LAPD Agents Falsified Information on Latinos and African-Americans and Linked Them to Gangs

Braxton Shaw, the former Los Angeles Police Department officer involved in falsifying the information of innocent people, whom he registered as a gang member or gang associate, will face trial.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Eleanor J. Hunter ruled this week that there was enough evidence to indict the LAPD officer on charges of falsely labeling dozens of innocent people - pedestrians and motorists - as gang members, and whose names they were later added to a statewide police database.

Later this month, Shaw, a former member of the LAPD's Metropolitan Division, will return to court to enter new pleas on charges of preparing false proof of identity and filing false police reports.

“This is the same as always,” Hamid Khan, executive director of the Stop Police Spying Coalition, told La Opinión. “For decades we have known that police officers lie and falsify reports; I am not surprised and the case teaches exactly what they do routinely.

Braxton Shaw's name was included among six LAPD officers who were indicted in 2020 for falsifying data. Charges against five of them were dropped or dismissed in 2022.

Prosecutors in the case accuse Shaw of forging about three dozen interview cards, in which people allegedly agreed to be gang members or associates, after being questioned. The policeman was dismissed since 2020.

At the heart of the case against Shaw is whether the field interview cards, used by police officers to document contacts with witnesses, crime victims and crime suspects, met the definition of official legal documents, which amounts to a police report.

At least 16 officers, most of them assigned to the LAPD's Metropolitan Division, were investigated by the internal affairs unit.

As a result, the California Department of Justice revoked LAPD access to the CalGang system, established in 2018 as a result of the Fair and Accurate Gang Database Act, while resisting and auditing the system.

According to the Department of Justice itself, the data entries of suspected gang members and individual profiles of suspected gang associates identified by the LAPD account for 25% of the current 78,000 profiles in the Cal-Gangs system.

In 2022, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor determined that officers René Braga, Raúl Uribe and Julio García were “innocent in fact” in the charges against them regarding falsification of data.

When this case happened, the head of the LAPD, Michel Moore, stated at the time that "the department is aware of a judicial decision made in this regard to three officers who were accused of presenting false information in Gang FI [entrevista de campo de pandillas]”.

“The department accepts the court decision on the criminal case and will continue with its ongoing administrative investigation,” More said, according to a statement sent to La Opinión by LAPD spokeswoman Norma Einsemann. "In addition, the department will ensure additional training to prevent such occurrences in the future."

class action lawsuit

The criminal lawyer, Humberto Guízar, informed La Opinión that, in December 2020, he and his team of lawyers filed a class action lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and the LAPD.

The plaintiffs are Sara Ochoa, Branden Costa, Jajuan Johnson, Antonio May, Michael Perr, Kivon Williams, and the Gadseel brothers and José Quiñónez.

Through attorneys Guízar, Christian Contreras and Austin R. Dovem, the plaintiffs allege that the misclassification of hundreds or thousands of Los Angeles residents undermines public trust, which is the foundation of community policing.

The legal complaint, of which a copy was provided to La Opinión, includes police officers Braxton Shaw, Michael Coblentz and Nicolás Martínez, who were charged in a criminal complaint with 59 counts of felonies, all for conspiring to present false reports and Fabricate false evidence in court.

The three LAPD officers allegedly routinely falsified field interview cards; the objective was to classify as gang members or gang associates, people who are not part of street criminal groups.

“The LAPD and its officers further violated the public trust and numerous laws by entering false descriptions of innocent civilians as gang members into an official statewide database,” the lawsuit states.

“In many cases, LAPD officers falsely stated in official records that individuals had “self-admitted” gang affiliation. The reality was that the plaintiffs never admitted that responsibility.

The plaintiffs are African-American and Latino residents, some of whom were incarcerated or disenfranchised as a result of the classification.

Additionally, the victims were unable to obtain a job, rent an apartment, or receive financial aid to attend college.

"We filed the class action in the hope of identifying more victims in this case and obtaining justice for all," Guízar said. "We believe that since 1991 there have been many people classified [como pandillera] and the police have used that information unfairly.”

Quinonez and Sara Ochoa

The brothers Gadseel Quiñonez and José Quiñonez are two of the plaintiffs. They live in South Los Angeles and work at a recycling center in the same area, an area patrolled by the Los Angeles Police Department's Metropolitan Division.

The lawsuit documents state that “In approximately 2018, Braxston Shaw, who was associated with Nicholas Martinez, wrote an identification card that falsely documented both as members of the MS-13 gang with the nicknames “Squealer” and “Sneaks.” ”, respectively.

In another example, Sara Ochoa, a young Latina woman from East Los Angeles who became a corrections officer, served as a public servant for the state of California, until she became a victim of LAPD officers.

On January 18, 2020, Ochoa was classified as a “gang associate” simply for visiting the neighborhood where she grew up.

"Unfortunately, not only was she misclassified as a 'gang associate', but she was also handcuffed and detained for approximately 20 minutes and paraded in public, while her vehicle was searched by LAPD officers," the lawsuit states.

“We believe that the LAPD has manipulated the law to criminalize innocent people,” said attorney Humberto Guízar.

“To this end, the department has classified individuals as gang members under California Penal Code 186.22, an unwritten practice statute granting police officers broad discretion to arrest individuals who have committed a crime for profit, under the direction of or in association with a criminal street gang.”

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