Maywood, RIP: When Police Kill a City

Brent Talmo once lost a job he really enjoyed, but he was eventually able to find a position in the same field, with better pay and greater responsibilities.

Sure, he had been a troubled employee, prone to “bizarre behavior” and casual abuse of those described as his customers, but he was fortunate enough to find a new employer willing to overlook his mistakes.

Now that employer, the Maywood, California Police Department, is being liquidated. In fact, the entire municipal government of Maywood, a Los Angeles suburb of roughly 40,000 people, is being dissolved on account of bankruptcy. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department will provide law enforcement coverage to Maywood, and a rump city council will coordinate delivery of services provided by neighboring Bell.

In Maywood, as elsewhere, the economic crash has choked off the tax revenue on which the municipal government subsists. The town is currently facing a $450,000 deficit. But what finally broke the city, reports the Los Angeles Times, was the decision by the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority to terminate “general liability and workers’ compensation coverage because the city posed too high a risk.”

More specifically, the city was un-insurable because of “a large number of claims filed against the police.” This is because the department (which also afflicted a neighboring town called Cudahy) had become the police equivalent of The Island of Misfit Toys — a sanctuary city for criminals in state-issued costumes.

Ironically, Officer Talmo — whose career usefully illustrates how difficult it is to be rid of an abusive cop — was actually one of the less egregious examples among those given refuge by the Maywood PD.

As an LA County Sheriff’s Deputy assigned to the jail, Talmo was a bully given to amusing himself at the expense of others — and abusing fellow employees who rebuked his misbehavior.

An April 1, 2007 Times report summarizes:

“Talmo poured dirt into the gas tank of a county vehicle; placed a dead gopher in a prisoner’s pocket as an apparent prank, then lied about it and tried to get another deputy to lie on his behalf; tipped over the bed of a sleeping prisoner, causing him to fall face first onto the floor and bloodying his nose; and telephoned a fellow jail guard and referred to him as a snitch and used a racial slur.” (To be specific, Talmo called his associate a “f*****g n****r.”) “When Talmo was fired, then-Sheriff Sherman Block publicly singled him out as `the primary culprit’ in a campaign of harassment aimed at prisoners,” concluded the Times.

Talmo was fired by the Sheriff’s Office in 1986. He appealed to the Civil Service Commission, and three years later a hearing officer recommended that Talmo be re-instated, with his punishment reduced to a 90-day suspension. The full commission accepted the hearing officer’s factual findings, but upheld Talmo’s termination. In 1991, after a five-year-legal battle, a three-judge panel from the LA Superior Court upheld the decision.

One would expect that decision to make it impossible for Talmo to find employment as a police officer. One would be wrong: Talmo immediately found a job — complete with badge, gun, and costume — with the Los Angeles Housing Authority Police.

In fact, Talmo and his partner received a commendation in 1992 for “bravery and heroism above and beyond the normal demands of duty.” While the cops were dining at a Denny’s restaurant, a car smashed through one of the walls. Several customers were trapped under the debris. Talmo and his partner pulled the victims from the rubble and attended to their wounds.

Their actions were commendable, of course — but it’s not as if they had risked life and limb by rescuing a child from a burning high-rise or used their bodies to shield terrified pedestrians from gunfire. Any reasonably able-bodied person is expected to render aid to the wounded in situations like this. Actions of that sort are best described as basic courtesy.

Yet according to their superiors, the actions of Talmo and his partner displayed courage “above and beyond the normal demands of duty.” Apparently, the “normal demands of duty” would have been satisfied had the officers simply finished their meal and left it to others to care for the victims.

It’s likely that Talmo’s commendation — an award every bit as legitimate as the prizes handed out in the Dodo’s Caucus Race from Alice in Wonderland — helped him secure a position with the Maywood PD in 1998. Of course, he would have been welcome there even if he had left his last job by fleeing the jurisdiction to avoid criminal prosecution.

Not surprisingly, Talmo found himself named as a defendant in one of the plentiful civil rights lawsuits filed against the Maywood police and city government.

“The Maywood Police Department has the reputation for being an `agency of last resort’ for those who seek employment as a peace officer,” explained a March 2009 report compiled by the California Attorney General’s Office. “Review of the Maywood Police Department’s hiring practices over the past ten years validates this perception.”

The April 2007 investigative report by the Los Angeles Times found that at least one-third of Maywood’s officers “had either left other police jobs under a cloud or had brushes with the law while working for Maywood.” The department was a full-spectrum kakistocracy: In February 2008, the city council selected as Police Chief an individual named Al Hutchings, who had been convicted of theft and forced to resign from the LAPD. (The man Hutchings replaced had been convicted of domestic abuse while serving as Police Chief.)

As the gathered scum of California’s law enforcement culture, the Maywood Police Department met Augustine’s precise definition of a government entity: It was a criminal band that achieved legitimacy not by renouncing aggression, but rather by attaining impunity. The department suppurated corruption like a freshly ruptured pustule.

When abuses or criminal conduct could no longer be concealed or explained away, the officer would be permitted to resign instead of being fired. This enhanced the officer’s “chances of securing employment as a peace officer elsewhere,” noted the report. And he could be quickly replaced by another “troubled” police officer eager to put his past behind him by enlisting in Maywood’s merry band of armed plunderers.

Beginning in 1999 — shortly after Talmo joined the force — and ending in 2007, the Maywood police carried out a vehicle towing and impoundment racket that soaked up huge amounts of money for the city’s parasite class. Supposedly begun for the purpose of removing unlicensed drivers from the streets, this was actually a criminal enterprise involving bribes, kickbacks, and other corrupt emoluments.

