To the City Attorney of Culver City, the City Council, and Culver City Police Department:
I am submitting this complaint against the CCPD on behalf of my client, Lawrence “Larry” Perez. Mr. Perez is an elderly, 75-year-old Hispanic man, and has lived in Culver City for over a decade. Mr. Perez does not have a criminal record.
CCPD needlessly detained and handcuffed Mr. Perez for thirty minutes on February 20, 2020. The location of the detention was in the alleyway right behind the Lifestyle Outdoor hot tub store.
Mr. Perez was bicycling back home from the grocery store, and had a basket full of groceries. Mr. Perez was riding his bike safely in the alleyway. A CCPD patrol car driving east on Braddock, passed Mr. Perez as he was still in the alley riding North. After the CCPD passed by, Mr. Perez proceeded safely on his bicycle into the alley North of Braddock.
CCPD flipped a U-turn, and followed Mr. Perez up the alley. Mr. Perez then safely crossed Barman, and was, for no reason, ordered to “Stop,” and immediately handcuffed by CCPD officers as Mr. Perez remained straddling his bicycle. One of the officers was Officer Tropeano (Badge # 1094). Officer Tropeano appeared to be training a Hispanic officer.
Even though Mr. Perez has no criminal record, the officers asked Mr. Perez, “When is the last time you got out of jail or prison?” Mr. Perez stated, “That doesn’t deserve an answer from me.” The officers asked if Mr. Perez had any weapons. Mr. Perez stated that he had a pocket knife. The officers unlawfully searched Mr. Perez’s pockets.
The CCPD kept Mr. Perez in handcuffs for 30 minutes, even though Mr. Perez complained that the handcuffs were too tight, he asked if the cuffs could be removed, and even though least two witnesses called out to Mr. Perez by name. This should have been a tip off to the CCPD that Mr. Perez is a known community member.
Mr. Perez asked why he had been stopped, and Officer Tropeano said, “We’ll find something.” Mr. Perez asked the other officer, who is Hispanic, “Why do you have me in handcuffs?” The officer responded, “So you don’t run.”
It is unbelievable that two CCPD officers would not be able to handle walking somewhat-briskly after an unarmed, little old man.
At the end of this arrest, Officer Tropeano pulled a photograph out of his pocket. The photo showed a young Hispanic man with a dark moustache. Officer Tropeano showed it to Mr. Perez and said, “This is a wanted man in this area.” Mr. Perez said it looked nothing like him.
Mr. Perez was not only decades older than the man in the photograph, but did not have a dark moustache. Mr. Perez has white and silver hair, with a white and silver beard.
After being allowed to go home, Mr. Perez’s wrists were indented, and had marks, like scabs, on them.
CCPD AND THE CITY ATTORNEY’S OFFICE FAILURE TO PRODUCE DOCUMENTS AND SHIFTING STORY OF EVENTS
On July 21, I filed a Tort Claim for Damages in person with the City Clerk, and propounded on the City formal discovery in the criminal proceeding, in which I am representing Mr. Perez pro bono.
Shortly thereafter, Officer Tropeano submitted a sworn statement changing the site of Mr. Perez’s alleged legal violation from the intersection of Sepulveda and Barman, to Sepulveda and Braddock. This leads us to believe that Officer Tropeano knows there was no probable cause to have stopped and cited Mr. Perez to begin with. Mr. Perez is equally confident that he committed no legal violation on Braddock.
I have requested copies of the Field Investigation card the officers filled out about Mr. Perez, as well as all video and audio recording of the body camera footage of his detention, and dash cam footage. A neighbor witnessed the officer writing notes on a FI card. The Senior City Attorney, Lisa Vidra has refused to provide these things to me in violation of the California Public Records Act, and I intend on filing a writ of mandate ordering the recordings and documents to be released. I will be seeking attorneys’ fees and costs if the requested information is not produced by August 15.
The lengths the CCPD and City Attorney are going through to save face in the arrest and issuance of an infraction citation is absurd.
CCPD’s ISSUANCE OF A FRIVOLOUS INFRACTION CITATION
Officer Tropeano and the other officer issued a ticket to Mr. Perez for violation of Vehicle Code section 21804(a). This Code states: “a driver of any vehicle about to enter or cross a highway from any public or private property, or from an alley, shall yield the right-of-way to all traffic, as defined in Section 620, approaching on the highway close enough to constitute an immediate hazard, and shall continue to yield the right-of-way to that traffic until he or she can proceed with reasonable safety.”
