Why the LAPD is not investigating leaked racist recordings

Although Los Angeles employment officials have described the leak of racist footage involving three LA City Council members as a felony, the Los Angeles Police Department is not investigating who recorded and released the clips because no one has filed a police report.

The recordings took place at the offices of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which has called the leak “illegal” and vowed to prosecute those involved. The union tried to prevent the Los Angeles Times from publishing details of the recordings, claiming they were obtained illegally. The Times refused.

More than a week after the leak, it is still unclear how the recordings were made. Recording conversations without an individual’s consent is illegal in California, with rare exceptions.

LAPD Capt. Kelly Muniz said the department has not received a call from the task force or any other agency requesting that detectives investigate the matter, so the LAPD is not investigating.

The only current investigation is one by Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta, who is dealing with the Los Angeles new district trial last fall, told Bonta that an investigation was needed to restore “trust” in the drawing of the city’s 15 council districts. That process was underway during recorded discussions, in which then-council president Nury Martinez overheard racist remarks while discussing the redistribution with former union leader Ron Herrera and council members Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León.

As the scandal began to unfold, a “serious breach of security and privacy” occurred at the Federation of Labor offices, involving “illegal” recordings of “many private and confidential conversations in private offices and conference rooms,” the federation told its member Union.

While the recordings were made at the association’s offices because so many people had access to them, it is unclear if anyone working there recorded the conversations.

“That is and never has been the policy of the [federation] Record meetings,” Interim President Thom Davis said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for the Federation of Labor admitted Monday that she had not contacted the LAPD or the Los Angeles County Attorney’s Office to investigate, nor had she heard from any police agency about the leak.

Martinez’s comments came during an October 2021 meeting at the association’s offices. She and the other Latino leaders in attendance were apparently unaware they were being recorded, as Martinez said white councilor Mike Bonin treated his young black son like he was an “accessory,” describing the boy as “change‘ or like ‘a monkey’.

Martinez also taunted Oaxacans, saying “F–that guy… He’s with the blacks,” while discussing Los Angeles County Dist. atty George Gascon. The three also made racist remarks about Jewish and Armenian residents.

With Herrera’s departure, according to Davis, its interim President, the Federation of Labor is focused on restoring trust both within the organization and with its affiliates.

The first mention of the secret notes was on September 19th. An anonymous user created a Reddit account named Honest-Finding-1581 and posted a message on the popular r/LosAngeles forum titled “LA County Federation of Labor” mentioning the audio.

“When you actually hear it, it’s amazing,” the poster wrote.

Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor and former president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission, said the person who posted the footage on Reddit may not be the one who took the footage. “There is only legal liability for the person who made the recording, not the person who distributed the recording,” she said.

Susan Seager, an associate professor at the UC Irvine School of Law and a longtime media advocate, said recording the conversation could violate California law, which prohibits secret recording of anyone who has a reasonable expectation of privacy. A civil suit could be brought against the person who recorded the conversation about this possible violation, or “criminal action could be taken, which is extremely rare”.

If the person who posted the recording isn’t the one who took it, “I suppose they would have the same 1st Amendment protection to post it [the media] because it’s in the public interest,” Seager said. She cited the US Supreme Court’s 2001 decision in Bartnicki v. Vopper, which found that the disclosure of illegally intercepted communications by the press regarding a matter of sufficient public interest was protected by the First Amendment is.

“You have the right to override the privacy interests of some individuals when the issue concerns a matter of concern to the public,” Seager said. “In this case, they also spoke of a redistribution.”

However, she noted that “there have been instances where people have taken in and lost people illegally. … There are instances where individuals have been held accountable in civil trials and some limited criminal trials.”

Using search warrants to try to identify the person behind the recordings could also allow law enforcement to receive other communications from the union federation related to the recordings, including text messages, emails and social media discussions. Similar warrants could be sought for other people who were in the room during the conversation between Martinez, De León and Cedillo to determine if their phones or other devices played a role in the recordings.

It’s not entirely clear what would happen if a person or company tried to force Reddit to give out the email address or other identifying information about the person who posted the recording. One way that could happen is for someone to file a civil suit against an unnamed “Doe” defendant and then file a subpoena from Reddit, Seager said

From there, Reddit’s specific policies — which Seager said she hasn’t reviewed — regarding responding to subpoenas would come into play.

“Some sites don’t even notify the user and just give up [information] to anyone who summons them,” she said. “And some will notify the poster – the user – and say, ‘We have a subpoena and you have the right to come in and try to pick it up.’ And I suppose some websites might just try to suppress it themselves.”

Another possibility for a subpoena would be if criminal charges were filed and the case brought before a grand jury.

“If it’s a grand jury subpoena, it’s usually easier for prosecutors to get something like that, and websites pass it on without notifying the person,” Seager said.

Karen Gullo, a spokeswoman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said there were too many unanswered questions — including about the anonymous poster’s actions and the circumstances under which the recording was produced — to answer specific questions about what might be happening.

But the foundation said in a statement that “the First Amendment protects the identity of anonymous speakers who engage in lawful speeches.” Anonymity, added the San Francisco nonprofit advocacy group, “is especially important for people like whistleblowers and activists who need to speak up openly and without fear of retribution.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-10-18/why-lapd-isnt-investigating-leaked-racist-recordings Why the LAPD is not investigating leaked racist recordings

Alley Einstein

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