May 10, 2016
Tensions among local activists and LAPD critics flared at Tuesday’s Police Commission meeting, which was briefly shut down as dozens of people were escorted from the room.
One person — Melina Abdullah, a Cal State Los Angeles professor affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement — was removed from the room by officers and later arrested on suspicion of resisting arrest, an LAPD spokesman said.
As officers removed Abdullah from the room, dozens of activists stood and chanted at the commission, raising fists and cellphones in the air.
“Black lives, they matter here!” the group shouted.
The room was cleared and the activists moved into the lobby of the LAPD’s downtown headquarters, where they called for Abdullah’s release and chanted the name of a woman who died earlier this year after she was found unresponsive in an LAPD jail.
“A lot of frustrations are adding up,” skid row activist General Jeff Page said.
Disruptions have become common at the board’s weekly meetings, where activists have spent months criticizing how police use force and calling for the firing of Chief Charlie Beck.
Last fall, the Police Commission implemented a set of rules for attendees, allowing the removal of people who repeatedly disrupt the meetings. The goal, the rules state, was to “establish an appropriate level of safety and efficiency” at the meetings.
On Tuesday, activists focused on a case that has recently drawn scrutiny and criticism of the LAPD: the death of Wakiesha Wilson, the woman who was being held in a downtown L.A. jail.
Supporters have questioned how the 36-year-old mother died, and blasted officials about the delay in notifying Wilson’s family, who didn’t learn of her death until days later.
Although the LAPD investigates every death that occurs in police custody, the department is also reviewing how Wilson’s family learned about her death. Such notifications are typically made by the coroner’s office, but department officials told the Police Commission on Tuesday that they planned to ask coroner’s staff whether the LAPD could have a “broader” role in certain cases.
Police Commission President Matt Johnson told Wilson’s mother at a meeting last month that the board would work with the LAPD and coroner’s office to “make sure that these matters are handled with much more empathy.”
“Everyone on this panel thinks the way this was handled was completely inappropriate,” Johnson said. “We need to do a better job, there’s no question about it.”
Wilson died at a hospital on the morning of March 27, about an hour after she was found in her cell at the Metropolitan Detention Center. A coroner’s spokesman said Wilson was found hanging with a telephone cord wrapped around her neck. An LAPD statement said she was “lying on the floor unconscious and not breathing.”
Wilson had been arrested a day earlier, after she allegedly assaulted a patient at a downtown L.A. medical facility, the LAPD said. Coroner’s officials ruled her death a suicide, spokesman Ed Winter said. Her autopsy has not yet been released.
An attorney representing Wilson’s family previously told The Times there were no signs Wilson was distraught when she spoke to her relatives on the phone after her arrest and again the following morning, about 90 minutes before her death. She made plans to call her family later in the day during their Easter celebration and talk to her 13-year-old son, attorney Jaaye Person-Lynn said.
“I waited all day for my baby to call me back,” Wilson’s mother, Lisa Hines, later told the Police Commission through tears. “She said she was going to call me back. … I waited all day. And she never called me back.”
When Wilson didn’t appear in court for her March 29 hearing, Person-Lynn said, her mother called the jail but couldn’t get any information about her daughter. It wasn’t until the next day — about 76 hours after Wilson died — that an LAPD supervisor told Hines to call the coroner’s office, the attorney said.
Winter previously told The Times that the notification was delayed because Wilson was taken from the jail to a hospital. Notifying relatives of a death can sometimes take time, he said, depending on how quickly coroner’s officials can confirm someone’s identity and contact the next of kin.
Follow @katemather for more LAPD news