One problem for CCPD in issuing this citation, is that the term “vehicle” is defined by Vehicle Code section 670 to exclude bicycles. “Vehicle” “is a device which any person…may be propelled, moved, or drawn upon a highway, excepting a device moved exclusively by human power…” A bicycle is obviously exempt from the definition of“vehicle.” Another problem for the CCPD is that Mr. Perez indeed yielded to the CCPD squad card. Indeed, Mr. Perez went
ind the squad car when crossing Braddock, and there was no other traffic. Initially, Officer Tropeano stated that Mr. Perez failed to yield while crossing Barman. However, there was no traffic on that road either.
CCPD’s VIOLATION OF ITS OWN POLICIES
CCPD’s Policy #303.4 states, “Handcuffs, including temporary nylon or plastic cuffs, may be used only to restrain a person’s hands to ensure officer safety.” Mr. Perez is an elderly man, approximately 5’6″, with a bicycle basket of groceries, who clearly posed no danger to Officer Tropeano and the other young, male officer. If these officers were truly afraid Mr. Perez posed a threat to their safety, they should be fired as they are mentally and physically unfit to be police officers. However, we believe that Officer Tropeano was training the other officer to conduct stops in this manner. The other officer may not have felt he was free to speak up and question Officer Tropeano. However, this culture of harassing minorities, needs to stop now.
CCPD’s Policy #303.3, “Handcuffing and Restraints” states that “when deciding whether to use any restraint, officers should carefully balance officer safety concerns with factors that include but are not limited to:
• The circumstances or crime leading to the arrest.
• The demeanor and behavior of the arrested person.
• The age and health of the person…
• Whether the person has any other apparent disability.”
First off, CCPD had no reason to stop Mr. Perez at all. Second, CCPD stopped Mr. Perez for, at most, a minor infraction. Third, Mr. Perez was not even talked to before placing handcuffs on him. Mr. Perez is a very nice and approachable man. He did not have any sort of demeanor which would place officers (or anyone) in fear of him. Fourth, Mr. Perez is 75 years old. Use of handcuffs is not authorized under CCPD’s own policy.
Next is CCPD’s Policy #303.3.1 which states restraints should only be used “for as long as is reasonably necessary to ensure the safety of officers and others. When deciding whether to remove restraints from a detainee, officers should continuously weigh the safety interests at hand against the continuing intrusion upon the detainee.” A 30 minute, tight handcuffing of a 75-year-old man is not reasonably necessary, and constituted a significant intrusion upon Mr. Perez. Further, the officers searched Mr. Perez and determined Mr. Perez had no weapons he could use to harm the officers.
CCPD’s Policy 3.4 also states that handcuffing is “discretionary and not an absolute requirement…officers should not conclude that in order to avoid risk every person should be handcuffed…” Assuming the officers had a reason to stop Mr. Perez (which they did not), they had discretion to not use handcuffs. This should lead the Council to believe that these officers lack the disposition to conduct the business of Culver City.
OTHER INSTANCES OF CCPD’S DISCRIMINATION AGAINST MR. PEREZ
Over the past 10 years, Mr. Perez has been pulled over or harassed by the CCPD about twenty times. On the other hand, one of his white neighbors, who has lived here for 50 years, has said he has never been stopped by CCPD. On one occasion, Mr. Perez was riding his bicycle on Overland by Washington, and had to evade a car coming up behind him. Mr. Perez rode up onto
the sidewalk. The police cited Mr. Perez for this. As the Council and CCPD knows, many people ride their bicycles on the sidewalks here in Culver City, so it is difficult to understand why Mr. Perez was treated differently, and more harshly, when he was just trying to protect himself.
The CCPD has also slowly followed Mr. Perez, looking at him closely, as he rode his bike along the former path between Culver and little Culver. Mr. Perez used to be the manager of the motel on Culver. He would go outside, pick up trash and the newspapers, and do other property maintenance. The CCPD would stop him, and ask him what he was doing there. When he said he was the manager, the CCPD would not believe him, and ask him for proof he worked there.
No later than August 15, please cause the Senior City Attorney, Lisa Vidra, and the CCPD, to release the FI card, and all video and audio footage of the arrest and/or detention of Lawrence Perez. We request the Council watch the footage as well. We also ask that CCPD and the Council formally investigate this complaint against Officer Tropeano and the other officer involved in Mr. Perez’s detention.
All communications concerning this matter should be sent directly to me at: Annette Morasch, 5701 W. Slauson Ave., #210, Culver City, CA 90230, or [email protected]
Annette Morasch Attorney for Lawrence “Larry” Perez
Editor’s Note; This correspondence was shared with Culver City Crossroads to be published as a letter to the editor.