Different Version of LAPD's Flashlight Beating Emerges
By Scott Glover and Matt Lait, The Los Angeles Time
Wire cutters that Los Angeles police have said were discovered on a suspect in a recent televised beating were actually found after the man's arrest and more than 200 yards away - in a car he had allegedly stolen, according to a source familiar with the case.
The location of the wire cutters has emerged as a key element of the investigation into last month's controversial incident. Officers used the existence of the tool to try to help explain why the suspected car thief, 36-year-old Stanley Miller, was repeatedly struck with a flashlight, sources have said.
The pummeling of the African American, which some community leaders have compared to the 1991 beating of Rodney G. King, has sparked a public outcry and fresh calls for reform of the Los Angeles Police Department.
The official arrest record in the case says the cutters were found in Miller's right front pants pocket, according to sources familiar with the document.
But Officer Peter Bueno, who recovered the cutters, has notified department officials through his attorney that the arrest report is incorrect, according to a source close to the investigation. Bueno, who is seen on the videotapes of the beating kneeing Miller, says the cutters were found in the white Toyota Camry that Miller allegedly stole before his arrest, the source said.
LAPD investigators, who interviewed Bueno earlier, have yet to re-interview him about his statement regarding where the cutters were found. They plan to do so as soon as today, the source said. It is unclear whether investigators asked Bueno in the initial interview about where the cutters were discovered.
It is not known when Bueno's attorney first approached department officials to tell them that the arrest report was wrong. The lawyer could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.
Last week, investigators examined videotapes of the incident to determine when and where the cutters were found, sources said. The tapes did not appear to show the tool being recovered from Miller at the scene.
Two weeks ago, in public testimony, Assistant Chief George Gascon said the cutters had been found on Miller's person.
The tool figures prominently in the account that officers have given of the beating. According to sources, Officer John Hatfield told investigators he struck Miller because another officer yelled that the suspect was armed with a gun. That officer, David Hale, said he shouted the warning after feeling a bulky object in Miller's pants, sources said.
Hale later said he believed the wire cutters were the object that he mistook for a gun, sources have said.
After the beating, LAPD officials allowed the seven officers and one sergeant involved to remain together for 45 minutes.
In cases involving alleged police misconduct, one issue that frequently complicates an investigation is whether an officer's statements are taken voluntarily or under compulsion. The police union often prefers that the department compel testimony, because the statements cannot then be used against the officer in future criminal proceedings.
Mark Werksman, Miller's criminal attorney, said the new account of the wire cutters' discovery did not surprise him.
"We've always maintained that there were no wire cutters in Mr. Miller's possession at the time he was arrested and nothing else that would justify the savage beating that was administered by the police," Werksman said Tuesday. The lawyer has said Miller told him he was wearing baggy sweatpants with loose pockets that would not hold items securely.
"There's nothing on that videotape to suggest that the officers feared he had a gun and that's why they beat him," Werksman added. "It's always sounded implausible."
Miller's violent apprehension June 23 was captured by two television news helicopters hovering above the scene. Video footage of the beating, in which Miller is wrestled to the ground, kicked, and struck 11 times with a flashlight, has aired repeatedly across the country.
After the incident, Police Chief William J. Bratton sought to assure city and community leaders that the department was taking the beating seriously and was conducting a thorough investigation, both administratively and criminally.
Within days of Miller's arrest, Bratton and Gascon, who is one of the chief's top advisors, went to City Hall to give a public briefing on the investigation.
During their presentation, a blown-up photo of wire cutters with red handles was projected onto the council's video screens. It was at that point, under questioning from Councilman Jack Weiss, that Gascon said the tool had been recovered from Miller's "person."
On Tuesday, Gascon said the briefing to the council was based on crime reports completed by officers after the arrest.
"We made it perfectly clear that the information was preliminary and that this was an ongoing investigation," he said. "New information is coming up."
Gascon and other department officials declined to discuss details of the inquiry. Bratton has said the investigation will be completed within 60 days of the incident.
Mayor James K. Hahn, in a telephone interview from Sacramento, said that police officials had not briefed him about any new information on the recovery of the wire cutters and that he therefore could not comment.
Councilman Weiss called Bueno's account of where the cutters were recovered "a devastating revelation."
"It's compounded by the fact that somehow the chief was presented with inaccurate information which he, in turn, presented to the council," Weiss said. "Something clearly went terribly wrong - not only with this arrest, but with the information presented up the chain of command. I'm sure the chief is embarrassed."