Thursday, January 14, 2010
CityWatchLA - Selective LAPD Law Enforcement: Some Victims Count Less
CityWatch, Jan 15, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 4
Last week, Ed Magos got up early, just as he does every weekday morning, had breakfast with his wife and children and then hopped on his bike to ride to City Hall where he works for the ITA Department. He didn't make it. As he rode down 2nd street, he was hit from behind by a motorist who didn't honk or hit the brakes. She simply drove her Porche Cayenne sports car into the back of Magos, propelling him and his bike through the air. He landed on the ground and lay still, conscious that any movement might cause further injury.
From the corner of his eye, he saw the woman walk toward him. He yelled "I can't move! Call 911!"
He remained motionless and continued to call for help, then heard the sound of car door closing, then the sound of an engine starting. He craned his head and caught the license plate number of the woman's car as she made a u-turn and drove off in the opposite direction. He immediately began repeating the license information out loud until a woman approached and assured him that she had written it down and that she had called 911.
Paramedics arrived, immobilized Magos on a gurney and transported him to Good Samaritan. (Good Sam is a great hospital, run by cyclists, host of the Annual Blessing of the Cyclists and all too often a refuge for those who hit the ground hard while trying to ride the streets of LA)
The good news is that Magos was released from the hospital and he is at home with his family, slowly mending and preparing for rehab.
He is a member of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council where … ironically … he chairs the Public Safety Committee. The EHNC was the first NC to endorse the Cyclists' Bill of Rights which holds that "Cyclists have the right to the full support of our judicial system and the right to expect that those who endanger, injure or kill cyclists be dealt with to the full extent of the law."
He not only voted to support the CBR at East Hollywood but he rode to other Neighborhood Councils to promote the Cyclists' Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, his experience demonstrates the need for the CBR.
1) The motorist who hit Magos turned herself in but she wasn't arrested. She hit another human being with her car and then looked at him and made the decision to leave him lying on the street while she hopped in her car and left the scene of the collision.
She failed to identify herself, she failed to exchange information, and most importantly, she failed to offer aid or call for help. I'd think that would justify her arrest as a criminal. Apparently not in LA.
As Magos lay in the hospital, talking to the Detectives, they received a phone call indicating that she had turned herself in at the Rampart Station saying "I think I hit something. I'm not sure what."
She filled out some paper work and left. She is still driving, she still has a license and she still has her car.
Detective Padilla indicates that the LAPD looks at three factors when they consider whether they should take someone into custody. a) The severity of the injuries (over the counter determination?); b) The history of the motorist (over the counter background check?); c) The risk of flight (the motorist has already demonstrated a proclivity for evading responsibility!) Nevertheless, this motorist was back on the street before Ed's family and friends had located him at Good Sam's.
2) The motorist committed a crime, an act that should turn the location into a crime scene, which in turn might have evidence that may aid in the arrest and conviction of the person who committed the criminal act. Yet the LAPD left Magos’ bike, complete with the telltale damage that might have paint exchange, damage that could be used to indicate speed of travel or direction of travel or even simply to corroborate the motorist's version of the incident. But Ed's bike was not collected as evidence. It was collected as debris.
LAPD's Brian Humphreys located the bike at Fire Station #3 where Magos’ wife was able to collect it. The "evidence" now resides in his garage, not the LAPD's evidence locker. (How great would it be if the LAPD simply collected the hit-and-run motorists' vehicles as evidence!)
3) Within an hour of the hit-and-run crime that left Ed lying on the street, the LAPD's Central Traffic Watch Commander referred to the incident as a "Traffic Accident."
This simple slip of the tongue is professionally irresponsible and demonstrates the desensitization that is so pervasive in our culture.
On what evidence did a Watch Commander determine that it was an accident, especially as he professed that he had not spoken to the investigators nor did he have any information on the incident.
"Traffic Accident" is not the default term for the epidemic of motor vehicle collisions that take place on the streets of Los Angeles. A crime was committed and the default position should be to treat the incident as a criminal act until the evidence proves otherwise.
4) The motorist who hit Magos and left him lying on the street stands accused of committing a misdemeanor crime. She committed a shockingly inhumane crime against another human being. But the crime of "hit-and-run" will not be a felony unless it results in "permanent, serious injury" which is defined as the loss or permanent impairment of function of a bodily member or organ.
The Detectives who are preparing this case look for broken bones and blood as the indicators of "permanent, serious injury." Major organs can suffer damage that will not turn up in the immediate hours after the collision, yet this motorist was not held on felony charges, she walked.
The motivation to "hit-and-run" is great if the penalty is so slight. It is imperative that the default charge for "hit-and-run" assumes the same penalty as all of the motivations for running. (drugs, warrants, alcohol, stolen car, etc.) The LAPD is dealing with "hit-and-run" incidents so frequently that if it were a virus, we'd call this an epidemic. Instead, we simply call it traffic.
5) The "hit-and-run" incident took place last week. Since then the LAPD investigators prepared a file and it was vetted and a press release went out. It contained misinformation. It was then lost and the LAPD's media department was unable to retrieve the information for the press.
In light of the fact that the cycling community was Tweeting the motorist's license plate info within minutes of the collision and that the local blogs were humming within the hour of the incident, how does the LAPD take a week to fumble with the report and then lose the press release?
It's 2010 and it's time for the LAPD to put down the pencil and paper and to embrace the digital era.
Too many professions are able to gather information digitally, disseminate information digitally, process and file information digitally, yet the LAPD still invests in pencil sharpeners!
This exercise in indifference begs the obvious question: Would LAPD be this complacent if the victim had been one of their own cyclist officers?
LAPD Investigators explain that the cases that advance to the City Attorney and the District Attorney are cases that have a chance of succeeding. If it's the law that must change in order for the victims of "hit-and-run" collisions to get justice, it's time for the City and District Attorneys to take responsibility for communicating clearly the obstacles that they encounter and for calling on the public, the Mayor, the City Council and our State Legislators to join them in fighting for laws with teeth that will give them the tools for making our streets safer for everybody.
Mayor Villaraigosa refers to Public Safety as his number one "Issue" and he has yet to pass up an opportunity to stand at a press conference surrounded by LAPD uniforms as he touts the "new and improved" crime stats. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck is two months into his new post, and he also stands on the public safety pedestal, claiming that LA is the 2nd safest Big City, after New York.
As long as we refer to the mayhem on the streets as "accidents" Villaraigosa will be allowed to continue the charade but the reality is this, the streets of Los Angeles are a Public Safety nightmare and the people of LA stand a greater chance of being killed by a motorist than by a gangbanger.
Police Officers stand a greater change of dying in a car crash than in a fight with a criminal.
As LA celebrates its "2nd safest Big City" status, it's important to acknowledge that Los Angeles is also a national leader in hit-and-run crimes.
Los Angeles is a City under Hit and Run Seige. The Mayor needs to get out of the Yukon and onto a Schwinn if he wants to truly impress on the people of Los Angeles that we are a city that puts a premium on Public Safety. Public Safety that is for everyone including LA’s growing cyclist community.
(Stephen Box is a cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net)