Training Day

Police admit they planted a gun at Huntington Beach crime scene

Under Bromberg's direction, officials redacted huge portions of the interviews. He then issued a protective order to prevent the public, the media or even Bartholomew and Cox from learning the contents.

Said the judge, "It's important to protect the privacy rights of the officers involved."

"I've never seen anything like it," Bartholomew told the Weekly. "I'm not allowed to see my own client's statement? Why the secrecy?"

Illustration by Bob Aul
Illustration by Bob Aul

Huntington Beach Police Lieutenant Craig Junginger said his department prohibits the use of loaded weapons in training exercises but declined further comment.

"We have conducted an administrative investigation into the incident," said Junginger. "However, because the investigations were personnel investigations, they are protected and information in them cannot be released."

Officials at other California police agencies say their officers are prohibited from tampering with active crime scenes, or planting evidence as a joke or for training. Bob Stresak—public information officer at POST, a state agency that certifies cops—said the Huntington Beach revelations surprise him.

"I'm not familiar with any training exercise where you're allowed to throw a loaded gun anywhere," said Stresak. "It doesn't sound like a good practice."

Stan Goldman, a law professor at Loyola Law School in LA, called the training exercise explanation "ridiculous, crazy, nuts."

"Why would they throw a loaded gun if it was a training exercise?" Goldman said. "The whole thing strikes me as reckless cowboy cops with too much chutzpah. I've been in many, many trials and I've never heard of anything stranger than this."

Last year, Las Vegas police admitted that they'd planted illegal narcotics in a suspect's car as a "training exercise" for a police dog. Officers claim they forgot to retrieve the drugs, charged the suspect with possession of the planted narcotics, fabricated police reports and then testified in court without mentioning that the drugs had been planted. Later, a citizen review board recommended that one officer be fired and another suspended without pay for four months for their misconduct. Orange County cops routinely say they don't want civilian review boards because they adequately police themselves.

In the Huntington Beach case, Cox told jurors that the planted gun incident had rattled him so much that he had trouble easily passing the field sobriety tests. Blood evidence introduced at the trial showed low traces of alcohol and marijuana in his bloodstream that night. Cox, a former band member, told the jury that two and a half hours before police stopped him at Newland and Yorktown he'd consumed two shots of liquor as well as two hits of pot and then rehearsed on drums for about 90 minutes. (Because of back and hip injuries, he has a medical marijuana permit from a doctor.) A retired Los Angeles County Sheriff's crime lab supervisor testified that the Huntington Beach cops had botched the DUI investigation by failing to perform necessary tests. This expert, who was a defense witness, also declared that Cox had an insignificant amount of intoxicants in his bloodstream when he was stopped.

The jury—some of whom snoozed during testimony, and one of whom stared endlessly at the court clock—sided with police after brief deliberations. They found Cox guilty of DUI and four other misdemeanors. He awaits a Dec. 15 punishment by Bromberg.

Whether Knorr or other cops faced any reprimand for the gun toss episode is likely to remain a closely guarded secret. Perhaps more disturbing is that the officers testified that planting guns allegedly for "training purposes" was not uncommon. The public may never know the truth. Current conventional wisdom—as expressed by Judge Bromberg—says that officer "privacy" in the performance of their powerful government jobs supersedes public accountability.

After the trial, the public defender shook her head in frustration. "How would you feel if you watched police officers throw a loaded gun in your car, laugh at you and then yell in your face?" said Bartholomew. "You'd be scared out of your mind."

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