We’re not against the police. We’re not against the police department, but we are against police who commit misconduct (and those who help cover it up).
Los Angeles Police Department Officer Mario Cardona’s commanding officer admitted that Officer Cardona acted unreasonably, unprofessionally, and used excessive force during a 2015 confrontation with college student Daniel Garza. The attorney’s charged with defending the City of Los Angeles and officers like Cardona said the same and went a step further, arguing that Officer Cardona acted with malice during the incident. Eventually, a federal jury agreed. But in an all too familiar scenario, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck exonerated the officer and found his actions to be “justified, lawful, and proper”—and Officer Cardona? Well he’s since been promoted to a training officer.
There was very little fanfare last week after a federal jury awarded 28-year-old Cal State L.A. kinesiology student Daniel Garza $210,000 in damages after it found that LAPD Officer Cardona acted with malice and used excessive force on May 14, 2015 when he punched Garza over twenty times in the face and body, straddled him and twisting his wrists all while Garza was in handcuffs. Garza was unarmed, had committed no crime and was not assaulting or threatening anyone. The clincher in the case—the officer has to pony up the $210,000 from his own pocket and not the taxpayers of the City of Los Angeles. Not a first, but definitely a rare occurrence in the City of Los Angeles and one that police reform activists have been calling for in cases like this.
Prior to this incident Daniel Garza had never been involved in any altercation with the police and had never been arrested. He had been hailed as a Good Samaritan in the past for helping to a cyclist’s life after being hit my a car, coached high school and junior high cross country and soccer and was studying to be a physical education teacher.
According to Daniel Garza’s attorney V. James DeSimone and court documents, Garza was 24-years-old and studying at Mount San Antonio College when he met a then 17-year-old young lady who lived across the street from him. They were both avid runners and shared a lot in common. When she turned 18 they began officially dating in September of 2013. While her parents—who are both LAPD police officers—liked him initially, when they found out that he was six years older than her it became a problem—a big one. They both laid low and when she went away to college they continued to see each other. Eventually they break up. According to Daniel, one night they got into an argument and as he tried to leave the young lady jumped in his car. He drove home where she wouldn’t get out of the car. Daniel threatened to go tell her parents—which he eventually did.
It’s the middle of the night and when the parents open the door and see Garza and their daughter, she runs into the house crying that he broke up with her. They had no idea they were even seeing each other because of their previous objections. She tells her parents who are both cops—one a detective the other a police officer—that Daniel Garza kidnapped her and forced her into the car. Officer Garza tells Garza to, “Get the fuck off my property!” Garza backs away and says “That’s fine. I don’t want anything to do with her. I caught her cheating on me.” Garza then walked home.
Officer Cardona was given a different account of the events of the night. According to him, his stepdaughter said that Garza broke into her home, physically put her into his car against her will and drove away. Garza believes that she told her parents this because they forbid her from dating him and she was fearful to admit that she voluntarily got in the vehicle with him.
On May 2, 2015, Detective Cherie Cardona and her daughter went to the Downey Police Department to report the incident, however, the daughter told the officer she did not want to prosecute so they did not file an incident report. On May 14, 2015, Detective Cardona filed an incident report with the Downey Police Department after her lieutenant made a call to the Downey PD. That day, on Cherie Cardona’s way back from Downey PD to her office, Detective Cardona told Office Cardona via text that she was coming back from Downey and “they finally took a report.” She stated that Cardona “was under the belief” that she filed a crime report against Garza at the Downey PD and that Garza was a kidnap suspect based on “the totality of everything as a police officer.” Being a police officer Cardona stated he was able to “put a title to all of the crimes that [he believed Garza] had done.” Therefore, Officer Cardona knew “what kind of report would have been taken.” He believed, mistakenly, that Garza was a kidnapping suspect when he confronted him on May 14, 2015.
The next morning Garza, who is 5’7” and 140 pounds, sees police cars in front of his house and when he steps outside he sees Officer Cardona—who is a former U.S. Marine and 6 feet tall weighing approximately 200 pounds pointing in his direction. For the next four weeks he stays at his mother’s boyfriend’s house out of fear of Officer Cardona.
At approximately 11:30 a.m. on May 14, 2015, Daniel Garza was exercising in front of his house, when Officer Cardona pulled his truck into his own drive way across the street.
Earlier that day, Officer Cardona was at ceremony in front of the new Los Angeles Police Department headquarters. So Officer Cardona had on clothing that was consistent with a police officer’s clothing—a jacket containing an LAPD approved Metro Division emblem and he was wearing uniform pants and a green jacket during.
After getting out of his truck, Officer Cardona yelled “Hey, come here” at Garza and Garza said no because he was fearful of going onto Cardona’s property. Officer Cardona then repeated “come here” and gestured at Garza, indicating he wanted Garza to go over to him, and Garza said “I’ll meet you halfway.” Garza waited at the corner of his own fence.
Despite his fear, Garza did not run away because Officer Cardona was a police officer and he felt that he had to listen to Cardona because he was giving him orders.
Officer Cardona crossed the street and met Garza at the corner of Garza’s property. There he approached Garza and said “this is public property right?”
