Criminal charges have been filed against three Los Angeles Police Department officers accused of falsifying records that claimed people they had stopped were gang members or gang associates, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced Friday.
Braxton Shaw, 37, Michael Coblentz, 42, and Nicolas Martinez, 36, were charged late Thursday with one count each of conspiracy to obstruct justice and multiple counts of filing a false police report and preparing false documentary evidence, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
The three — who were assigned at the time to the LAPD’s Metropolitan Division — allegedly falsified field interview cards that were used by officers to interview people while they are on duty and misidentified dozens of people as gang members.
Some of the false information contained in the cards was used to wrongfully enter people into a state gang database, prosecutors allege.
In some instances, the three are each accused of writing on field interview cards that a person they stopped admitted being a gang member, even though video from body-worn cameras showed that the individual was never asked that question, according to the District Attorney’s Office. In other instances, the defendants allegedly wrote on field interview cards that a person interviewed admitted to being a gang member even though the person denied it, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Shaw — who could face up to 31 years and eight months in county jail if convicted — is accused of falsifying 43 field interview cards.
Coblentz is accused of falsifying seven field interview cards and could face up to seven years and eight months behind bars, while Martinez is accused of falsifying two and could face a maximum of four years and four months in jail, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
The LAPD could not be reached for immediate comment on the charges, which were first reported by NBC4.
Less than a month ago, the LAPD placed a moratorium on the use of the CalGang System, a statewide database used by law enforcement for sharing intelligence regarding potential gang members.
“Based on recent audits and ongoing complaint investigations, the accuracy of the database has been called into question,” the department said in a statement released June 19. “To strengthen community trust and avoid any adverse impact on individuals, particularly in communities of color, the department will no longer use this resource.”
The LAPD was investigating alleged misuse of CalGang after it was announced in January that a teenager with no gang affiliations was entered into the system.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced in February that his office would audit the department’s records and policies on the use of the database.
“Right now, LAPD’s (CalGang) inputs are under the microscope, and we all have a stake in making sure that we all get this right,” Becerra said then. “We do not yet have a clear or full picture of what occurred, but we know enough to know that we must act. Any falsification of police records and abuse of the CalGang database is unacceptable. If Californians are falsely included in the database, that could potentially subject them to unwarranted scrutiny.”
The CalGang system was overseen by individual police departments until the Legislature passed a bill in 2017 giving the Attorney General’s Office authority over it.
Becerra said the Department of Justice issued proposed regulations last December to require officers to document their reasoning for entering someone into the CalGang database to ensure reasonable suspicion exists that someone may be affiliated with a gang. The regulations also require departments to report any misuse of CalGang within five days.
Becerra said it was unknown how many people have been entered into CalGang by LAPD, but said the department was the largest contributor to the database. Statewide, there are about 80,000 people entered.
The database will be accessible only to the CalGang System administrator to remove entries that were erroneously entered in the database.
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