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LAPD launches criminal investigation into racist leak at request of Martinez, De León, Cedillo

Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore announced Tuesday that his department has launched an investigation into the source of the leaked racist recordings that thrust City Hall into the national spotlight.

Speaking to reporters at a briefing, Moore confirmed the incident was being investigated by the department’s Major Crimes Division, the results of which would be presented to “the appropriate prosecuting agency” for possible criminal charges.

“The Department has opened a criminal investigation into the alleged eavesdropping of the Los Angeles Fed meeting involving then-Advisor Nury Martinez, Board Member Gil Cedillo, and Board Member Kevin de León and Fed Chairman Mr. [Ron] Herrera,” Moore said, referring to the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

On Tuesday, Moore said the department’s investigation was launched at the request of “people present at this meeting.” He was asked, “So Nury Martinez, Gil Cedillo, LA Fed President, and Kevin de León came to the LAPD and demanded an investigation into this.” Moore’s response: “Yes.” Late Tuesday, a spokesperson for De León said the council member had not requested an investigation.

“They contacted the department on Friday, last Friday, and asked us to investigate the illegal recording of their private conversation,” Moore said. “The department immediately dispatched detectives to conduct taped interviews with the individuals and our investigation will continue into the facts and circumstances of how the meeting occurred and information from the victims as to why they believe the recording was illegal and also including from them the assertion that it was not with their permission.

The leaked recordings were met with near-universal condemnation, with President Biden’s leaders calling for the resignation of all three council members. So far, only Martinez has quit, while the other two city officials have resisted, despite mounting pressure. Herrera also resigned.

The LAPD investigation marks a reversal of sorts. Last week, the department said it was not investigating because no one had filed a report.

The recordings took place last year at the offices of the Federation of Labour, which called the leak “illegal” and vowed to prosecute those involved. After the recordings were posted on Reddit, the union attempted to block the Los Angeles Times from publishing the details of the audio, claiming they were obtained illegally. The Times refused to stop publishing.

It is not known how the recordings were made. In California, recording conversations without a person’s consent is illegal, with rare exceptions.

As such, say legal experts, the recordings could open the door to criminal prosecution of the person who made them.

“It certainly appears someone violated California’s bipartisan consent rule, so it makes sense that the police department is investigating an apparent violation of the law,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School and former president of the City Ethics Commission.

“There are obvious people in the room to be interviewed and … questions about who had access to the room,” Levinson said, while noting that the alleged crime likely wouldn’t rise to the level of a felony. “This is a misdemeanor and the LAPD does not typically use search warrants in such cases. But this is not a typical investigation. How many times does a secret recording bring the president of United States to say that these people should resign?”

But, she added, the LAPD will not be able to take action against the person who posted the recordings on Reddit until they are the person responsible for making the clandestine recordings in the first place. She said that while the LAPD may be able to identify the Reddit poster, it’s likely that person may seek to invoke California’s shield law to protect the source of the recordings.

Yet prosecutors have won criminal cases in California for illegal recording and distribution of illegally obtained media, according to Susan Seager, an adjunct professor at UC Irvine School of Law and a longtime media advocate.

The person who recorded the city council’s recording “may have violated California law prohibiting people from secretly recording people’s conversations when they have a reasonable expectation of confidentiality,” Seager said. She added that the original purpose of the ban on recording people without their consent was “to prevent people from listening in on people’s phone calls, but it can also apply to recording people if they’re not on the phone.”

A court could conclude that the recording was appropriate if it believed that the content of the audio recording was a matter of public interest. Whether what was said in the audio recording is of sufficient public concern to outweigh the privacy rights of anyone recorded without their knowledge would be critical in a potential criminal case, Seager said. .

The U.S. Supreme Court addressed the issue in 2001, when it held in Bartnicki v. Vopper that members of the media are protected under the 1st Amendment from prosecution for posting intercepted material. illegally if they obtain it legally and if it is of sufficient public significance. worry.

“I think the 1st Amendment protection for reporting a matter of public interest would apply to an individual as well as a media organization,” Seager said.

In City Hall, California Atty. General Rob Bonta announced a broader investigation into the Los Angeles redistricting process that took place last fall, with Bonta saying an investigation is needed to “restore confidence” in the drawing of the 15 council districts of Los Angeles. the city. This process was underway during the taped talks, in which then-council chairman Martinez is heard making racist remarks while discussing redistricting with former union leader Herrera, Cedillo and de León.

Moore said detectives would seek to determine, “to the extent possible”, how the recording was produced, as well as identify the person responsible.

Asked by The Associated Press if a suspect had emerged, Moore said no.

Moore said he’s been in touch with the attorney general to make sure the two investigations don’t overlap unnecessarily. He said he also spoke with the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office regarding the department’s investigation. Depending on his result, he said, he would also contact the county attorney’s office, which handles felony cases.

Days before the case was launched, Moore discussed the department’s potential role in the case during a radio interview.

During his semi-regular appearance on Larry Mantle’s popular ‘AirTalk’ show, Moore said that although he normally tries to avoid politics, he ‘couldn’t stay silent’ when he heard the racist remarks. , which he claimed was not. represent LA he knows.

Moore said he “respects” that Martinez stepped down, while adding that he doesn’t see how the two remaining board members “could be effective in any way.”

The recording was made during a meeting in October 2021 at the premises of the federation. Martinez and the other Latino leaders present were apparently unaware they were being recorded, as Martinez said councilman Mike Bonin, who is white, treated his young black son as if he were a ‘prop’ and described the boy as a “changuitoor as “a monkey”.

Martinez also poked fun at people in Oaxaca and said “F—that guy…He’s with black people” while talking about Los Angeles County Dist. Atti. George Gascon. The three also made racist remarks about Jewish and Armenian residents.

California Daily Newspapers

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