We’re not against the police. We’re not against the police department, but we are against police who commit misconduct.
In 1997 when LAPD undercover detective Frank Lyga shot and killed LAPD off-duty officer Kevin Gaines, Lyga contended that he did not know who Gaines was and had never met him before. But the audio recording at the center of Lygagate just might prove (ahem…in my best Maury Povich voice) that was a lie.
In the audio, which was recorded on November 15, 2013, at the Police Academy and included an audience of 37 sworn officers of various rankings from several SoCal law enforcement agencies, Lyga recalls a meeting he had with now Sergeant Derwin Henderson and Kevin Gaines on a street in Hollywood.
Referring to his own colleague Sgt. Henderson as a “fruit” and “ghetto boxer,” Lyga details meeting the “male black” in the car with Henderson who happened to be Gaines.
The story according to Lyga and the LAPD brass at the time goes that on March 18, 1997, Lyga and other members of his team were staking out a suspected methamphetamine dealer. Lyga was the point man, which required him to sit in an unmarked 1991 Buick Regal waiting for the drug deal to happen so that he could follow the suspects back to their source and make the necessary arrests.
For whatever reason, the operation was called off and Lyga drove onto Ventura Boulevard. While he was stopped at a red light, a green sports utility vehicle driven by Gaines pulled up next to him. That vehicle belonged to Gaines’ girlfriend at the time Sharitha Knight, the ex-wife of Death Row Records founder and rap music mogul Suge Knight.
According to Lyga, Gaines threatened him. In response Lyga told Gaines to pull over for a confrontation. Gaines did pull over, but Lyga drove off. Gaines chased him, with the S.U.V. edging through heavy traffic until it neared Lyga’s car. A concerned Lyga radioed his partners for help and readied himself to use his own gun. He saw Gaines had a gun and had threatened Lyga again. Lyga fired two shots at Gaines—the first missed, but the second hit Gaines just below his right armpit, puncturing his heart before stopping in his lung. Gaines then pulled into a gas station and stopped. Lyga pulled into the gas station and identified himself as a police officer and asked a customer coming out of the station’s mini-mart to call 911.
Soon a California Highway Patrol unit arrived, followed by Lyga’s captain and the others on his stakeout team. The other officers took control of the scene using standard procedure. When Lyga returned to the station and awaited instructions on the investigation of the shooting he was informed by his commander, Dennis Zuener, that Kevin Gaines was a Los Angeles Police Officer.
The LAPD would later tell the L.A. Times that, “Apparently fearing for his life, Lyga fired two shots at Gaines. The men, neither in uniform, were strangers to each other and neither knew that the other was a police officer.”
That was Lyga’s version of the incident. However, Gaines’ family, partner, and other officers in the department who knew him never bought his version of events. This was partly because Gaines was allegedly under investigation by the LAPD’s Internal Affairs division at the time. Gaines knowing this sported a personalized license plate on his Mercedes-Benz that read, “ITS OK IA”–a taunt aimed at Internal Affairs. Many believed at the time and still do that Lyga was actually surveilling Gaines and it was not a chance meeting where emotions between the two just happened to explode and result in gunfire.
Gaines drove a Mercedes-Benz on a $55,000 a year salary and to the LAPD brass, that made him dirty.
The LAPD had determined that based on Gaines’ wearing expensive designer suits and shirts, his many credit cards, and lavish spending habits that he was engaged in some kind of misconduct and had him under investigation. A fact that has been widely reported and documented.
According to an article in the L.A. Times (March 26, 1997) Gaines had been the focus of complaints and at the time of his death was the subject of an internal investigation for alleged misconduct.
Gaines’ friends will tell you that he was dating the ex-wife of a multi-millionaire at the time, herself being quite wealthy. And as is the case with most couples where one partner is rich, she bought many extravagant gifts for Gaines and also gave him money. There’s nothing illegal in that as recently illustrated by V. Stiviano and Donald Sterling.
The most absurd claim by the LAPD was that Gaines was friends with and even worked for Suge Knight. Gaines was dating his ex-wife and the LAPD knew that. Suge Knight was no fan of Gaines and still isn’t. This wasn’t a Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, Ashton Kutcher like situation. According to Gaines’ friends, he had more than one run in with Mr. Knight and tried to avoid him at all costs.
Law enforcement officer and friend of Gaines Tonya King, told the L.A. Times back in 1997 that, “Kevin didn’t have a temper at all. He was not aggressive. He acted accordingly and he acted reasonably.”
A sentiment that is still echoed today through Gaines’ family and friends, and most recently his brother-in-law who told me, “I think that they [LAPD] should re-pen the case with the new evidence showing that there was a cover up in 1997. Kevin wasn’t a road rage dude like that. He was a family man. I hung out with Kevin and I’ve never seen him get angry like that. All of this [Lygagate] has brought up this whole situation again for the family and we’ve got to relive it all over again until we can get to the bottom of it. Chief Beck, the LAPD, FBI, and Police Commission need to re-open case.”
Then District Attorney Gil Garcetti opened a criminal investigation into the shooting. The District Attorney’s inquiry eventually ruled that Lyga was not criminally liable. Three months after the incident, the LAPD unit investigating the shooting found that Lyga had acted according to department policy, and the department’s shooting board recommended no disciplinary action.
The ruling, however, was postponed pending results of a three-dimensional digital re-creation of the shooting. In November, 1997, Lyga appeared again before the shooting board, which reviewed the evidence and the 3D re-creation, and in December LAPD chief Bernard Parks reported that the shooting was within department policy and that no action would be taken against Lyga.
But that was then.
And as of now, Lyga has been relieved of duty and sent home pending the findings of an investigation since Lygagate broke. Cpt. Lillian Carranza has announced a lawsuit against Lyga, but not the city—indicating that she’s not done with the department.
Former LAPD chief Bernard Parks among others have hinted that in light of Lyga’s recorded comments, Gaines’ killing should be re-investigated.
“You kept waiting for people to jump up and say, ‘stop! this is not what we stand for. Everything about it cries out for the investigation.” — Bernard Parks, NBC 4 Los Angeles, 6/18/2014
CNN HLN’s ‘Headline on the Case’ Show, 6/19/2014
On KJLH-FM’s Front Page show Thursday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said that no decision had been made as to whether or not the killing of Gaines should be re-opened and investigated and District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office says that no formal request has been made for the DA to investigate. However, I will add that I don’t think that someone needs to request for the DA to look into this—they should just do it.
A cop killed a cop and was cleared only to brag about possibly having really committed murder and the shooting having been a sanctioned hit by the LAPD. All of which was sat on the by LAPD brass from November 18, 2013 until 5 p.m. on June 16, 2014 when NBC 4’s Patrick Healy reported live from police headquarters and it became a priority for the department. Hello? It doesn’t get much worse in terms of appearance and public perception for the new and improved LAPD.
Do we need to go and find Jack McCoy? Better yet, André Birotte.