The Los Angeles Police Department wants you to say something if you see something.
Yet, last fall when a room full of police officers witnessed a veteran detective making racially charged comments about shooting black men and vulgar insults about command staff’s sexual behavior during a training lecture—almost no one had anything to say. Instead, they laughed, snickered, and applauded at the end.
Detective Frank Lyga, a 28-year veteran of the LAPD has been put on administrative duty after audio surfaced of that training. Lyga, whose claim to fame is the 1997 shooting death of an off-duty LAPD officer Kevin Gaines, can be heard recounting a conversation with civil rights attorney Carl Douglas.
Lyga says on the audio that his only regret regarding the shooting was that Gaines was alone in the truck at the time and that he could have “killed a whole truckload of them” and “would have been happily doing so.”
Lyga claimed self-defense and the department under then Police Chief Bernard Parks, exonerated him of any wrongdoing. However, the investigation into the shooting is what lead to the Rampart scandal.
Since the release of the audio publicly, Lyga has confirmed to the media that it is his voice. Police Chief Charlie Beck announced that Lyga has been removed from the field and placed on administrative duty pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation.
But what can we really expect from Beck when it comes to Lyga’s investigation and discipline? After all, Lyga is a veteran detective known for making high profile drug busts and he’s white.
On the audio, Lyga at one point says that he “doesn’t give a fuck” and that he’s “not afraid of command staff.”
I believe him. Administrative duty is not off-duty. It means that he gets to hang out at the office with the same people who apparently find his brand of humor amusing as demonstrated in the audio.
But perhaps Lygagate will force the department to do something different. This scandal breaks at a time when Beck is being considered for re-appointment for another five-year term. It also comes right on the heels of the revelation that cops were unpunished for breaking antennas to avoid being recorded while on duty in South L.A. and Beck’s controversial decision to overrule recommendations from a disciplinary board that a white police officer be fired for using a racial slur towards an African-American during an off-duty altercation at a Norco bar.
Officer Shawn Hillman was given a vacation of 65-days by the department—not for using the n-word but for lying about it to LAPD investigators.
Criticism was raised after it was publicized that Hillman’s father is a retired LAPD officer, and his uncle is a popular former Deputy Chief who rose through the ranks the same time as Beck.
Police Commissioner President Steve Soboroff disagreed with Beck’s decision but Mayor Eric Garcetti said he trusted it.
Hillman was off –duty at the time of his incident. Lyga however was being paid by taxpayers when he decided to tell a room full of police officers that 77th Division Captain Lillian Carranza couldn’t find her ass with both hands because someone else’s hands were always on it and that the “cute little Hispanic lady” had been tossed around the department. Comments, which oddly drew the loudest laughter from the female officers in the room and which speak to an even sadder commentary about a department that is always trying to recruit women to join.
Lyga has since said that his words were taken out of context.
I’m not sure how you take out of context “I regret he was alone in the truck at the time. I could have killed a whole truckload of them and I would have been happy doing so.”
It doesn’t matter if the “them” is Black police officers or Black people in general—no member of the LAPD should publicly be taking pride in killing anyone. The fact this man is training the same police officers who pull over people like me and you should be of concern to everyone in Los Angeles.
Beck has been on a public relations tour touting that today’s LAPD is not the same LAPD it was 20 year ago.
I beg to differ, and so did Christopher Dorner who so eloquently and seemingly correctly pointed out “the department has not changed since the Rampart and Rodney King days. It has gotten worse. The consent decree should never have been lifted. The only thing that has evolved from the consent decree is those officers involved in the Rampart scandal and Rodney King incidents have since promoted to supervisor, commanders, and command staff, and executive positions.”
Remember, the LAPD deemed Christopher Dorner was lying about his partner kicking a mentally-ill man and was fired. Officer Shaun Hillman was actually found to be lying thanks to a video that surfaced, and he was not fired.
Lyga is a relic owning to the Rampart days Dorner referenced and yes–he’s still in the department having promoted over the past 17-years since he shot and killed Kevin Gaines. He clearly has a problem with African-Americans but has been allowed to teach his brand of racism and bigotry to younger generations of police officers.
There are hundreds of current and former LAPD Black police officers who have witnessed racism towards both civilians and fellow officers at the hands of their white colleagues like Lyga in the department. And while the department tells you and I to report suspicious or criminal behavior, they damn near make that impossible for their own officers to do inside of the department for fear of losing their job or even worse–never promoting.
Beck, the Police Commission, and the mayor can’t waffle on Lygagate—especially after Hillman, especially after Donald Sterling. If we truly are a city that doesn’t tolerate racism and bigotry, then Lyga has got to go because anything less spells h-y-p-o-c-r-i-s-y.
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 A. Cannick is a politics, race, and pop culture social commentator. She works as a political communications and media relations consultant and lives in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter @Jasmyne.