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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Criminal charges have been filed against three Los Angeles Police Department officers accused of falsifying records that claimed people they had stopped were gang members or gang associates, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced today.
Braxton Shaw, 37, Michael Coblentz, 42, and Nicolas Martinez, 36, were charged late Thursday with one count each of conspiracy to obstruct justice and multiple counts of filing a false police report and preparing false documentary evidence, according to the District Attorney's Office.
The three were each released on their own recognizance early this afternoon shortly after their arrests by the LAPD's Internal Affairs Division, jail records show.
In a statement posted on Twitter, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said, “Public trust is the bedrock of community policing and these allegations shake that foundation. The actions of these few tarnish the badge we all wear. The department is committed to continuing this comprehensive investigation in our effort to restore the confidence of the people we protect and serve.”
The charges stem from a “misconduct investigation” conducted by the LAPD's Internal Affairs Group and monitored by the Office of the Inspector General, according to the department.
The LAPD noted that one of the defendants -- which of the three was not specified -- was “relieved from duty” in January when Moore concluded that the officer's actions were “a serious violation of department policy.”
That officer has been ``directed to an administrative tribunal for the purpose of removal,” according to the LAPD, which said the other two officers have been assigned to home duty.
The LAPD also said there are 21 other officers under investigation over the completion of field interview cards, which are used by officers to interview people while they are on duty. Ten of those officers are assigned to “home pending the outcome of the investigation,” eight are assigned to administrative duties, five remain in the field and one has retired since the investigation was launched, according to the LAPD.
Shaw, Coblentz and Martinez -- who were assigned at the time to the LAPD's Metropolitan Division -- allegedly falsified field interview cards and misidentified dozens of people as gang members. Some of the false information contained in the cards was used to wrongfully enter people into a state gang database, prosecutors allege.
In some instances, the three are accused of writing on field interview cards that a person they stopped admitted being a gang member, even though video from body-worn cameras showed that the individual was never asked that question, according to the District Attorney's Office. In other instances, the defendants allegedly wrote on field interview cards that a person interviewed admitted to being a gang member even though the person denied it, according to the District Attorney's Office.
Shaw -- who could face up to 31 years and eight months in county jail if convicted as charged -- is charged with 43 counts of preparing false documentary evidence involving the field interview cards, along with eight counts of filing a false report and one count of conspiracy.
The overt acts included with the conspiracy charge allege that Shaw falsely documented some people as gang members with gang tattoos and gang monikers and that he falsely documented a “fictional person” as a gang member on 15 occasions between March 2018 and January 2019.
Coblentz allegedly falsified seven field interview cards. He is charged with seven counts of preparing false documentary evidence, five counts of filing a false report and one count of conspiracy, and could face up to seven years and eight months behind bars if found guilty.
Martinez -- who allegedly falsified two field interview cards – is charged with two counts each of preparing false documentary evidence and filing a false report and one count of conspiracy, and could face a maximum of four years and four months in jail, according to the District Attorney's Office.
Less than a month ago, the LAPD placed a moratorium on the use of the CalGang System, a statewide database used by law enforcement for sharing intelligence regarding potential gang members.
In its latest statement, the LAPD said: “Action was taken quickly to put safeguards in place to ensure this type of behavior does not happen again. These actions included retraining of all Metropolitan personnel on the proper completion of a FI (field interview) card and random audits of officer's body-worn video with increased frequency of audits. While we had been using a more stringent criteria in the collection and review of information associated with the California Gang Database, we recently committed to no longer using the database for anything other than removing individuals from it.”
The LAPD was investigating alleged misuse of CalGang after it was announced in January that a teenager with no gang affiliations was entered into the system.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced in February that his office would audit the department's records and policies on the use of the database.
“Right now, LAPD's (CalGang) inputs are under the microscope, and we all have a stake in making sure that we all get this right,” Becerra said then. “We do not yet have a clear or full picture of what occurred, but we know enough to know that we must act. Any falsification of police records and abuse of the CalGang database is unacceptable. If Californians are falsely included in the database that could potentially subject them to unwarranted scrutiny.”
The CalGang system was overseen by individual police departments until the Legislature passed a bill in 2017 giving the Attorney General's Office authority over it.
Becerra said the Department of Justice issued proposed regulations last December to require officers to document their reasoning for entering someone into the CalGang database to ensure reasonable suspicion exists that someone may be affiliated with a gang. The regulations also require departments to report any misuse of CalGang within five days.
Becerra said it was unknown how many people have been entered into CalGang by LAPD, but said the department was the largest contributor to the database. Statewide, there are about 80,000 people entered.
The database will be accessible only to the CalGang System administrator to remove entries that were erroneously entered in the database.
As a result of an ongoing investigation, Lacey has directed prosecutors to corroborate any information derived from field interview cards with other available evidence, including body-worn cameras, in an effort to ensure the accuracy of the information, according to the District Attorney's Office.