Three Los Angeles police officers face charges for allegedly falsely identifying people as gang members or associates, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.
Officers Braxton Shaw, Michael Coblentz and Nicolas Martinez each face one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, and multiple counts of filing false police reports and preparing false documentary evidence, according to a 59-count criminal complaint filed by the district attorney’s office.
The officers are accused of falsifying identities and information, some of which would be used to enter individuals into a state gang database, according to the district attorney’s office.
“In some instances, the defendants are accused of writing on the card that a person admitted to being a gang member even though body-worn camera video showed the defendants never asked the individual about their gang membership,” the statement says, while in other instances, “the defendants allegedly wrote on the card that a person admitted to being a gang member despite the fact the person interviewed denied a gang affiliation.”
Field interview cards used by officers to conduct interviews while they are on duty.
Shaw is accused of falsifying 43 field interview cards, Coblentz seven cards, and Martinez two cards.
The three officers were arrested, booked and released on their own recognizance, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department records. Arraignments for the officers have not been scheduled.
An attorney for Shaw said his client will be proven innocent.
“Braxton has devoted his personal life and professional law enforcement career to enhancing the quality of life for everyone,” Greg Yacoubian said in an emailed statement. “As a Los Angeles police officer, Braxton has always acted at the direction, approval and validation of LAPD leadership. Once the facts are made known, I am confident Braxton will be cleared of any criminal liability.”
It is unclear whether the other two officers have attorneys.
The police union that represents the LAPD called for due process from the department and an objective investigation.
“Our expectation is that any officer filling out a police report or field interview card does so with care and accuracy. While we are not privy to all the facts that make up the District Attorney’s case, the LAPD’s national model on police accountability and rigorous internal investigative processes is on full display with regards to this incident,” the Los Angeles Police Protective League said in a statement.
Prosecutors said that if convicted on all counts, Shaw faces up to 31 years, eight months in prison; Coblentz faces up to seven years, eight months; and Martinez faces up to four years, four months.
One officer was relieved of duty in January and is scheduled to face a panel to decide on his removal, the police department said. The other two are “assigned home” and their peace officer powers have been suspended, police said.
All three were assigned to the Metro Division of the Los Angeles Police Department. It is not clear which officer was relieved of duty.
The department no longer uses the California Gang Database other than to remove people from it, according to police.
“Public trust is the bedrock of community policing and these allegations shake that foundation. The actions of these few tarnish the badge we all wear. The department is committed to continuing this comprehensive investigation in our effort to restore the confidence of the people we protect and serve,” Police Chief Michel Moore said.
The issue was first discovered when a mother reported to the department that a letter from the LAPD mistakenly identified her son as a gang member, according to a police news release in January. The department found several falsifications in the document and initiated an investigation into the officers, the release said.
The department said Friday in a statement that it is investigating 21 more officers regarding field identification cards.
Of the 21 officers, 10 are assigned to home, eight are assigned to administrative duties, five remain in the field and one has retired.
“The charges filed today do not mark the end of our investigation,” the department said.
Police officials said other officers in the Metro unit have been retrained and there is more monitoring of body-worn cameras.