by Elyse Werksman
But what’s confusing you
Is just the nature of my game
Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners’ saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
Cause I’m in need of some restraint
-“Sympathy for the Devil,”
The Rolling Stones
The devil wore an officer’s badge and carried a gun. The story of corruption in the Manhattan Beach police department was as unexpected as it was disappointing. It started with a crash.
On Jan. 31, 2010 three Manhattan Beach police officers were involved in a car accident after drinking at Grunion’s bar in Manhattan Beach. Officers Eccles, Hatten and Thompson were off-duty at the time, and were probably drunk. They smashed the Corvette they were driving into another vehicle. They left the scene, and hid at a nearby Arco station, but not before a witness wrote down the license plate number of the car that fled the scene.
The officer who was called to the scene of the accident, Officer Goodrich, recognized the license plate of the car involved in the crash as belonging to a fellow officer. In his report on the crash, he decided not to mention the hit-and-run, which, in California, can be a felony.
A fifth officer, Officer Klatt, the watch commander at the time of the accident, did not report to the chief that there had been a hit-and-run involving his own officers, although he knew all about it.
In short, the Manhattan Beach police formed a club to protect their own. The fabled “blue line” became a blue wall of secrecy and deceit.
If you or I were accused of a crime, we would get no such protection from the consequences of our actions. We would spend a night in jail to sober up, we’d have to appear in court to face criminal charges, and our driver’s license would be suspended for at least a year.
Instead, the officers who got drunk and smashed their car into another driver tried to avoid punishment. It took 14-months for the truth to come out, and for the police department to take action against these crooked cops. They were suspended, and are now facing termination and possible criminal prosecution.
One can only wonder how many police reports these five dirty cops fabricated during their careers, and how much other misconduct was overlooked before they were finally busted and brought to justice? In fact, we have good cause to wonder if a culture of corruption exists in the Manhattan Beach police department—were these five bad cops rogues, or was their behavior typical of a “we’re above the law” attitude that is prevalent in the Manhattan Beach police department. One can only hope that this was an isolated incident, and not par for the course.
It is especially troubling to think that those who are sworn to protect us often act as the predators. Some poor driver that night was hit by a Corvette driven by three drunken cops who fled the scene. Who does one turn to when the cops have become the crooks?
The officers now have the rights of any criminal defendant—they get due process, a right to counsel, and cannot be convicted of any crime without proof beyond a reasonable doubt. But, at the very first sign that they had done something wrong, they should have been thrown off the force. There must be a policy of zero tolerance for dishonesty by police officers who, because of their position in society, must be held to the highest standard of honorable and ethical behavior.
If a society cannot trust those sworn to protect it, then the very fabric of our society will unravel.
At Chadwick, we have an honor code because we want to ensure that every student will comport him or herself with the highest standard of ethical behavior. We trust that our classmates, students and friends will not cheat, steal from us, or break the rules of our school. The police officers who guard our safety must be held to no less of a standard.