Peter Bibring with the American Civil Liberties Union says police unions and civil rights group will be watching how the LAPD handles the recorded arrest of 34-year-old Michelle Jordan, who was thrown to the ground during the exchange. Gordon Tokumatsu reports from Downtown Los Angeles for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Aug. 29, 2012.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has downgraded a police commander and censured him as "severely deficient in his response" after two of his officers were caught on video knocking a woman to the ground after stopping her for allegedly using her cell phone while driving.
Beck’s action came in the wake of a story reported first on NBC4 showing security video of the incident.
"I believe the Commanding Officer of Foothill Area was severely deficient in his response. Proper steps were not taken, including appropriate notifications and the removal of the involved officers from the field. Because of these issues, I have removed him from his command and initiated downgrade procedures," Beck said during a news conference Wednesday.
"Every Los Angeles Police Officer, regardless of rank, will be held accountable for their actions."
Capt. Joseph Hiltner will lose salary and responsibility, effective immediately, Beck said. Hiltner has served as the Foothill Area Commanding Officer since January 2010.
The commander will not be stripped of his rank, according to LAPD spokeswoman Karen Rayner. Rather, he will retain the title of captain but at a lower level, of which there are three.
The officers involved in the incident — one with 22 years of service on the force, the other a probation officer with 10 months of service — had already been removed from street patrols while the investigation is underway. One of them as been assigned to home, LAPD said.
Video of the incident, captured on a Del Taco surveillance camera, shows a patrol car pulling over a car at about 11:15 a.m. on Aug. 21 near Foothill Boulevard at Saluda in the Tujunga area. Michelle Jordan, 34, exits the car and is handcuffed. After some discussion, perhaps argumentative by Jordan's own account, one of the officers throws her to the pavement, head first.
"A short time later while still handcuffed another encounter occurred between Jordan and the officers and she was taken to the ground a second time," according to a statement released by the LAPD Tuesday night.
Raymond Branch was outside the Del Taco when the arrest went down and told NBC4 that although officers were right to arrest her for resisting, they went "overboard."
Jordan and her attorney say the move caused her serious injuries to the head and upper body, as shown in a photo below. She was arrested on suspicion of interfering/resisting arrest and released on her own recognizance.
The police chief has mandated the video be played at all roll calls and that commanding officers attend those viewings, according to an LAPD statement released Wednesday.
Beck said he has “serious concerns” about what the officers filed in the arrest report and what security cameras captured.
"It’s not that it doesn’t match, it’s just that the level of force that was used at the end of the incident is not justified by what I see in the report," he told NBC4.
Peter Bebring, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California, echoes Beck’s concerns over the officer’s use of force.
"There’s nothing on this video that suggests she’s a threat," Bebring said. "Any department who finds an officer that’s done that should fire that officer."
Bebring says this incident resonates outside of LA, adding that civil rights and police advocates will be watching the department to see how they handle the case.
Clarification: An earlier version of this article reported the commanding officer has been stripped of his rank. That officer has been “downgraded” from commanding officer, but will still retain the rank of captain, according to LAPD spokeswoman Karen Rayner.