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Compton Killings Highest in Years

  • The city saw at least 72 homicides in 2005. Some say the sheriff's response is too passive. Others ask why the city doesn't pay for more patrols.

  • By Megan Garvey, Times Staff Writer

     
    At least 72 people were killed in Compton in 2005, the highest toll in a decade for a city that has ranked among the most dangerous in the nation for 30 years.

    The rise in homicides frightened residents who have long lived with high levels of gang violence but had seen a downturn in violent crime in recent years.
    In addition to those killed in Compton, at least nine more people were shot to death in unincorporated areas within a few blocks of the city boundary.

    Many residents have been frustrated over a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department response that they found surprisingly passive in the face of unrelenting violence.

    Compton ended 2005 with nearly as many homicides as there are sheriff's deputies paid to patrol the city. Some residents have asked why city officials have not acted more forcefully.

    The oldest victim was the first, Reginald Humphries, 61, found bludgeoned to death Jan. 7 in his home on 138th Street.

    The youngest was a fetus, shot and killed in an attack in June that wounded five people, including her mother, who was eight months' pregnant.

    Within weeks of that shooting, the city had recorded 43 homicides — more than all of 2004.

    Three months later, a gunman shot another pregnant woman in the belly. A baby girl was delivered by emergency caesarean section, born a month early with a gunshot wound to her leg that required surgery. Her mother survived. Her father, Osiel Hipolito, a 20-year-old sailor and veteran of the war in Iraq, did not.

    Deputies said Hipolito had no gang ties, and that the attack began when a gang member asked where he was from, and he replied: the U.S. Navy.

    The shooting, in the middle of a September afternoon, was recorded by security cameras at a Compton-area mall where Hipolito, his wife and his teenage brother had gone to shop. By then, Compton had recorded 51 killings.

    In October, a gunman fired at a male victim on a residential street until he was out of ammunition, then used his weapon to beat to death the victim's female companion.

    Two months and 10 homicides later, Labrina Pullard, 17, was shot to death while sitting in a car with her boyfriend, who was wounded in the attack.

    On Christmas Day, two Compton men were shot to death — one in the city, one just outside its borders. Both were Latinos in their 30s.

    The city's last victim, Jose Casillas, 19, was shot to death in the early morning on New Year's Eve.

    Overall, at least 25 of Compton's dead were Latino, and 43 black. Fifteen were teenagers, six of them 15 or younger. Nine victims were men in their 40s or older.

    In addition to those killed in 2005, sheriff's gang officials recorded 282 shootings and attempted murders in Compton through the end of November, a nearly 25% increase over the same period the previous year.

    The adult son of City Councilwoman Lillie Dobson was shot and wounded in the leg while riding his bike near his mother's house late last year. Dobson said her son told her that a man had walked up to him and fired without saying a word.

    "I think the people feel that they're somewhat frightened," said Otha Ray Scott, 74, a Compton Block Club commissioner and 49-year resident. "You never know what's going to happen from day to day. It might be OK for this moment on this day, but tomorrow all hell may break out."

    The rise in killings, the vast majority believed by sheriff's investigators to be gang-related, prompted concern among residents and elected officials but little action. A gang injunction being drawn up by an attorney for the city probably will take months before it is ready to be imposed, city officials said.
     
    A sharp upturn in killings

    Compton, which has been among the most dangerous cities in the nation for 30 years, had recently seen a downturn in killings. But in 2005, homicides rose back to a level that the city of about 96,000 residents had not experienced since the mid-1990s.
     
      Number of


     
    Year homicides


     
    1985 63


     
    1986 66


     
    1987 85


     
    1988 80


     
    1989 83


     
    1990 82


     
    1991 89


     
    1992 63


     
    1993 66


     
    1994 90


     
    1995 82


     
    1996 75


     
    1997 68


     
    1998 49


     
    1999 55


     
    2000 47


     
    2001 45


     
    2002 49


     
    2003 44


     
    2004 39


     
    2005 72


     

     
     
    Compton, a city of 10 square miles and roughly 96,000 residents, disbanded its 100-year-old police force five years ago and now contracts with the Sheriff's Department for 75 full-time deputies at a cost of more than $13 million a year.

    As the violence in Compton rose during the year, Sheriff Lee Baca did not shift additional gang officers or investigators into the Compton station.

     

    Baca's department has more than 1,000 unfilled deputy positions, and department officials have said they cannot increase the number of deputies assigned to Compton unless the city can pay more.

    City officials said they had no additional money. The per capita income in Compton is about $10,000, half of the county average.

    As violence escalated in Compton, crime dropped in nearby areas patrolled by the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPD's Southeast Division station, which serves about 150,000 residents, recorded 62 homicides as of Dec. 24, down from 72 during the same period in 2004.

    The division also reported a drop in shots fired and shooting victims. The LAPD deploys more than 250 officers in the Southeast Division to patrol an area about the size of Compton.

    Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton said in a meeting at The Times in December that he believed his department's success in reducing crime in South Los Angeles could have had a role in violent gangs concentrating in Compton. "We're pushing it their way," he said.

