Heroes and Villains

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Dear Members and Supporters,

Thirty-one years ago this month, a Simi Valley jury acquitted four LAPD officers of using excessive force against Rodney King. King appeared to be driving under the influence, then attempted to outrun the police rather than pulling over. Once he stopped, the police clubbed him dozens of times, breaking his skull and causing permanent brain damage, as well as shocking him over and over with a Taser. This was recorded on videotape by a bystander and the footage was repeatedly shown on television. Somehow, the jury was persuaded King had done something between video frames which justified this assault. When the verdict was announced, people took to the streets in protest, particularly in Downtown and South Central LA, and those protests escalated into the largest rebellion LA had seen since the 1965 Watts Uprising, which was also sparked by LAPD violence against African-Americans.  

In May 2016, a San Antonio police officer named Matthew Luckhurst attempted to give an unhoused man a literal shit sandwich. He was thwarted only because he bragged to a colleague, who then insisted he retrieve the offensive offering. Luckhurst was suspended after an Internal Affairs investigation, but this disciplinary action was overturned because the punishment was given more than 180 days after the incident. By then he had been suspended indefinitely for what the local paper generously called “a separate poop-related prank,” specifically “taking an unflushed dump in the women’s locker room and smearing a brown substance over the toilet seat after a female officer asked that the restroom be kept clean.” Luckhurst left the San Antonio department and was hired as a police officer in Floresville, an outer suburb of San Antonio, then was fired in December 2022 after a popular outcry

Leadership in Floresville claimed they were unaware of Luckhurst’s soiled record. I am skeptical. His hiring fits a pattern where police close ranks to support each other against the outside world. Consider the Los Angeles Police Protective League. Rank and file LAPD officers have elected Jamie McBride to lead their professional association. McBride was a remarkably trigger-happy cop who shot at people six times in his first eleven years in uniform, and is an outspoken Trump supporter. Both of his daughters are current LAPD officers who have killed on the job, and one, Toni, is also a “gun influencer.” This is who LAPD chose to represent them. It is difficult to see this as anything other than a gesture of defiance to liberal City leaders and the residents who elected them.

We saw this same thing recently in Culver City when CCPD officers chose Luis Martinez, who cost the city $8.8 million dollars in a settlement after he gunned down an unarmed man in front of his family, to lead their professional association, then presented him to be the first City staff representative on the Equity and Human Relations Advisory Committee. Elected officials attempted to make a modest gesture towards social justice by forming the EHRAC and police responded by selecting a representative who took a Black man’s life, was found liable, then kept his job and was promoted.

However, the biggest blue middle finger raised here was in 1994, when the Culver City Police Department hired Timothy Wind, one of the officers who beat Rodney King. In April 1993, Wind was found not guilty in a Federal prosecution of the four officers for violating King’s civil rights, but was subsequently fired by LAPD. The next summer he was hired as a Community Relations Officer in Culver City. This became public through a Los Angeles Times story August 26, in which CCPD Lieutenant Joe D’Anjou explained that: “He needed a job and we had a position available and he tested and came out No. 1 on the list.” D’Anjou’s appeal to the neutrality of civil service procedure was immediately undermined by his comment that the job was “better than nothing, which is what he’s been making since L.A,” which showed his sympathy for Wind, as did his comment that Wind had “had enough negative publicity in his life.” City Council Member Ed Wolkowitz and Mayor Albert Vera Sr. were also quoted, arguing that Wind deserved to earn a living, with Wolkowitz emphasizing that Wind had been acquitted twice in court. D’Anjou also mentioned that the department had hoped to avoid attention.

A handful of residents spoke at the August 29, 1994 Culver City Council meeting. Theodore Smith III said he supported Wind’s hiring, but worried that his presence might expose the City to liability. Smith suggested the City form a Police and Fire Commission. Sandi Levin asked that more information on the hiring be made public, and Bob Repaich also expressed concerns about liability. Council Member Wolkowitz reiterated that Wind had not been convicted in either of his trials, added that the LAPD Board had recommended they rehire him but was overruled by their Chief, Willie Williams, and claimed the Times’ coverage was incomplete. My thanks to the City Clerk’s office for scanning and emailing the minutes of this and the following meetings

Comments on this matter continued at the next Council meeting, September 12. James Anderson, Carol Gross, David Hauptman, Diane Hauptman, Karol Heppe, Michael Hersh, H. L. Marks, Joe Nagengast, Ruth Sarnoff, Adele Siegel, Gary Silbiger, Lorraine Suzuki, and Dallas Westerfield opposed Wind’s hiring, while Richard Alexander supported it. Silbiger presented the video of King’s beating. Smith and Repaich from the previous meeting returned to say that they now supported Wind. The Council scheduled a closed session on this matter with Chief Ted Cooke. The Times’ coverage of this meeting mentioned that the organized public comments against Wind represented the formation of a community group who would call for a civilian police review board.

