’s allegations that she had lunged at Larrigan and his partner with a screwdriver. Though then-Police Chief Bernard Parks ruled the shooting “in policy” and the Police Commission agreed, homeless and civic activists protested the shooting for weeks as unnecessary to subdue the 106-pound woman.
Before making his statement, St. Pierre offered Fidler and the defense an apology for a comment he made to the Los Angeles Times in August, in which he implied that Fidler had coerced him into accepting the plea bargain. He said the statement was “completely, utterly wrong” and apologized for any damage he had done to the judge’s reputation or to the defendants’ rights.
“Because I did the stand-down thing, I thought I might do the stand-up thing,” St. Pierre explained after the hearing.
Fidler, who said he teaches judicial ethics, said before the sentencing that he wasn’t legally required to recuse himself from the case. However, he offered both sides a chance to request that he recuse himself anyway, in light of St. Pierre’s comment in August. Neither side made such a request.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company