Criminal Justice

LAPD Pressured Coroner to Change Findings in Police Shooting

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From the L.A. Times:

The Los Angeles Police Department waged an aggressive behind-the-scenes campaign to convince coroner's officials to change their finding that a SWAT officer's bullet killed a 19-month-old girl held hostage by her father three years ago, according to records reviewed by The Times.

The intense lobbying effort, which involved one of the department's highest-ranking officials, led to significant friction between the LAPD and coroner's office. It also raises questions about whether the LAPD crossed an ethical line in pushing so hard, some medical and law enforcement experts said.

The department rested its case on self-serving conclusions by a four-year ballistics investigator with no medical training, challenging a team of experienced medical examiners in the county coroner's office.

The department tried repeatedly to find a pathologist to review the case, according to the LAPD's case log, which shows that Hudson tried to contact at least eight outside experts. One of the requests was made to the U.S. military's pathology institute. When the institute refused to accept the case, Berkow formally appealed to the Department of Defense and was turned down again, records show.

The LAPD's search led eventually to Dr. William Oliver, a forensic pathologist at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. For a $2,000 consulting fee, Oliver agreed to review the case in the summer of 2006, according to the LAPD's internal case log of the investigation. His conclusions, however, were not what the LAPD wanted to hear.

"There is little or no good evidence that the wound is from . . . a handgun," he wrote.

I don't agree with how often and under what circumstances LAPD deploys its SWAT team.  But it is worth noting that this incident aside, they are extremely well-trained, and have a near-spotless record.

That said, while there's nothing wrong with seeking an outside opinion, there's plenty wrong with pressuring the coroner to change his findings before seeking an outside opinion. Kudos to the L.A. county coroner for holding his ground.