Crime and the City of Angels. Crime and the cops beyond the Joe Friday veneer.
March 18, 1997 on Ventura Boulevard in North Hollywood, two men in civilian garb driving their vehicles got into it, trading heated unpleasantries. One was white, Frank Lyga, the other black, Kevin Gains. The road rage ended with Lyga shooting and killing Gains. It turned out both were LAPD officers. The investigation claimed that Gaines had been involved in other road rage incidents, threatening drivers and brandishing his gun. Lyga was cleared and returned to duty, where he remains on the force to this day. The City settled a lawsuit brought on behalf of the Gaines’ family by Johnnie Cochran for a mere $250,000.
Sixteen years later, as first reported on Jasmyne Cannick’s site — http://www.jasmyneacannick.com — and picked up the likes of the L.A. Weekly, on November 15, 2013 Detective Frank Lyga talked about that incident to a group of officers attending an in-service training at the Police Academy. That then Chief Bernard Parks wanted to “send him to another unit” after the shooting to “hide him for awhile.” Lyga told his captain at the time that “…if Parks puts me there I’m going to the media and tell them that this was a sanctioned hit on Gaines by the LAPD.” A partial recording of his comments were made and can be heard on Cannick’s site.
Was Lyga just going on to impress his colleagues with how bad ass he is? Spinning out a conspiracy theory to obfuscate another truth? Perhaps…perhaps time will tell how much of what he said last year bears out. What is known is that the LAPD has had to deal with a checkered history of shady deeds.
In January 1938 a pipe bomb blew up the car of ex-cop turned private eye Harry Raymond with him in it. He survived despite being peppered with more than 180 shards of metal. Raymond had been hawkshawing police corruption at the behest of the Citizens Independent Vice Investigation Committee, CIVIC. The LAPD’s Metropolitan Special Investigation Unit, led by Captain Earl Kynette, had kept tabs on Raymond for several months as he gathered evidence.
Kynette and two other officers were convicted for their roles in the bombing, the Unit was disbanded, and eventually corrupt Mayor Frank Shaw was recalled that year.
From the late 1960s into the 1970s, the LAPD’s successors to the Metropolitan Special Investigation Unit, the Criminal Conspiracy Section which gave way to the Public Disorder Intelligence Division, sent its infiltrators into the Black Panthers, spied on community organizations for the purpose of gathering intel and disruption.
Decorated Vietnam vets Detective Richard Ford and Officer Robert Von Villas operating out of the Devonshire Division were charged in 1983 for, among other pursuits, trafficking in automatic weapons, running a prostitution ring and pulling of at least one contract killing. They were convicted of murder in 1988, and each received a life sentence.
And on March 27, 1998, six pounds of cocaine went missing from LAPD’s evidence lock-up. Within a week, detectives focused on Officer Rafael Perez, a member of the Rampart CRASH anti-gang unit. Eventually Perez, busted for stealing the coke, and looking to get out from under, ratted out his fellow CRASH officers in what will be known as the Rampart Scandal which included beating prisoners, stealing drug profits and planting evidence.
The current Fox television show Gang Related, does a reverse spin on the undercover infiltrator. The main character is an LAPD officer who is part of the elite multi-agency Gang Task Force (among the operatives on the GTF is the Wu Tang Clan’s RZA as a DEA agent), with their own sweet sleek headquarters down at the docks. But he is more than that. As his voice over reminds us at the top of the show each week:
“My name is Ryan Lopez. After my parents died, the Acostas and Los Angelicos took me in and raised me as one of their own. To protect them, I was asked to go undercover as a member of the LAPD. Now I must walk the line between cop and criminal without being exposed.”
This Latinoized version of The Departed, a film in which the cops send a man undercover into an Irish gang while the gang has sent their man undercover into the cops (based on the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs), strains credulity at times. Lopez, a dude who is supposed to be in deep, is always going over to the bar-headquarters of his Godfather, Javier Acosta, head of Los Angelicos crime family or calling him on his cell.
But then in reality we have Lyga saying what he said to a room full of witnesses which also seems ill-advised. As the Rampart Scandal inspired Training Day and The Shield TV series, maybe Lyga’s tales will bring forth a gritty cable limited series in which a cop wipes out other cops on orders from the brass — making it look like the work of criminals — and must then fight those forces when they turn on him.
I might just go pitch that.
Sources: Frontline timeline on pbs.org, The Dark Side of the Force: A True Story of Corruption and Murder in the LAPD by Jan Golarb, The Glass House Tapes by Louis Tackwood and the Citizens Research and Investigation Committee, and Protectors of Privilege by Frank Donner.