Garza responded “Yeah, I guess.”
Officer Cardona then looked both ways and hit Garza on the right side of his head with his left fist. Garza then began yelling for help. Officer Cardona continuously punched Garza. A neutral eyewitness and neighbor to Garza and Officer Cardona testified that he observed that Garza was “in a defensive stance” and was “backpedaling, trying to block his face” while Officer Cardona was “just swinging away.” Garza himself testified that Cardona punched him 4-6 times while he was standing.
Eventually Officer Cardona grabbed Garza’s sweater, causing Garza to fall to the ground on his side. At this point, Officer Cardona sat on Garza and straddled him. Garza covered his face and Officer Cardona started punching him in the kidney and rib area. Officer Cardona rolled Garza onto his back and punched him at least twenty times.
Officer Cardona then grabbed Garza’s right arm and flipped him over. Officer Cardona then calls for his mother, who was across the street, to bring him his bag. Officer Cardona’s mother brings him his bag, which contained his duty belt—a holster, gun, badge, handcuffs, something to hold his rover, radio, ammunition and pepper spray. Officer Cardona then put Garza in LAPD handcuffs. He handcuffed Garza’s right arm and threatened to break Garza’s shoulder unless Garza gave Cardona his left arm. So Garza pulled out his left arm, and Officer Cardona pulled it back hard and handcuffed it. Officer Cardona painfully twisted Garza’s wrists for an extended period time, despite the fact that Garza was handcuffed and not resisting in any way.
Throughout the incident, Garza did not attempt to strike or resist Officer Cardona at any time. Despite this fact, Officer Cardona commanded Garza to “stop resisting,” loud enough for witnesses to hear. Garza was handcuffed for at least 20 to 25 minutes while Cardona was sitting on his back.
After placing handcuffs on Garza, Officer Cardona called 911 twice. When Officer Cardona called 911 he told the dispatcher he “took a kidnap suspect into custody” and stated “[t]here’s a report with Downey. We took it this morning.” On the 911 call, Officer Cardona described the situation as “Code 4”, a situation “when the suspect is in custody and there is no longer a threat.”
Officer Cardona also called his wife when he was still physically in contact with Garza to get the report number of the incident report filed against Garza. As soon as the sheriffs arrived, Cardona called Sergeant Hoskins, his immediate supervisor with the LAPD, to report the incident.
While waiting for local authorities to arrive, Officer Cardona told passersby that he was a police officer and that Garza was a kidnapping suspect. He commanded people who were passing by “Hey, police officer, get back” and stated that he had a warrant for Garza’s arrest. When Garza was on the ground in a prone position, a passerby by the name of Daniel Laughlin drove by the scene and began videotaping, on his phone, Officer Cardona painfully twisting Garza’s wrists. Laughlin told Officer Cardona during the incident “Wow, that looks like it hurts” and he responded “Yeah, it does, now get back.” Laughlin was aware Cardona was an officer because he addressed himself as Officer Cardona LAPD on a phone call, loud enough for witnesses to hear.
During the incident, Officer Antonio Garcia, an off-duty LAPD officer drove by and stopped to assist. Based on Officer Cardona’s attire and technique used, Garcia immediately knew Cardona was an LAPD police officer. Cardona also identified himself as an LAPD Officer to Garcia on the scene while he was in the process of detaining Garza. Garcia left the scene because Cardona had Garza under control.
No charges were ever filed against Garza and when the sheriff’s arrived they removed the handcuffs after ten minutes of being on the scene and realizing that Garza hadn’t done anything wrong.
Officer Cardona was paid overtime for the LAPD on the date of the incident between the hours of 11:30 a.m. It’s important to note that Officer Cardona made the call to 911 at 11:35 a.m. According to LAPD records, Officer Cardona’s sergeant, Sergeant Hoskins, ordered him on duty for the entirety of his interaction with Garza, which was later affirmed by a Sergeant Wehr. After viewing the video of the incident, Sergeant Hoskins agreed under oath during a deposition that Garza was not resisting Officer Cardona. He also acknowledged that a wrist lock can be painful if an extreme amount of pressure is applied. However, Hoskins testified that Cardona’s actions were justified under LAPD policies because he was “controlling a suspect” and that he was correct in ordering Officer Cardona on duty because he was acting in the course and scope of his employment.
Except that Daniel Garza wasn’t a suspect. He hadn’t committed any crime and wasn’t wanted by the neither the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department or the LAPD.
Commander Ed Prokop (yes that Propkop), then Captain III, Commanding Officer, Metropolitan Division, was notified and went to the scene because he learned the sheriff’s were detaining Officer Cardona.
Prokop spoke to Officer Cardona about the incident at the scene and ordered him on duty that day. Prokop admits that, at the time of the incident, he believed Cardona was acting in the course and scope of employment with the LAPD when he arrested Garza.
He has since changed his position, after meeting with the city attorney, because he now admits that, pursuant to LAPD policy, Cardona should have called 911 and waited for back up before addressing Garza.
