Save the Equity Committee from the Police Union

CCAN recently spoke out against the travesty of appointing Lt. Luis Martinez as the first labor representative to Culver City’s newly formed Equity & Human Relations Advisory Committee (EHRAC). As the LA Times reported at the time, Martinez was found in federal court to have wrongfully killed Lejoy Grissom, a Black man, by using excessive force during his official duties as a CCPD officer. Out of all the City’s dedicated employees, how can Martinez possibly be an appropriate, let alone the best, choice to represent the City’s workforce on a committee devoted to “promot[ing] positive human relations and equitable outcomes and opportunities in all aspects of community life”? The EHRAC is specifically charged with receiving complaints about interactions with City employees. What does it do to the credibility of the EHRAC, and to someone’s willingness to come forward, when one of its members has been found to have committed the most serious possible violation, leading to an $8.8 million jury verdict for the fatal violation of someone’s civil rights?

In response to our statement, the Culver City Police Officers Association (CCPOA) released a scorching, Trump-style campaign video, complete with ominous warnings about “looters,” Portland, and Seattle. Shockingly, the video said not one word about the Equity & Human Relations Advisory Committee, its value, or why the police union’s apparent nomination of Martinez made sense. The video also did not mention the unanimous jury ruling against Martinez and the CCPD. Instead, the CCPOA launched a full-throated defense of his actions and a bizarre, ill-founded attack on CCAN and two residents who have done prominent work advancing equity in the community.

Because the CCPOA’s video is, at best, highly misleading, we want to provide additional resources and new information so that the community can understand what is at stake. The available trial transcripts are linked here; other documents are linked below.

Most of the CCPOA’s claims about Martinez’s killing of Grissom simply repeat arguments that the jury heard and rejected. The testimony established that Grissom was shot and killed shortly after emerging from his car with his hands raised around his head, facing Martinez. Unlike Martinez, the several other officers with their guns trained on Grissom saw no basis to shoot. Martinez claimed that he fired because he saw a shiny metallic object in Grissom’s cupped hand that might have been a gun, but the jury rejected that defense; all other officers and civilians testified that they saw nothing in Grissom’s open hands. The officers made conflicting statements about whether Grissom moved his hands, and a civilian witness testified that even if they moved somewhat, they remained at chest height or higher the entire time. Again, the jury unanimously resolved those questions against Martinez and the CCPD.

The CCPOA video also asserts that Grissom was “armed, and a small caliber handgun was recovered at the scene.” This is simply false. Witnesses at trial testified consistently that after he was fatally shot, Grissom was searched by a police officer. No weapon was found on him or elsewhere at the scene. Even the District Attorney’s (DA) report on which the CCPOA relies does not dispute this. Indeed, the lawyers for CCPD and Martinez specifically acknowledged during litigation “[t]he fact that Decedent Lejoy Grissom did not have a weapon on his immediate person at the time of the shooting.” Indeed, they attempted to keep this fact from the jury, though the judge denied that request.

According to both the DA’s report and pre-trial documents, after Grissom was transported to the hospital, where he was declared dead, an officer produced a gun he claimed to have retrieved from Grissom’s shoe at the hospital. Although not noted in either the DA report nor the CCPOA video, this gun was not loaded, as the defendants’ lawyers also acknowledged.  Again, the defendants sought, this time successfully, to keep from the jury that an unloaded gun was recovered at the hospital.  Yet now the CCPOA  video tries to defend Martinez and attack CCAN with an asserted “fact” contradicted by all the trial testimony and disclaimed even by the CCPD’s and Martinez’ own defense lawyers.

At the hospital, the officer’s production of this unloaded gun occurred after emergency trauma technicians had removed Grissom’s shoes and tossed them into a corner with his other clothing. The technician who tossed the shoes testified pre-trial that she did not see a gun, feel the weight of one, nor hear anything fall out when the shoes landed. The technician characterized the subsequent production of a gun as “fishy,“really weird,” and “odd,” leading her to conclude that the gun likely was planted after the officer sought access to the clothing. After expressing surprise to the officer and sharing her concerns with her supervisor, she also reported receiving “evil glares” from the officer. This testimony was so dangerous to the defense that the CCPD and Martinez successfully asked the court to bar from the trial this and all other evidence about recovery of the unloaded gun at the hospital, to prevent the jury from considering a possible coverup. 

Developing this evidence of a potential cover-up was one of several differences between the civil lawsuit brought by Grissom’s surviving family members and the initial investigations conducted by law enforcement agencies. Within months of the killing, the LA County’s Sheriff’s Department (LASD) and DA concluded that no discipline or prosecution were warranted. The DA’s report, based entirely on the LASD’s fact-gathering, essentially repeats the CCPD’s and Martinez’s version of events, the one later rejected by the jury. The CCPOA video relies entirely on the DA’s report while ignoring that the trial even occurred. However, the failure of law enforcement agencies to deliver accountability for police killings is itself one of the systemic failures against which the Black Lives Matter movement has risen up in protest. Eric Garner’s killer was not prosecuted. Michael Brown’s killer was not prosecuted. Breonna Taylor’s killers have not been arrested. And so many more.

In Los Angeles, the DA’s failure to deliver accountability for police killings has motivated a campaign to replace Jackie Lacey, the hand-picked successor to the DA who cleared Martinez. BLM-LA has led weekly protests at her office. Dignity & Power Now says Lacey “has carried on the same racist, deadly legacy that preceded her.” The cozy relationship between DAs, local police, and local police unions has prompted efforts in California to ban police union political contributions in DA races and to create investigative processes independent of local law enforcement. The problems are even more extreme with the LASD’s investigation. The Sheriff at the time, Lee Baca, is currently serving a federal prison term for obstructing justice and lying to the FBI in its investigations of excessive force at County jails. In this case, Grissom’s family persevered, leading to further investigation as part of the civil lawsuit. When the case finally received a comprehensive hearing before an impartial decision-maker, that eight-member jury unanimously found that Martinez was in the wrong. The Martinez case illustrates how Culver City is no stranger to the dynamics that have sparked uprisings against police violence, and impunity for it, nationwide.

The current controversy, however, was not prompted by the killing itself, nor by Martinez’s retention and promotion by the CCPD. Rather, it was triggered by his nomination and appointment to the EHRAC, seemingly at police union behest. In multiple ways, Culver City is currently attempting to restructure City government to better embrace equity and value Black lives. The newly-created EHRAC is part of that process, as is the current Public Safety Review Task Force, which the CCPOA has also vehemently opposed. Right now, police and their unions across the country are embracing Trump, alt-right groups, and the violent suppression of dissent using local and federal force. With its “thin blue line” rally in alliance with the local right-wing group Protect Culver City and its alt-right leader, this video, and more, the CCPOA is demonstrating that it is cut from the same cloth as police unions nationally, that it is devoted to obstructing solutions with propaganda, threats, and demands for impunity.

We reiterate our call for the City’s other labor unions to help clean up this mess by rescinding their support for Martinez’s appointment as the labor representative on the EHRAC, and for Martinez to resign from that position. If necessary as a last resort, the City Council should remove him from the EHRAC.