The AG report found “a glaring lack of documentation as to [the] rationale for impounding the vehicles that they seized”; it also concluded that the Maywood Police “routinely towed and impounded vehicles in situations that were not warranted” under existing laws and precedents.

A Maywood PD defector told the AG’s investigators that it was well-established practice to conduct traffic stops without reasonable suspicion in order to satisfy the demands of police officials who were “pushing tows”; officers were expected to “get at least two tows per shift.” Checkpoints were set up and used to confiscate vehicles or, when possible, to shake down motorists for what amounted to protection money.

Most of Maywood’s population is Latino. In 2005, the city council declared Maywood a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants.

Although rooted in identity politics, this decision had the effect — perhaps unintended — of expanding the municipal revenue pool, since “undocumented persons” — or “Mos,” derived from “Mojado” — were preferred targets for vehicle confiscation and other forms of highway robbery. But no motorist was safe in Maywood, particularly those with out-of-state license plates.

The AG report describes an August 2005 case in which a police officer confiscated a vehicle with Oregon license plates. The police officer cited the driver for failing to present a California license, confiscating the man’s valid Oregon license as he wrote the citation.

The cop summoned a partner in crime to tow the vehicle away, where it was impounded for 30 days. The driver was able to get the spurious citation dismissed, but only after paying $1,500 in ransom to retrieve his stolen car.

Multiply that example by a several thousand, and you begin to get a picture of what went on in Maywood between 1999 and 2007.

Given the ever-escalating corruption and violence of Leviathan’s armed enforcement caste, there are few more dangerous places to be than behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. Many of the cases of criminal police violence described in the AG report grew out of traffic stops conducted in the service of the towing and confiscation racket.

In March 2006, police stopped a driver for trivial infractions (a cracked windshield and a missing front license plate). Without “legal cause or justification, the man was pulled out of the vehicle and handcuffed,” narrates the report. “When he was placed in the [police] vehicle, the officers” — note carefully that it took two tax-devouring heroes to perform this service — “intentionally pushed his head into the door a couple of times. Without probable cause the officers proceeded to search the vehicle and seized two cell phones, approximately $200 and other miscellaneous items.” The car was stolen by the cops and the victim was arrested on a spurious charge of driving without a license.

About a week later, the victim and his mother went to the police department in an attempt to recover the stolen car. They were unceremoniously ejected from the building. Mistakenly thinking they had left some important documents behind, the mother went back to retrieve them.

When the car’s owner found the papers, he went back into the police station to get his mother. Without warning or cause, he was assaulted by a Maywood cop who shot him with a Taser. While recovering from that attack, the victim “was physically assaulted by a Maywood police officer and taunted with a police dog by another officer,” the report continues. “He was arrested for making a terrorist threat and resisting arrest. A charge of resisting and obstructing an officer was subsequently added.”

After being kidnapped and falsely imprisoned at the County Jail, the victim was brought before a judge who ordered his release. Rather than being allowed to leave the courtroom, however, he was dragged back to a holding cell, and then escorted out a side entrance.

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When the door opened the man was confronted by the same uniformed thug who had assaulted him with a Taser the previous day. The thug then arrested him a second time on the same charges. This time, the victim was held in jail for five days. Eventually, after the victim dealt with the impound fees and related expenses, all of the charges against him, except the one involving the windshield and front license plate, were dismissed.

Maywood cops, like too many others in that profession, were eager to deploy their portable electro-shock torture devices whenever a pretext could be found. In June 2006, two young men were waylaid by two of Maywood’s, ahem, “Finest,” who handcuffed them and then shot one of them in the groin with a Taser. Neither was arrested or charged with a crime. The following month, “several Maywood police officers, without legal cause or justification, used a Taser on an individual and kicked and punched [his] face, head, and body while he was handcuffed.”

The victim, in keeping with standard procedure, was charged with “battery on a police officer, resisting arrest, and obstructing or delaying a police officer.” The victim, a college student with limited means, pleaded no contest “in order to get the matter behind him.”

In September of that same year, a thugswarm from the Maywood PD “Tased, assaulted and beat a father and son in front of their home.” The victims were collateral damage from a separate assault being carried out by the thugswarm across the street. The son, sickened by what he saw, demanded a badge number; as he wrote the number down, one officer attacked him, and the rest of his valiant buddies joined in. Once the kid was handcuffed, he was repeatedly attacked with a Taser.

“At one point,” the report observes, “the father exited the home and yelled, `What are you doing to my son?’ The father was then attacked and assaulted by several officers. Both men were taken to the hospital for medical treatment. They were charged with battery on a police officer and “resisting and obstructing an officer.” Once those cover charges served their purpose — namely, insulating the assailants from accountability — they were dismissed.

Victims of police abuse in Maywood were required to go to police headquarters to obtain official complaint forms. As the March 2006 case described above demonstrates, the police department was a hazardous place to visit unless you were part of the Brotherhood. If they were fortunate, citizens who attempted to file a protest would escape the building after suffering nothing worse than contemptuous verbal abuse from the sergeant in charge of dealing with complaints.

Eventually federal civil rights lawsuits began to pile up, as did the costs of settling them. The Maywood Police Department literally killed the city government it supposedly served.

When channels of official redress are closed, and physical resistance is impossible or profoundly unwise, what recourse is open to people terrorized by predators in uniform? Maywood’s financial collapse suggests one ironically positive aspect of the ongoing depression: It is possible for a police state bubble to collapse, if only in a geographically limited sense.