Fault Lines
18 November 2017

LAPD Officer Richard Garcia: A Message to Law Enforcement

August 15, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Despite a plea deal cut and approved in May, news of LAPD Officer Richard Garcia’s sweet deal has just become public. Facing up to three years in jail for a felony assault under the color of law, Garcia just may walk away with a misdemeanor probation. According to a spokesperson for District Attorney Jackie Lacey:

Under a plea agreement reached with prosecutors this spring, Garcia pleaded no contest to the felony charge as part of a deal with prosecutors that will see him avoid jail time if he completes community service and donates $500 to a charity by late May 2017. Under the agreement, Garcia would then be allowed to enter a new plea to a misdemeanor charge that would replace the felony and would be placed on two years of probation.

Enter a plea of no contest to a felony, do some community service, donate $500 to charity, and replace the felony with a misdemeanor. That’s one sweet deal; one most defendants are unlikely to see. But then again, Garcia is not like most defendants.

Garcia, a Los Angeles police officer, arrived seconds after Clinton Alford, Jr. was detained by fellow officers. Matching the general description of a robbery suspect, officers came upon Alford riding his bicycle in October 2014. According to Alford, a car pulled up and a man yelled at him to stop but did not identify himself as an officer. When someone grabbed the back of his bike, Alford jumped off and attempted to get away. After a short chase, the two officers caught up to Alford and took him into custody with no resistance.

[Video] footage showed him voluntarily getting down on the ground and putting his hands behind his back, according to several police officials who viewed the recording. The two officers restrained Alford, the sources said, but he made no movements and did not resist.

Alford was lying on his stomach, hands behind his back, and secured by two officers when Garcia arrived. Garcia jumped out of his patrol car and rushed toward Alford. Several officers who later reviewed a surveillance video described a horrific and disturbing assault that then followed. One officer described Garcia as kicking Alford “like a football player kicking a field goal.”

[Garcia] kicked or stomped at Alford, who was still being held down by the other officers.

The sources described a series of blows that came next, including several [Garcia] made with his elbows to the back of Alford’s head and upper body. When it was over, they said, Alford’s body was limp. It took several officers to carry him to a car.

With Alford already restrained and offering no resistance, officials found Garcia violated departmental policies and committed a crime. Lacey charged Garcia with felony assault, a rare move to indict an on-duty officer for excessive force during an arrest. Yet, as rare as criminal charges against officers are, Lacey sent a message:

Lacey said that she believed filing the felony charge against Garcia signaled to both police officers and residents that “people will be held accountable.”

“I do think it sends a strong message to any law enforcement officer who is thinking about violating the law,” she said. “If you talk to any officer about a felony on their record gotten in the course of their job, I don’t think anyone would see this as light at all.”

So, a strong message of accountability is sent by charging felony conduct, yet plea-bargaining a swap for misdemeanor findings with a little community service and a donation to charity. Does she realize her plea bargain negates the felony on his record since he will be eligible for a misdemeanor instead? If this is such a strong message, why are most felony charges not reduced to misdemeanors? Why do so many first offender non-officers end up in jail or prison? Why can’t most defendants take advantage of these concessions?

In cases across the nation, prosecutors offer stiff sentences and argue for even harsher sentences from juries. Prosecutors ask jurors to “send a message” by imposing stiff sentences; jail this defendant to deter others from similar misconduct; show this defendant the same mercy he showed his victim and send him to prison. That’s the regular tough on crime message.

In this case, a different message is sent. The message is, “we will go lightly on you if you get caught.” That’s not much of a message given that prosecutors routinely argue for harsher sentences to “send a message” to those willing to break the law. But I suppose the message for law enforcement is always different. They get routine perjury passes and acquittals in criminal charges, even for horrific conduct. Juries are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and so are prosecutors and courts.

Perhaps some accountability is better than none. And, after all, as defense attorneys, we often argue misdemeanors and a lack of jail will serve the purpose. It’s just so rare that prosecutors buy into those arguments. But then, it’s so rare that the defendant was a cop.

2 Comments on this post.

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  • bacchys
    15 August 2016 at 2:50 pm - Reply

    Ignorance of the law is no excuse ubless you’re in law enforcement. Then it’s a requirement.

    Garcia couldn’t possibly have know his actions constituted a felony assault. He’s a cop, therefore he can’t break the law. Song would be unjust to charge him like you would a mutt.

  • Will
    4 December 2016 at 7:30 am - Reply

    It’s like this people: The district attorneys rely on the police to arrest suspects and gather evidence for trial. They’re not going to let a rogue cop’s actions cast a shadow of doubt upon the integrity of their respective police departments. Why? Because openly finding one guilty of such gross misconduct and felonious abuse of a suspect would cast a question on every other prosecution that resulted from that department’s actions and possibly open many convictions that were “slam dunks” to possibly being appealed and overturned and that is just too bitter a pill for the D.A. or the courts to swallow.

    In other words, when the criminals are the police, one hand washes the other. It’s always been that way and always will be.