Mimesis Law
12 November 2019

Ted Rall’s Fight With The LAPD Happens To You

Aug. 17, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — At the end of July, syndicated cartoonist Ted Rall was fired by the Los Angeles Times.  During his tenure, he provided snark and insight through the medium of the comic strip and the occasional blog post.  On May 11, Rall wrote a blog post for the LA Times about his less-than-pleasant encounter with Officer Will Durr of the LAPD way back in 2001.

Shortly thereafter, the LAPD gave Rall’s bosses at the LA Times an audio recording of the incident which they claim proves that Rall lied about the incident.  Rall claims that the tape was edited.  After a weekend of reflection, editorial page editor Nicholas Goldberg, under pressure from really no one except the LAPD brass, fired Rall. What has happened since has been remarkable, to say the least.  Rall has taken his case to social media and, not unsurprisingly, found support from a growing number of people who had no idea who he was until this scandal broke.  Suffice it to say, Rall has shown himself more than capable of defending his version of events, quickly turning a rather small story into one that focuses on the unseemly fact that an upset law enforcement agency not only demanded the firing of a journalist who wrote an unfavorable story about them, but that the LA Times caved to their pressure so quickly.

The LAPD’s audio recording purports to contain the full conversation between Rall and the cop.  The recording is of the poorest quality, and fails to provide anything close to “proof” that Rall’s account is not accurate.

But while Rall fights back against his accusers and former employer, it bears recognition that this episode should matter to all of us.  The LAPD, like most of America’s larger, urban police departments, has a problematic track record.  That is to say, they have a reputation for abuse in an environment totally devoid of accountability.  When the leaders of the LAPD demanded Rall be fired for alleged dishonesty, it smacked of utter hypocrisy.  Glass houses, LAPD.  Glass houses.

The entire situation essentially boils down to a “he said/she said.”  But this is not a dispute over a murder, or a robbery, or even a person kicking a car that almost ran them over.  Ted Rall was cited by the LAPD for jaywalking.  In 2001.  We all understand why there are crosswalks and why walking outside of them is illegal, but running afoul of the law can rarely be less severe than jaywalking.

The ill-fated blog post that Rall wrote in May 2015, fourteen years later, claimed that he was manhandled, cuffed, and generally treated poorly by a member of the LAPD, who charged him with jaywalking, even though he was innocent.  It is very unlikely that anyone got to the end of Rall’s post and found themselves gobsmacked by the idea that a cop (especially in LA) would harass someone over something so petty as alleged jaywalking.  But when the LAPD called up Rall’s bosses at the LA Times, they had to know that they were disputing nothing more than allegations in a literary afterthought.  They had to know that they were making a mountain out of a molehill.

So why did they do it?

The short answer is, they did it to send a message. Journalists should beware when writing unflattering stories about the members of the LAPD. But from the backlash, it appears that the LAPD misjudged the public’s opinion of cops, as well as their own power to silence dissent.

While so much of the commentary on this incident is over which version is true, Rall’s or Durr’s, what is so much more striking is the stance of the LAPD.  A department with its own credibility problems publicly scolded Rall, a cartoonist, for allegedly fudging some facts.  Exactly how many people are currently locked up in California based upon lies told by members of the LAPD?

But the larger point, and perhaps the most concerning aspect of the entire ordeal, is that this recording was from 2001.  At the time, there was neither the technology nor the public demand for mandated recording devices on police.  This was either a personal decision by this officer to record his encounters, or he was told to do so by his superiors.  In any case, there is a strong likelihood that this officer (and possibly many, many more) recorded a lot more conversations than the one with alleged jaywalker, Ted Rall.

From a strictly legal perspective, where are the other tapes?  The LAPD kept this tape in their back pocket and rolled it out when they thought it would benefit them (even though it seems as though Rall, who may have lost the initial battle, is very much winning the war).  What about all the criminal defendants who got arrested based upon the word of this officer?  Were any of these recordings disclosed to the court or defense counsel?  How many exculpatory pieces of evidence have not seen the light of day because they do not benefit the LAPD?

Beyond the Brady implications (exculpatory evidence must be turned over the defense) of this incident that should lead to a reexamination of numerous cases within that department, there is the gloating.  In a statement released on the website of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which has since been deleted, the LAPD praised the LA Times for exacting the appropriate punishment upon Rall for his crime — dishonesty.

To put it into perspective, Rall told a personal anecdote about one cop, from 14 years ago, who aggressively detained him and rudely cited him for a minor infraction he did not commit.  Would that the LAPD could muster the same incisive outrage for one of their own who lies about something much more important than Ted Rall’s story.  Apparently in their view, a few lies in a blog post are much more important than false charges or actual perjury. Or those people imprisoned who shouldn’t be.

