Trayvon Martin lawyer seeks probe of L.A. police use of force

LOS ANGELES Wed Sep 12, 2012 9:37am EDT

Attorney Benjamin Crump (C) waves to supporters with Tracy Martin (R) and Sabrina Fulton (L), the parents of the late Trayvon Martin, after they addressed lawmakers at a meeting on Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' law in Longwood, Florida, June 12, 2012. REUTERS/David Manning

Attorney Benjamin Crump (C) waves to supporters with Tracy Martin (R) and Sabrina Fulton (L), the parents of the late Trayvon Martin, after they addressed lawmakers at a meeting on Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' law in Longwood, Florida, June 12, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/David Manning

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The civil rights attorney who represented the family of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin has asked for a federal investigation into the use of force by the Los Angeles Police Department following three violent altercations involving LAPD officers.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder dated Wednesday, Benjamin Crump said the three incidents, all caught on videotape during the past month, show a pattern of police brutality by the LAPD that warrants a Justice Department inquiry.

If such an investigation were opened, the LAPD would become the latest in a string of big-city police departments to come under a review over complaints of excessive force.

Other cities where police have drawn such scrutiny recently include Portland, Oregon; New Orleans; Seattle; and Newark, New Jersey.

A Justice Department official was not immediately available for comment on the Los Angeles police matter late on Tuesday night, when Crump first revealed his letter to Reuters.

Crump gained national attention as the lawyer for the family of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Florida youth shot to death by a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, in a racially charged case that drew sharp criticism of local authorities.

Police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman, determining that the February 26 shooting was justified as self-defense under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" gun law. Zimmerman ultimately was charged with second-degree murder.

The most serious case in Los Angeles cited by Crump came to light on August 31, when police said a 35-year-old mother of two, Alesia Thomas, had died in the back of a squad car after she was detained on suspicion of child endangerment.

Police acknowledged that an in-car video revealed "questionable tactics and improper comments" by police during Thomas' arrest. The footage has not been made public.

Five officers were placed on administrative duty pending an internal police investigation of the July 22 incident. Police said Thomas resisted arrest after officers visited her home to speak to her about the treatment of her children.

Crump said LAPD officers had confronted Thomas after she had dropped her two children off at a police station with a note saying she could no longer care for them.

He said that during the course of her arrest, police placed Thomas in a "hobble-style restraint" - Crump described it to Reuters as "hog-tied" - and said one officer kicked her in the groin.

Crump said he was retained by relatives of Thomas, and by the family of Ronald Weekley Jr., 20, a college student shown in a cellphone video being pinned to the ground and punched in the face by police who stopped him for skateboarding in traffic on August 18.

In his letter, Crump asked for a federal investigation on behalf of the Thomas and Weekley families. He also cited the August 21 arrest of a 34-year-old nurse, Michelle Jordan, who was pulled over for using a cellphone while driving.

Videotape of that incident showed LAPD officers slamming Jordan, already handcuffed, to the ground twice before appearing to give each other a "fist-bump."

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck announced on August 29 that the officers and their commander had been removed, and he ordered the video to be played at all police roll-call meetings as an example of improper use of force.

A police spokeswoman reached by Reuters for comment about the Crump letter replied by furnishing a copy of the chief's August 29 statement.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Mohammad Zargham)

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