We’re not against the police. We’re not against the police department, but we are against police who commit misconduct.
Warren Johnson, 81, of South Los Angeles was forced to return home early from vacation with his wife after he was told that the Los Angeles Police Department had raided his home.
Upon arriving from LAX airport on Friday, August 22, he was devastated to learn that the LAPD had (1) arrested his 18-year-old grandson and (2) destroyed his home with the battering ram.
Apparently the LAPD executed a search warrant looking for three items in Mr. Johnson’s home believed to be in the possession of one of his grandsons—an Apple iPhone, a laptop computer, and a Bose speaker.
West L.A. Division traveled across Los Angeles into Southwest Division to Mr. Johnson’s home on King Blvd. and Normandie Ave. and without warning knocked in the front door with the battering ram. From there, witnesses say that the police proceeded to use the battering on several other doors in the house, except for the door to the bedroom of the grandson.
While the grandson and his twin brother along with other relatives were detained outside, the police systematically went through Mr. Johnson’s home and seemingly used the battering ram on nearly every door in the house. When asked why they did this, witnesses were told by the LAPD that they needed to see inside of every room to make sure that no one was in there.
For the record, that’s the kind of stuff you see on television. No cop that wants to make it through his or her shift alive relies on the use of a battering ram to tell them if someone is waiting on the other side of a door with or without a weapon.
Officers repeatedly tried to knock down one particular door so hard with the battering ram that they separated the frame of the door from the house and cause major structural damage.
In addition to destroying the Johnson’s lovely craftsman style home that they’ve lived in since 1964, the police covered up or moved the homes security cameras.
The only room searched by the police was the grandson’s room. All of the other rooms that had doors kicked in and knocked off the hinges were not searched. Just destroyed by the battering ram.
When they were done, they took the grandson into custody (he’s since been released) and have told the family nothing about whether they found what they were looking for. The police did however according to witnesses say that they’d be back and do it again if the grandson came back home.
The couple is scared. Their home has sustained thousands in damage. The family wants the LAPD to pay for all of the unnecessary damage done to their home and they want answers as to why the LAPD would intentionally destroy their home and why they threatened to do it again before leaving.
In addition, the family feels that had this been the home of a white person on the Westside there’s no way the police would have caused this much damage and came in the way that they did.
The battering ram is no stranger to many in South L.A. Around the corner from the Johnson’s exactly 24 years ago this month, LAPD SWAT, under then police chief Daryl Gates, engaged in what is remembered as the 39th Street and Dalton Avenue raids.
One of the more notorious incidents of collateral damage in Gates’ war came on Aug. 1, 1988, when a Los Angeles SWAT team raided four apartments on the corner of 39th Street and Dalton Avenue in the southwest part of the city. Again, the raid was in response to legitimate concerns. The neighborhood was infested with gang activity and drug dealing. When one family complained, gang members shot out their security lights and threatened to firebomb their home.
The problem was that the reaction, once again, was blunt, indiscriminate, and oblivious to the rights of the people the police were supposed to be serving and protecting. The police believed the apartments were serving as stash houses for the drug dealing gangbangers. They were also likely particularly angry because a man they believed to be one of the neighborhood gang members had recently called in a death threat to the local police station.
According to a report later released by LAPD internal affairs, Capt. Thomas Elfmont gathered his officers the night of the raid for a pep talk in which he urged them to “hit” the apartments “hard,” to “level” them, and to leave them “uninhabitable.” (He later denied saying any of this.) Elfmont didn’t go on the raid itself. In fact, there was no one on the raid with a rank higher than sergeant. The lone sergeant was Charles Spicer, head of LAPD’s anti-gang task force for the southwest part of the city. In subsequent interviews with internal affairs, he admitted to telling the unit to “kick ass,” but said that though he was on site during the raid, he had no idea his officers were committing any sort of misconduct.
The cops certainly took their superiors’ advice to heart. The internal affairs report later documented 127 separate acts of vandalism at the apartments. As the raid began, a caravan of police vehicles surrounded the building and more than 80 police officers emerged. Resident Tammy Moore was sitting on her porch holding her 7-month-old son as the police pulled up, rushed out of their vans, and ordered everyone out of the building. One of them struck Moore in the neck, causing her to drop her son to the concrete. He remained unconscious for 30 minutes. One man was struck in the face with a flashlight. A woman, lying on the ground, said an officer dropped a flashlight on her head, then responded with a nonchalant, “Oops.” One admitted gang member was accosted across the street. One officer held his legs apart while another repeatedly kicked him in the crotch. They then ran a wire across his throat and choked him. Another man was struck four times by an officer wearing a weighted-knuckle sap glove. This was all before they had even entered the apartments.