It is unsettling that an organization that has a reputation for consistently misplacing the truth feels that it has the right to scold anyone for alleged dishonesty.  It is nauseating that while untold numbers of wrongly accused and wrongfully convicted human beings languish in California penitentiaries, the LAPD chose to spend time and energy to dig up an audio recording from an old Internal Affairs file, forward it to the LA Times and then write up a press release extolling the virtues of honesty and accountability.

We see proof, day after day, of cops lying. That is why Rall’s account is so easy to believe.  It is the LAPD’s version, of a courteous cop merely protecting and serving, that is so difficult to swallow.  For those lucky enough not to live under the constant campaign of harassment that police perpetrate upon certain communities, most of us have, at the very least, been shown disrespect by the police at some point in our lives.  This is what the LAPD refuses to acknowledge.

Both the police and the publication that are currently in the crosshairs of Rall and his growing legions of supporters should have seen this coming.  The LA Times’ decision to believe the LAPD over one of their own has tarnished the reputation of a paper that actually has been somewhat critical of police misconduct.  And in choosing to pursue a witch hunt against Rall for his supposed dishonesty, the LAPD has proven Rall’s point more forcefully than his blog post ever could.

10 Comments on this post.

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  • J.Danek
    17 August 2015 at 3:58 pm - Reply

    Well said!!

  • Wrongway
    18 August 2015 at 4:13 am - Reply

    It’s truly shocking when a newspaper doesn’t read the newspapers..

    • Ken Womble
      18 August 2015 at 11:28 am - Reply

      Well, if anyone should recognize that newspapers are dying, it is newspapers.

  • Joanne Murphy
    18 August 2015 at 8:19 pm - Reply

    Rall is telling the truth. If you listen to the enhanced audio you can definitely hear an angry crowd gathering and a woman demanding that they cop “take them off” [presumably the handcuffs Rall referred to]. And the cop continually whistles on the front of the tape—why? According to Rall, the cop’s whistling helped obliterate the noise of the protest going on in the background—so now they can claim there was no such protest.
    Additionally, I have personally been pushed around and manhandled myself by the LAPD and the LA County Sheriff’s on more than one occasion. The LAPD unfortunately have a national reputation for abuse and obnoxiousness. Getting a cartoonist canned is not going to enhance THEIR reputation one bit.

  • gary
    19 August 2015 at 10:30 pm - Reply

    http://www.latimes.com/local/readers-rep/la-ed-ted-rall-documents-recordings-20150814-htmlstory.html

    The Times just dropped a 16 ton anvil on Ted. They have sourced media forensics experts who say the audio proves nothing of what he said, and the audio of the other people is most likely passers by who are talking about something completely different. They also recount several times in the past where Ted’s told the story in print, never mentioning an ugly mob or a second officer ordering the first to uncuff Rall. Now, Ted’s going to say (or already has) that the tape is edited, but the LAPD and the Time’s experts can find no evidence of any editing, or the tape being turned off and on. So, we’re supposed to believe that the LAPD and the LA Times conspired to edit or forge a 14 year old audio tape with the help of two interstate forensics experts (which since in CA tampering with evidence is a felony for police officers would constitute a Federal conspiracy case) with the sole intent of discrediting TED RALL?? That affords Ted an undue amount of credibility. He’s just not that important.

    • Ken Womble
      20 August 2015 at 7:29 am - Reply

      First, I appreciate the symbolism of an anvil being dropped on a cartoonist.

      Beyond that, you are obviously free to believe whichever side’s experts you wish. But it is the part about the “expert” opining that the passersby were having a conversation unrelated to Rall’s encounter that exposes you. Opinion about whether the tape was spliced. Fine. But there is no such thing as an expert opinion about what people were talking about. That is just called an opinion and like you know what, everyone has one.

      • shg
        20 August 2015 at 10:09 am - Reply

        …and like you know what, everyone has one.

        I don’t know. Can you be more specific? Thanks in advance.

        • Ken Womble
          20 August 2015 at 10:19 am - Reply

          Ponies.

          • shg
            20 August 2015 at 11:02 am -

            Damn. I should have known that.

  • C. S. P. Schofield
    21 August 2015 at 10:55 am - Reply

    And once again we see that if you really want to combat censorship, you end up defending people you really don’t like much.

    Ted Rall, judging by his cartoons, is an appalling little oik. His political work reliably lines up with the Liberal Intellectual Radical Progressive establishment, and shows damn little originality. This, of course, is an occupational hazard of political cartoonists; they necessarily reduce complex issues to cartoonish simplicity, and even more than newspapers are likely to be pursuing an agenda. Why come people revere them above the producers of entertainment cartoons is beyond me.

    Nevertheless, if this matter is as it was described here, Rall has a legitimate complaint, the LAPD has once again failed to meet the ethical standards of its profession (or even of most biker gangs), and Rall’s former newspaper stands revealed as a hack rag with no backbone.

    I hope he takes them to the cleaners, and the retires on the proceeds. That way Justice is served, and I won’t run any risk of looking at his cartoons anymore.