LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK demoted a former Pacific division commander, Capt. James Hiltner, over an incident that the attorney for Venice resident Ronald Weekley, Jr. contends is part of a pattern of police brutality.

The attorney for Venice resident Ronald Weekley, Jr. is asking the United States Justice Department to open an investigation into the alleged beating of his client by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Benjamin Crump, a Florida-based civil rights lawyer who is also representing the family of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, petitioned the federal agency for its help a day before Weekley was expected to make a court appearance last month.
The request comes after an exchange with LAPD Capt. Don Schwartzer regarding Weekley’s participation in the probe of the assault, which is being handled by the office of the Inspector General.
Weekley, a 20-year-old college student, was arrested by police Aug. 18 near his Venice home for allegedly riding his skateboard on the wrong side of the road. A widely distributed video shows one of the four officers striking Weekley while he is being handcuffed during the arrest.
In a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Sept. 12, Crump laid out his case for a federal civil rights investigation.
“Several recent incidents of LAPD police brutality illuminate that excessive force has not only historical significance in Los Angeles but is a recurring present day theme,” the attorney wrote.  “On Aug. 18. 2012, 19-year-old Ronald Weekley, Jr., was attacked by LAPD officers for skate boarding on the wrong side of the road in front of his own home.
“The officers tackled Ronald to the ground, restrained him with handcuffs and continued to punch him in the face while citizens pleaded with officers to leave him alone and videotaped the incident.”
Weekley’s arrest has galvanized a number of community activists in Venice who have complained for years that LAPD has targeted African-American men in Venice.
Santa Monica defense attorney Daniel Brookman said it was not out of the ordinary for an attorney to pursue a federal investigation in a police brutality case. “It would not be unusual if they believe that there has been a violation of (their client’s) civil rights,” Brookman said.
Crump also discusses other cases that he believes illustrate a continuing pattern of alleged police abuse.
Alesia Thomas, 35, died while in police custody after she struggled with officers who were trying to arrest her on charges of child endangerment July 22.
A patrol vehicle recording captured a female police officer kicking Thomas in the groin area during an attempt to get her into the police car. LAPD officials say Thomas died shortly afterward.
Crump has been retained by the Thomas family, who are demanding answers from the police department.
“On Aug. 21, 2012 during a routine traffic stop for a cell phone violation, LAPD officers slammed a 34-year-old nurse, Michelle Jordan, to the ground while she was restrained,” the attorney wrote. “A video camera filming the incident also revealed that officers proceeded to give each other a congratulatory ‘fist bump’ after slamming Ms. Jordan to the ground twice.
“Remarkably, all three incidents of police brutality occurred within one month’s time and every incident was captured on camera.”
Surveillance from a fast food restaurant showed a second officer tackling her after she was handcuffed, and photos showed Jordan with scrapes on her face and neck. LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck moved swiftly in relieving Capt. James Hiltner, commander of Foothill Division, from his position a week after the video surfaced. Hiltner is a former commander of the Pacific division, which includes Venice as its patrol area.
“Proper steps were not taken, including appropriate notifications and the removal of the involved officers from the field,” Beck said. “Because of these issues, I have removed him from his command and initiated downgrade procedures. Every Los Angeles police officer, regardless of rank, will be held accountable for their actions.”
Crump referenced the infamous March 3, 1991 beating of Rodney King by LAPD officers. King was seen on videotape being kicked and shot repeatedly with a Taser gun by four police officers after a high speed chase on the Foothill Freeway. The officers who beat him were acquitted in state court but later convicted in federal court for violating King’s civil rights.
“Five officers have been suspended pending investigation in the Thomas matter, but we feel it is incumbent on the United States Department of Justice to conduct an independent investigation into these incidents based upon the historical incidents of police brutality within the Los Angeles Police Department first brought to light by the notorious beating of Rodney King,” the letter states.
A series of community meetings has taken place since Weekley’s arrest and high ranking members of LAPD as well as the Inspector General’s Office have promised a fair and comprehensive investigation of the incident.
The meetings have largely been sedate affairs and the Weekley family has demonstrated that while they bear no ill will toward the officers accused of beating their son, they are intent on holding the officers accountable for what happened outside their home.
“My family has taken the position that we do not hold vengeance in our hearts, we do not hate anyone and forgiveness is what this family is about,” Ronald Weekley Sr. said. “But forgiveness in a context and the context is on one side accountability and on the other side responsibility.
The officers involved in Weekley’s arrest are members of a roving unit called the Violent Crimes Task Force that police communities where there is a high volume of traffic and criminal activity. They have been coming to Venice Beach for two years, LAPD Pacific patrol Capt. Brian Johnson revealed in an Aug. 22 public meeting.
Some residents displayed anger after Johnson announced that the internal investigation could take six months before a report is issued.
A discrepancy on whether Weekely Jr. should have participated in the internal probe appears to be a factor in Crump’s decision to appeal to Holder.
In a letter obtained by The Argonaut, Schwartzer asked Crump to make his client available for an interview as part of the official probe last month.
“I have spoken to Ronald Weekely Sr. on at least one occasion in person asking for the opportunity to interview your client. Mr. Weekley Sr. indicated that he would provide our information to our office in order to schedule an interview,” the captain wrote to Crump. “As of Sept.  20, 2012, you have not made your client available for interview.
“Therefore, if you do not make your client available by Oct. 1, 2012, the investigation will be completed without your client’s input. Further, the fact that your client did not cooperate with this investigation will be noted in the investigation.
“The Los Angeles Police Department strives to investigate all allegations of misconduct in a thorough and transparent manner. I respectfully request your cooperation in this matter.”
Crump said he does not want his client to incriminate himself by answering questions while the department has filed criminal charges against Weekley. “It is our position that my client does indeed have a right against self-incrimination and as such, at this time he will not provide a statement to the very same law enforcement agency that charged him with a felony for being a victim of police brutality,” Crump asserted.
Attorney Carl Douglas, a Marina del Rey resident, has also been retained to assist Crump with the Weekley case.
Brookman said that because of LAPD’s history – the department came under federal consent decree for years due to complaints of police abuses – he would not be surprised if Holder’s office examined the cases that Crump references.
“Government agencies are very sensitive when race bias is involved,” the attorney noted.
LAPD did not respond to inquiries about Crump’s petition for a federal investigation

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