LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office is reviewing hundreds of criminal cases after criminal charges were filed against three LAPD officers accused of falsifying records about gang affiliation.
Braxton Shaw, 37, Michael Coblentz, 43, and Nicolas Martinez, 36, were charged in July with one count each of conspiracy to obstruct justice and multiple counts of filing a false police report and preparing false documentary evidence.
The officers were assigned at the time to the LAPD’s Metropolitan Division when they allegedly falsified field interview cards and misidentified dozens of people who were stopped by the officers as gang members.
Prosecutors say that some of the false information written in the cards was used to wrongfully enter people into California’s gang database.
The alleged misconduct would disrupt criminal cases against as many as 750 defendants, according to reporting by the L.A. Times that was confirmed by the D.A.’s office.
“There could be some cases out there where there are wrongful convictions,” said L.A. District Attorney Jackie Lacey. “When you’re charged with a crime like that, where it’s alleged that you lied, your credibility becomes an issue and every case you ever touched in terms of a witness now has to be reviewed.”
Gang allegations allow prosecutors to seek harsher sentences against defendants, if the jury finds the allegations to be true. However, the basis for the criminal charges against some of the people arrested by the officers could be at stake, because their testimony and reports will likely hold little confidence at trial.
Past convictions may also be overturned if defense attorneys can argue that testimony given by any of the three officers was damaging to their case.
Lacey said that when charges were brought against the officers, she asked the prosecutors to corroborate any information contained in field interview cards with other available evidence, such as body camera footage, to ensure the accuracy of the information.
Lacey said her office has sent letters to more than 750 defendants whose cases involved one or more of the charged officers. The L.A. Times reviewed prosecutors’ records and found felony cases, including homicides, handled by the three charged officers dating back to 2002.
“They range from everything from the most minor drug cases to more serious cases, such as assault,” Lacey said.
She and LAPD Chief Michel Moore told the L.A. Times that just because one of the charged officers was involved with a case does not mean it will automatically be overturned or thrown out.
“It may be that the officers, although listed as a subpoenaed witness, may not have witnessed anything, may not be a key player, or there may be other witnesses who corroborated that a crime occurred,” Lacey told the Times.
The LAPD has said there are 21 other officers under investigation for the completion of field interview cards, which could put the decisions in thousands of criminal cases at stake.
Shaw, Coblentz and Martinez were each released on their own recognizance shortly after their July 10 arrests by the LAPD’s Internal Affairs Division. They are set to be arraigned Oct. 13 at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse.
Shaw — who could face up to 31 years and eight months in county jail if convicted as charged — is charged with 43 counts of preparing false documentary evidence involving the field interview cards, along with eight counts of filing a false report and one count of conspiracy.
The overt acts included with the conspiracy charge allege that Shaw falsely documented some people as gang members with gang tattoos and gang monikers and that he falsely documented a “fictional person” as a gang member on 15 occasions between March 2018 and January 2019.
Coblentz allegedly falsified seven field interview cards. He is charged with seven counts of preparing false documentary evidence, five counts of filing a false report and one count of conspiracy, and could face up to seven years and eight months behind bars if found guilty.
Martinez — who allegedly falsified two field interview cards — is charged with two counts each of preparing false documentary evidence and filing a false report and one count of conspiracy, and could face a maximum of four years and four months in jail, according to the D.A.’s Office.
The LAPD said that one of the defendants — which one of the three charged officers was not specified — was “relieved from duty” in January when Moore found that the officer’s actions were “a serious violation of department policy.”
That officer has been “directed to an administrative tribunal for the purpose of removal,” according to the LAPD, which said the other two officers have been assigned to home duty.
Of the 21 other officers under investigation, 10 are assigned to “home pending the outcome of the investigation”, eight are assigned to administrative duties, five remain in the field and one has retired since the investigation was launched, according to the LAPD.
In a statement on Twitter shortly after the arrests, Moore said, “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.”
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)