A LAPD security detail was assigned and later placed in front of Officer Cardona’s Whittier residence for days, which included a camera that gave the Cardona family the capability of being able to observe the outside of the Garza’s residence.
Garza did file a complaint against Officer Cardona about the incident. An investigation was performed which included a review of the videotape showing a close-up of Officer Cardona painfully twisting Garza’s wrists. During the investigation, Officer Cardona denied ever punching Garza, but the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s incident report contains an admission that he punched him several times.
Despite the Los Angeles City Attorney’s admission at trial that the video showed evidence of clear malice on the part of Officer Cardona, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, in his official capacity with the City of Los Angeles, after a completed nine-month investigation, sent Garza a letter stating that “Your allegations that an officer used unauthorized force against you and applied the handcuffs too tightly causing you pain were classified as unfounded … Your allegation that an officer twisted your wrists causing pain was classified as Exonerated, which means the investigation determined that the act occurred, but was justified, lawful and proper.
Officer Cardona’s conduct in twisting Garza’s wrist was found to be—drumroll please—within policy. Internal Affairs had the discretion to broaden the investigation to determine Officer Cardona violated policy choose not to.
Officer Cardona has since been promoted to a training officer.
In the liability phase of civil trial (Garza v. Officer Mario Cardona and the City of Los Angeles, Case No: 16-CV-03579-SVW-AFM), the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office argued that Officer Cardona was not on duty but was acting in his capacity as a civilian with private motivation.
The Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office admitted that Officer Cardona acted with malice in an attempt to avoid covering him. In closing argument of the second phase of trial, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office argued malice while Officer Cardona’s individual lawyers tried to justify the conduct. After deliberating, the jury unanimously found Officer Cardona acted with malice and violated Daniel Garza’s civil rights by using excessive force and awarded $210,000 in damages—that Officer Cardona is responsible for paying.
After the verdict, V. James DeSimone, lead trial counsel said, “It is beyond belief that Chief Beck’s Office, who has vowed to curb police brutality, exonerated the conduct of Officer Cardona, who is shown on video unnecessarily inflicting pain on Daniel Garza when he is helpless. We look forward to further vindicating our client’s rights in the third phase to prove the LAPD maintains an unconstitutional policy of condoning excessive force.”
Co-counsel Kaveh Navab added, “It is bad enough that LAPD Officer Cardona injured and harmed Mr. Garza, a young college student, who had done nothing wrong, but the City of Los Angeles does not want to take responsibility for the brutal and unnecessary actions of one of its veteran officers. Our city deserves better accountability.”
Currently, Garza and his counsel are waiting for the judge to rule on third phase of his case, which includes whether or not the LAPD continues to have unconstitutional policies by training officers to use the type of wrist lock that was used on Daniel Garza. The same wrist lock that has cost taxpayers in the City of Los Angeles millions of dollars in the past including in 2010 when a PTA mom who worked as paralegal during the day and moonlighted as a repo driver at night was stopped by LAPD officers where a wristlock was used that caused permanent nerve damage and a 2014 incident where a paralyzed man was forced into handcuffs using a wrist lock also causing permanent nerve damage—after he told officers that he was paralyzed and couldn’t put both of his hands in the air.
How A Broken System Continues to Operate Unchecked
Every year the City of Los Angeles pays out millions of dollars in damages on behalf of officers who wind up being vindicated by the LAPD of any wrongdoing. It’s predictable and in most cases expected.
According to the LAPD’s own policies, Officer Cardona’s actions merited allegations of conduct unbecoming, misuse of position or authority, dishonesty, false and misleading statements and excessive force to name a few.
Similar to incident in Anaheim involving Officer Trigger Happy and the lawn trampling teens— pursuant to LAPD policy, if Officer Cardona really believed that Daniel Garza was in fact a “kidnap suspect”—who by the way was doing Pilates out in public on his front lawn at the time of the incident—then Cardona should have called 911 and waited for back up before addressing Garza. But he didn’t. Instead he took matters into his own hands—literally and meted out the punishment he felt Garza deserved for a crime that Garza never committed.
Even with video evidence, neutral witness testimony, testimony from the LAPD’s own commanding officers that Officer Cardona acted with malice and used excessive force and a sheriff’s report from an outside agency, Chief Charlie Beck and Co. still found that the officer acted within the scope of his employment. How is that?
Officer Cardona used his position as a police officer to intimidate Daniel Garza.
Despite his fear, Garza did not run away because Officer Cardona was a police officer and he felt that he had to listen to Cardona because he was giving him orders. Garza had not committed a crime and even if Officer Cardona believed that he had, Cardona has a responsibility as a police officer to call 911 and stand down until officers arrived on the scene.
To add insult to injury, Chief Beck and Co. justified Officer Cardona’s use of force including the pain caused when Garza’s wrist was twisted.
While I think the use of the wrist lock needs to be examined—especially as it relates to LAPD policy and the training of officers—I think a bigger issue is the ongoing co-signing of bad and oftentimes criminal behavior by officers both on-duty and off that is rubber stamped by Chief Beck and Co. Until that is changed, we can expect to see more payouts by juries and settlements on the more embarrassing and blatant cases by the city attorney’s office.
They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.