The Council met again the next week, on the 19th. Paul Wuebren gave public comment against Wind’s hiring, Arlene Valdez in favor. At their meeting on the 26th, Morris Dodd spoke in favor. The Council also met on the 28th, a Wednesday, when Chief Administrative Officer Jody Hall-Esser (the CAO was the predecessor to the City Manager), presented a draft press release on the Wind situation. Unfortunately, it was not included with the minutes.

The group the Times described was the Culver City Community Network, the ancestor of the Culver City Community Coalition and the Culver City Action Network, the progressive groups who successfully organized and advocated for the City’s sanctuary policy and rent control. They organized quickly, gathering over 700 signatures on an anti-Wind petition presented at the Council’s October 10 meeting and bringing speakers to that meeting who outnumbered the pro-Wind faction six-to-one. This is impressive for two weeks’ work by grassroots activists in the pre-Internet era, but it did not sway the Council, who voted unanimously to support Wind’s hiring. The LA Weekly quoted one Wind supporter: “If he was protecting my life, I’d feel very comfortable.” (Here are the full minutes for October 10, 1994).

When we learn our own history, we focus on the heroes: Martin Luther King, not Bull Connor, Harriet Tubman, not John Calhoun, Harvey Milk, not Jesse Helms, and so on. We don’t want to think too much about the Americans who devoted their lives to depriving other Americans of their rights. Similarly, local history is closely allied to civic boosterism; we want to draw people to see Louis Armstrong’s house, not remind them of how the LAPD drove him out of town after a pot bust, and to celebrate Thomas Ince’s filmmaking, not dwell on his mysterious demise. So why dig through thirty-year-old City Council minutes?

The two living Council Members who voted to support Wind’s hiring are still active in Culver City politics. Steven Gourley and Ed Wolkowitz have consistently stood by their 1994 votes and are embraced as authoritative veteran leaders by some segments of the community. Mike Balkman, Jim Boulgarides, and Albert Vera Sr. are deceased, but current Mayor Albert Vera Jr. ran for Council under the slogan “a legacy of leadership.” During his campaign he never spoke to what parts of his father’s legacy he claimed, but Vera Senior’s vote to support Wind’s hiring is part of the City’s racist legacy, which challenges us all.

Some heroes of 1994 are also still among us. I am proud that Gary Silbiger and Michael Hersh are members of this Club, and want to be sure they and the others who stood up then receive the honor and credit they deserve.

However, we must also note that they lost. After the Council voted unanimously to support Wind’s hiring, he stayed with CCPD until 2000, when he left by his own choice to go to law school in Indianapolis. Shunned by the other students, he dropped out and the LA Times last reported on him in 2004, portraying him as unemployed and severely depressed in Indiana. 

Culver City still does not have a Police Commission or Civilian Review Board. A Citizen Public Safety Committee was passed as part of the April 2021 Public Safety Review, but no action has been taken towards defining or establishing it and it is unlikely progress will be made in the next two years.

Police responded to the outrage over the beating of Rodney King by taking control of the visual narrative. Darryl Gates’ LAPD was caught off guard by the new camcorder technology which enabled bystanders to televise their violence. Activists called for body-worn cameras to increase police accountability, but this was swiftly turned to the police’s advantage.  

The body-worn cameras used by most police departments, including Culver City, are made by Axon, creators of the Taser. The footage captured does not belong to the local police but is kept on evidence.com, Axon’s server. This server name reveals the system’s purpose: extending rather than limiting police power. When police violence does reach public consciousness, departments engage “critical incident” video consultants who produce their own films with voiceovers, diagrams, and other features to shape public perception ahead of any investigations, trials, etc. Police have countered the use of camcorders and smartphones by bystanders and activists by creating their own media production system, at taxpayer expense rather than DIY.

Rodney King was repeatedly tased. Police, particularly the LAPD, embraced the Taser as an alternative to the chokehold. LAPD was killing people with chokeholds and Chief Gates had exacerbated the situation by attempting to explain that African-Americans’ circulatory systems worked differently from those of “normal people.” Police did not stop choking people but renamed the chokehold a “carotid restraint hold,” and it was not banned in many places, including Culver City, until after the police murder of George Floyd in 2020. Meanwhile, the Taser did not displace other forms of police violence but became an addition instead of an alternative and is itself often deadly.

Timothy Wind testified in court that, when he and the other officers confronted Rodney King, one of them had shouted “he’s dusted,” and they all believed that PCP (aka angel dust) could give users superhuman strength, like the Hulk. This justified their extreme measures to subdue King. This myth about PCP persists, and has been joined by other dangerous medical fallacies such as “excited delirium,” and “fentanyl exposure.”

Today, it is more likely that, if someone led police on a 100MPH+ chase in the middle of the night, then failed to lie perfectly still face down after pulling over, they would not leave with a permanent disability but be dead. Police killings have risen consistently since the 1980s, with Black men in their later 20s at the highest risk. Rodney King was 26 when he was beaten.

It has been thirty years, and we cannot say things have gotten better. The City and police cannot congratulate themselves for changes they have not made, and we cannot accept apologies which have not been offered.