Though he wasn’t actually on the gang task force, rookie officer Todd Parrick, a former Navy SEAL, was permitted to go on the raid. He had heard the chatter about the raid — that Capt. Elfmont wanted the apartments “taken off the map.” So Officer Parrick brought his own ax. In the first apartment, Parrick had some trouble opening a pair of sliding wooden doors. So he used the ax. He then struggled to remove the grate from a furnace. So he used the ax. For reasons not made entirely clear, he then took the ax to a thermostat. (Perhaps he was cold?) He next put the ax in the dining room wall, the living room wall, and the side of a cupboard. When he couldn’t jimmy open a drawer in the kitchen, he hit it with his ax. He also took his ax to the toilet. At one point, he nearly took his ax to a colleague, Officer Charles Wilson. Parrick would later say that as he drove home that night, he was pretty sure he’d get some sort of commendation for his ax-wielding. When he boasted of all of this to his wife, she brought him down to earth. She told him he would probably get fired. (He didn’t, at least for what he did that night. Three years later, he’d be fired for head-butting a suspect, then lying about it.)
Officer Charles Wilson brought a toy of his own. When he learned about the raid, he went to a friend’s welding shop to create his own customized battering ram, which he then proceeded to smash into a number of walls (not doors). When word got out that there might be an internal affairs investigation, he dumped the ram into the city sewer.
Resident Gloria Flowers was taking a bath when the police came in. She was made to stand up, naked, then lie down on the floor before an officer eventually threw a blanket over her. She asked what was going on. They told her, “You’re being evicted.” One officer then smashed her fish tank, for no apparent reason.
Raymond Carter, 21, had gone out to get pizza before the raid. As he tried to return home, he was pulled over. When the officer saw the address on his license, Carter claims the office said, “Oh yes, you’re one of them,” then detained him and put him on the ground in the front yard with the others.
Of the 37 people detained, the police arrested seven. They were again beaten, then taken to the police station, where they were made to whistle the tune to The Andy Griffith Show. Those who didn’t, or couldn’t, were beaten again. None of them were ever charged with a crime.
Before they left, the officers had shattered family photos, emptied refrigerators onto the floor, poured bleach on piles of laundry, and slashed through furniture upholstery. They also spray-painted “LAPD Rules” and “Gang Task Force Rules” on the walls.
They had achieved their charge for the night. The apartments were uninhabitable. The Red Cross provided housing for 10 adults and 12 children displaced by the raid. LAPD’s haul: Six ounces of pot, and less than an ounce of cocaine.
By the time all the lawsuits were settled, the city paid out $4 million in damages for the 39th and Dalton raid, a record at the time. In 1991, Parrick, Spicer, and Elfmont were charged and tried for vandalism and conspiracy. The Los Angeles County Prosecutor’s Office said there wasn’t enough evidence to press assault or battery charges. The jury acquitted the officers of all but one charge, which was later dropped. In interviews, jurors said they thought the police witnesses were “flat-out lying” to protect one another, but said they acquitted because amid all the lying and dissembling, they had no way of knowing which officers committed what acts. The only officer to be convicted of a crime was Wilson, who took a plea bargain in exchange for his testimony against the others. Only two of the 80+ officers were fired, although a couple dozen were given suspensions and reprimands. When asked for his reaction to the acquittal of the officers involved in the raid, Gates responded that he was “pleased.”
Excessive use of force in Black and brown communities applies to our property as well. Our homes it seems are not valued in the same way that homes in other areas are. The LAPD should be held responsible for the unnecessary damage caused to the Johnson’s home. Bottom line. They are owed an apology from the officer’s involved as well as from the Chief of Police Charlie Beck. There should be an independent investigation into why the LAPD raided the Johnson’s house as if it were the corner crack house or a house full of gang members and a look at how to change the policy on procedures on the use of the battering ram inside of people’s home. This is 2014 not 1988. We can do better LAPD.
This post has been updated to include the video of the LAPD flipping the camera up during the raid.