*Why is this man still working for the L.A.P.D.?
That’s the question I have for LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck and the Police Commission after listening to an audio recording (above) of Detective Frank Lyga at a recent in-service L.A.P.D. training where he proudly discussed the joy he took in killing off duty police officer Kevin Gaines in 1997.
Lyga, then an undercover narcotics officer, shot and killed 31-year-old Gaines on March 18, 1997.
In part of the audio, which was recorded by an officer attending the training, Lyga recalls a conversation he had with famed civil rights and wrongful death attorney Carl Douglas.
Lyga says, “The last thing I want to say is that Carl Douglas hit me up and said, ‘did you intend to shoot him’?”
With his colleagues laughing in the background, Lyga says he responded to Douglas by saying, “I hit him, didn’t I?”
He says that Douglas asked if it was an accident to which Lyga replied “No it wasn’t an accident.”
Lyga then says Douglas asked if he had any regrets.
“I said yeah,” according to Lyga. “No, I regret that he was alone in his truck at the time.”
Lyga then goes on to say to his colleagues, “Figure that one out. Hear that? Alone in the truck at the time. I could have killed a whole truckload of them…and would have been happily doing it–doing so.”
The audio, according to sources, is approximately four months old and includes other equally disturbing comments by Lyga all with snickers and laughs from his colleagues in the audience the entire time.
Highlights also include Lyga saying how 77th Division Captain I Lillian L. Carranza couldn’t find her ass with both her hands because someone else’s hands were always on it and because she’s been “tossed around” a couple of times. Lyga also referred to civil rights attorney Johnnie Cochran as a “crooked-lipped motherfucker” and attorney Carl Douglas as [Johnnie Cochran’s] “little Ewok assistant.” Lyga also asserts that then City Attorney James Hahn only settled the case because he was running for mayor and more.
Anyway, according to reports, investigator’s said that incident began on March 18,1997 with a simple stare between Lyga and Gaines when both were stopped at a traffic signal on Cahuenga Boulevard. It quickly escalated into a verbal confrontation. Lyga allegedly pulled away and informed his colleagues by radio that he was having trouble. Sources said Lyga told other officers that he was being pursued by an irate motorist. A couple of blocks to the south, Gaines pulled up next to Lyga.
A source close to the investigation told the Los Angeles Times at the time that the detective said he heard Gaines shout words that he took to mean he could be shot.
Lyga says he glanced over and saw a gun pointed at him, the source said. “Fearing that he was about to be shot, Lyga drew his duty weapon and fired two rounds in the direction of the suspect,” according to a statement released at the time by the LAPD.
Lyga, 40, had just finished an undercover drug operation and was dressed in grubby clothes to look like a dealer. Police said Lyga had no idea that Gaines was a police officer when he shot him. Gaines apparently was also unaware that Lyga was an officer, the LAPD said.
That account has been disputed by former LAPD officer Brian Bentley who was Gaines’ former partner. In March 2003, Bentley wrote an article for StreetGangs.com in which he claimed the LAPD deliberately covered up the true circumstances of Kevin Gaines’s death. Bentley alleged that Detective Lyga had a history of being over-aggressive with African-American suspects, and hailed from the same West Los Angeles police station that produced Mark Fuhrman—a station that Bentley believes to be racist.
Bentley claims that Lyga was overheard bragging in the lobby of this police station that Internal Affairs had told him they would do everything possible to defame Officer Gaines to clear Lyga of wrongdoing. Bentley also noted that Lyga’s claims that Gaines pointed a gun at him with his right hand at his face are false because Gaines was left-handed.
Bentley, an African American, published a “tell-all” book entitled “Honor Without Integrity in 2004”, which details how he engaged in much of the same behavior both on and off-duty as the convicted Rampart cops during his own tenure with the LAPD.
The Gaines family hired Johnnie Cochran to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles for $25,000,000. After the city exonerated Officer Lyga, they settled for $250,000.
It was also alleged that Gaines had ties to Death Row Records, the Bloods, and dated Suge Knight’s ex-wife. An investigation into Gaines’ behavior provided the first clues to the widespread police corruption that morphed into the Rampart Scandal.
But that’s neither here nor there. The issue is not about whether or not Gaines’ was dirty. The issue is that in 2014, seventeen years after his killing, under the leadership of a man who is seeking re-appointment as Los Angeles’ top cop, a white detective can get in front of a room of his colleagues and brag about killing a Black police officer with regrets of not being able to kill more—seemingly without any repercussions. That’s the issue.
So how much has really changed inside of the LAPD?
LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck commented on the NBC 4 news Wednesday night that he wasn’t sure how big a deal the murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman were to the Department today. Beck, said that many of today’s officers weren’t working for the Department 20 years ago.
I beg to differ. Lyga is proof that the LAPD still employs, harbors, and aids and abets many of the same racist officers it had 20 years ago. They’ve just moved up in the ranks and aren’t necessarily today’s beat cops, but they’re still there and as Lyga proves, just as racist and sexist as ever.
Selected as one of ESSENCE Magazine’s 25 Women Shaping the World and one the Most Influential African-Americans in Los Angeles Under 40, on radio, television, and in print, Jasmyne Cannick is a politics, race, and pop culture social commentator who has cultivated a national following. She can be reached at www.jasmyneonline.com and on Twitter @Jasmyne.