Trayvon Martin family attorney and noted civil rights activist Benjamin Crump has signed on as lead counsel in a boiling probe of the Los Angeles Police Department charging officers with gross misconduct and the routine use of excessive force involving minorities. This is a pattern of which has been symbolized by a trio of violent encounters occurring over the last month.
Citing altercations sparked by the LAPD in which one suspect was killed and two others seriously injured, all of which were at least partly captured on videotape, Crump recently penned a letter to U.S. Attorney Eric Holder requesting a federal investigation of the officers involved in the aforementioned episodes as well as an overall review of the practices and policies adopted by the entire police force.
Alesia Thomas, a 35-year-old mother of two young children, died while in police custody on July 22, after being confronted by officers in her home on the suspicion of child endangerment. Reports are Thomas came under suspicion after dropping her two children off at a local police station with a note reading she could no longer take care of them.
Within minutes of being taken into custody, her lifeless body was pulled from the back seat of a police squad car. Some eight weeks later, little explanation has been offered as to just how things could have spiraled so perilously out of control following Thomas’ apprehension.
Though police acknowledge that an in-car video of the incident revealed “questionable tactics and improper comments” on the part of officers, few details beyond those subtle admissions have been made public.
Five officers were initially placed on administrative duty in connection with the incident, pending an internal police investigation. Thomas’ family is now insisting that all footage related to the incident be publicly released.
Already Crump has alleged to Reuters he has proof cops placed Thomas in a "hobble-style restraint" during the encounter and at least one officer repeatedly kicked and stomped her in the groin area.
Back on August 18, Ronald Weekly Jr., a 20-year-old college student, was similarly accosted and beaten by officers who initially stopped him for skateboarding in traffic near Sunset Ave. in Venice. Cellphone video captures as many as four officers pinning Weekly Jr. face down to the ground, climbing on top of him and at least one of the officers randomly punching him in the face.
Ultimately charged with resisting arrest, Weekly Jr. suffered a broken nose, fractured cheekbone and a concussion in the seemingly unprovoked scuffle.
Three days later, Michelle Jordan, a 34-year-old registered nurse, was slammed headfirst to the pavement while still handcuffed by two male officers after being stopped for talking on her cellphone while driving. After the second slam, the officers exchange what appears to be a celebratory “fist-bump.”
Footage of Jordan’s violent takedown, during which she suffered multiple cuts and bruises, was captured on surveillance video at a nearby Del Taco restaurant. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has demoted the commander of the district where the officers involved are assigned, but he has already sued the department seeking to have his rank restored.
“It happens once, you say it's an incident. It happens twice, you scratch your head and you say, 'Well, maybe it's another coincidence.' It happens three times in a month, you say it's a pattern," said Crump. "This is a united front to cause the public to demand answers. We want independent eyes looking at this."
Crump has stood at the center of national media attention in recent times based on his role in the case of the slain-year-old Martin. The unarmed Florida teen died within steps of his father’s front door of a single gunshot wound to the chest fired by George Zimmerman last February after the neighborhood watch volunteer ignored direct orders from police to cease with following the teen he deemed suspicious and instead elected to confront him face to face.
Initially police declined to arrest or charge Zimmerman, 28, citing his claims of self-defense and the applicability of the state’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” gun laws. Amid a public groundswell, Zimmerman was ultimately charged with second-degree murder and just this week his case seemed to take yet another hit when forensics tests performed on the murder weapon showed Martin’s DNA was not present on the grip of the gun used to kill him despite claims from Zimmerman that he only fired after the teen tried to grab the weapon from his holster.
“A grown man cannot profile and pursue an unarmed child, shoot him in the heart, and then claim ‘stand your ground,’” Crump said in a related statement released last August. “We believe that the killer’s motion will be denied during the ‘Stand Your Ground’ hearing, and as justice requires, a jury will ultimately decide the fate of a man that killed an innocent child.”
“There is only one version of this story that represents Zimmerman was attacked by Trayvon Martin, and that’s Zimmerman’s self-serving version,” he added. “Everyone will agree that the killer’s credibility is clearly questionable.”
Meanwhile, The Justice Department has yet to officially comment or respond to the LAPD probe or Crump’s letter. Such an investigation would hardly rate as foreign territory for DOJ officials.
Already similar probes of police conduct are underway or at least have been requested in such big cities as Portland, Oregon New Orleans, Seattle and Newark, New Jersey.
In each of the L.A. instances, the victims or their family members have already gone on record with plans to sue the departments involved.
"We ask, we demand that charges against my son be dropped," said Ronald Weekley Sr.
Glenn Minnis is a NYC-based sports and culture writer. Follow him on Twitter at @glennnyc.