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Update: LAPD Suspended Officer Who Obstructed L.A. TACO Reporter’s Vision While On Duty

1:00 AM PST on February 8, 2023

    Photo via @shoton35mm/Twitter.

    Photo via @shoton35mm/Twitter.

    A few days before 2022 ended, I received an email that stopped me in my tracks. It had no subject or body, just an eight-digit-long serial number and an attached pdf.

    The sender's address was even spammier sounding: 

    “professionalStandardsBureauEvaluationSection” 

    I initially deleted it on reflex because it looked like spam. Then, for some strange reason, I immediately retrieved it to double-check; it was a letter signed by the LAPD’s Chief of Police, Michel R. Moore.

    On the evening of October 20, 2021, I filed a formal complaint on behalf of L.A. TACO Staff Investigative Reporter Lexis-Olivier Ray. The complaint was in reference to an incident that happened a few nights earlier when Ray was out in the field on assignment doing a profile on William Gude, a well-known cop watcher and police critic known on social media as Film The Police L.A.

    Screenshot via @shoton35mm/Twitter.
    Screenshot via @shoton35mm/Twitter.
    Screenshot via @shoton35mm/Twitter.
    Screenshot via @shoton35mm/Twitter.

    After spending hours together, documenting police stops, Gude and Ray found themselves on Cherokee Avenue in Hollywood at around 2 AM, just after the bars closed. Part of the street was roped off due to a police investigation. While recording police activity, LAPD Officer Martin Perello used a flashlight to flare out Ray’s lens and obstruct his filming. He also did the same thing to Gude’s assistant. 

    “Want some of this too?” Perello said sarcastically before shining a light into Ray’s camera lens.

    When Ray and Gude requested the officer's serial number, he refused to identify himself, which is a violation of LAPD policy.

    This is far from the first time Ray has been targeted by the LAPD or had his ability to report on police activity obstructed. But it’s the first time that the LAPD has sustained one of his complaints.

    Adam Rose, press rights chair for the Los Angeles Press Club, says that, out of more than a dozen complaints filed by journalists that he’s aware of, “Ray is the only one I’ve heard of that’s been sustained. This is despite some very clear video evidence, especially in the investigations still in progress.”

    Rose noted that there are sometimes multiple complaints associated with one incident and that many of the more recent complaints filed by other journalists are still being investigated. “It’s likely that LAPD has been investigating itself for at least two dozen potential acts of officer misconduct against the press.”

    Ray has reported extensively on policing and the LAPD for L.A. TACO in the past four years. He previously made national news in the country’s journalism circles for his work covering the George Floyd uprisings and protests. As well as for his uncanny ability to capture spur-of-the-moment interactions between police and the public.

    Recently released LAPD disciplinary records reveal that Perello received a four-day suspension for using a “flashlight to obstruct [Ray’s] ability to record police activity,” refusing “to provide serial number upon request,” and being “discourteous.” The records identify Perello by rank but do not include his name.

    While this letter and discipline may seem minuscule to most, it is a big win for our tiny independent newsroom and for the rights of independent journalists around the country. Our platform has helped multiply our readership in the accountability journalism space in Los Angeles, largely thanks to Ray’s ability to hold police and politicians accountable.

    It pays not to let incidents like this go unreported. It's a perilous and often financially unrewarding time to practice this kind of journalism. We are fueled by a passion for knowledge and context—not dollars. 

    We hope this is an inspirational reminder to our compatriot newsrooms: support and back up your favorite journalists that you follow and look forward to reading, especially courageous ones who choose to go out to the frontlines of breaking news scenes when they happen to help you learn more about the world and your community. And of course, thank you to our loyal members who support our vision for inclusive, street-level journalism. Without you all, L.A. TACO would not be possible. 

    -Javier Cabral

    Chief Moore’s full Letter to L.A. TACO is below.   

    Mr. Cabral:

    The Department completed the investigation into your complaint regarding the conduct of an employee of the Los Angeles Police Department that was reported on October 20, 2021. Your

    investigation consisted of reviewing relevant Department documentation, interviewing witnesses when possible; watching Body-Worn Video footage and/or Digital In-Car Video evidence, if available; and, inspecting the location of occurrence for evidence fi necessary and possible. The investigation has gone through several levels of review prior to final adjudication.

    Your allegations that a Department employee shined a flashlight ot obstruct a reporter's ability to record police activity and also refused to provide their serial number upon request have each been classified as Sustained, which means that the investigation determined the allegation occurred and will be addressed through discipline. An appropriate penalty will be imposed; however, California Penal Code Section 832.5 precludes me from disclosing the specific penalty.

    Although this resolution may not be to your satisfaction, we appreciate you for bringing this matter to our attention. It is the goal of the Los Angeles Police Department to provide the highest level of quality service to every member of the community.

    Should you have any questions concerning this matter, please contact Sergeant Andrew Chao, Hollywood Complaint Unit, at (323) 957-4583.

    Respectfully,

    MICHEL R. MOORE Chief of Police

    --

    Update on 2/8/23: In addition to this letter sent to L.A. TACO, William Gude @FilmthePoliceLA on Twitter also filed two separate complaints and evidence against the officer who was suspended and posted a video on Youtube documenting the situation. Follow @FilmthePoliceLA's thread here.”

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