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LA police are investigating whether a racist recording was illegally recorded


LOS ANGELES– Los Angeles detectives are investigating whether a recording last year that captured racist remarks by city council members was made illegally, the police chief said Tuesday.

The leak of the tape earlier this month sparked a growing scandal in the country’s second-largest city just weeks before Election Day. The council members’ bigoted discussion — laden with gross insults — laid bare unequal representation and divided political power along racial lines in Los Angeles.

Council Chairman Nury Martinez resigned in disgrace, while two other council members resisted widespread calls – from the White House downwards – for their ousting.

The uproar began with the release nearly two weeks ago of a previously unknown recording of a private 2021 meeting involving Martinez and advisers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo, as well as powerful labor leader Ron Hererra, head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

“The department has opened a criminal investigation into an allegation of wiretapping,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said Tuesday at a news conference in response to a question from The Associated Press.

The group, all Latin Democrats, was captured on the tape plotting to protect their political influence in reshuffling council districts in an hour-long closed meeting that was peppered with bigoted comments. They used racist language to mock their colleagues – as well as the young black son of a councilman – as they planned to protect Latino political strength in council districts.

It is not known who made the tape, or why.

Under California law, all parties must consent to the recording of a private conversation or telephone call. Otherwise, the person who made the recording is liable to criminal and civil penalties. The state’s wiretapping laws are among the strictest in the nation and allow the “injured party” – the person taped without their permission – to sue.

Martinez, de León, Cedillo and Herrera approached the Los Angeles Police Department on Friday — more than two weeks after the recording, which was posted on Reddit, was first reported by the Los Angeles Times — and asked the agency to open an investigation. , Moore said.

“This (request) was made by the directors – it was not made through an intermediary or otherwise,” he added.

Detectives have since questioned the group as to why they believe the recording was made “illegally and surreptitiously”, the leader said.

But Pete Brown, a spokesman for de León, said Tuesday night that the councilman had not been involved in the report to police and had not been interviewed by detectives.

“León’s council member did not request an investigation,” Brown told AP hours after Moore said the four had been involved.

Martinez’s spokesman while in office did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday night, nor did a spokesperson for Cedillo or the county labor federation.

The labor federation previously called the leaked recording illegal and unsuccessfully tried to stop the LA Times from publishing details of the discussion.

No suspects have been identified, Moore said.

“We will also seek, to the extent possible, to understand how such a recording was made and to identify, if possible, the person or persons responsible,” he said.

Detectives will consult with the city attorney — whose office handles misdemeanors — and county prosecutors for felony charges if necessary, the chief said.

Other questions remain as to what the investigation might entail and whether other recordings have been made at the union federation’s headquarters.

The state is separately investigating how the council districts were drawn and whether the process was rigged. Attorney General Rob Bonta, a Democrat, said his investigation could result in civil liability or criminal charges, depending on what is uncovered.

The fallout has left City Hall in turmoil, and President Joe Biden has called on de León and Cedillo to step down. Loud protesters at city council meetings have provided a constant backdrop of chanting and shouting as they try to increase pressure on the duo to step down.

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Associated Press writer Michael R. Blood contributed.

ABC News

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