    But Bratton also criticized Compton for not finding more money to pay for additional patrols. "Quite frankly, it's a problem in Compton that they only want to pay for 78 sheriff's deputies … to try and police one of the most dangerous cities in America? Sorry, you get what you pay for," he said. "It's incredible what's going on over there."

    Bratton called the situation in Compton "very controllable," but said reducing crime would require higher levels of law enforcement, as well as creating new opportunities for young people there.

    In addition to inadequate staffing, mistrust of police on the part of many residents also has hampered law enforcement efforts in Compton. Witnesses frequently are not willing to come forward with information about crimes. Sheriff's homicide detectives made arrests in a fraction of Compton's killings last year.

    "The biggest thing that was wrong was lack of participation by the citizens," said Scott, the Block Club commissioner who walks the streets near his home knocking on doors and checking up on complaints made to Councilwoman Barbara Calhoun.

    "They're going on eggshells," he said. "They don't see nothing. They don't hear nothing, and that's one of the responses to the police department. 'Did you see the guy? What was he wearing? What was he driving?' They see it but they're afraid of retaliation."

    Rudolph "Rock" Johnson, chief of staff of Amer-I-Can, a gang intervention program, opened an office in Compton in November under a yearlong contract, the first such city-sponsored effort in recent years.

    Johnson, a former Crips gang member who was reared in Compton and served 17 years in prison, called the circumstances in his hometown "rough."

    "People are concerned," he said. "I don't think people know how to deal with it. It takes more than law enforcement. All the guys I'm out there talking to in these neighborhoods, they all want jobs, but a lot of them are former convicts on probation."

    For some longtime residents who take pride in the community, the rise in homicides has been discouraging, underscoring fissures in a town where 60% of the residents are Latino, but all elected officials are black.

    Robert Carrillo, a Block Club commissioner and former City Council candidate, said "the first thing we have to do is unite."

    "We see the rise in crime, and we see that our city is not doing nothing," he said. "I don't see improvements."

    Carrillo, who moved to Compton in 1986, said he and others in his neighborhood are tired of hearing City Hall has no funds to act on pressing crime issues.

    "If we cannot lower the homicides, people will not invest in Compton," he said. "We have to work harder to stop the homicides and show that we are serious about change."

    *

    Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.
     

     

    What's The Latest?

    Recent Surge in Killings Overshadows Compton's Gains

    Seven slayings in a little more than a week in the area overshadow gains made over recent years.

    By Megan Garvey, Times Staff Writer
    July 25, 2006

     

    Compared to the near-record pace of homicides in Compton last year, 2006 had been remarkably quiet. Through early July, this city that has long struggled with gang violence had recorded only 13 gang-related homicides, compared with 38 for the same period the year before.

    Then came last week. Seven people were killed in eight days either in or near the city limits — four of them shot to death on Saturday. The victims included a 72-year-old man and 15-year-old boy.

    Between Friday night and Sunday, 20 shootings were reported in the 10-square-mile city that's home to about 96,000 people.

    Two girls, 2 and 3 years old, were among those shot and injured in gang activity that Los Angeles County sheriff's officials say can be traced to numerous rivalries — and was probably made worse by a heat wave that drove many people outdoors.

    In addition to the Compton killings, nine other homicides took place over the weekend in areas patrolled by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies, officials said.

     

    Two girls, 2 and 3 years old, were among those shot and injured in gang activity that Los Angeles County sheriff's officials say can be traced to numerous rivalries — and was probably made worse by a heat wave that drove many people outdoors.

    In addition to the Compton killings, nine other homicides took place over the weekend in areas patrolled by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies, officials said.

    "Any time you have four murders in one city in one weekend, that's an awful lot," said Capt. Ray Peavy, who heads the department's homicide unit. "It was just an incredibly violent weekend. Theoretically, if you have 20 shootings you could have 20 murders if their aim was a little bit better."

    The high toll reverberated throughout the community, as well as in the Sheriff's Department, where many officials had taken pride in the dramatic downturn in shootings and killings in Compton since a task force was put in place earlier this year by Sheriff Lee Baca.

    Recently, however, a number of deputies and investigators left the task force to take promotions or were transferred to other areas, said Capt. Mike Ford, who heads the countywide gang unit.

    "The numbers dwindled just a little bit," Ford said Monday. "We've been in meetings today and we now plan to replace those bodies to the highest number we had working out of Compton, effective by the end of this week."

    The recent reduction in deputies, some officials said, didn't go unnoticed in the community.

    "I think the crooks are very aware of who is on the street and who is not," Peavy said. "It's just like with a little kid — give an inch, they'll take a mile. They think: 'Last week when I did that I got pulled over and this week I got away with it.' And then it escalates to what we saw this weekend."

    Compton City Manager Barbara Kilroy said city officials are very supportive of the sheriff "bringing back the full complement of the gang suppression team."

    "The team had been quite effective," she said. "It indicates this is an area of the county where the sheriff really needs to have the kind of gang suppression effort that they had over the beginning of the year on a longer term basis."

    When Baca initially moved resources to Compton from other parts of the county, he said he had a moral imperative to act after months of rising violence there. By 2005's end, more than 80 people had been killed in Compton or unincorporated areas within blocks of the city border — the vast majority gang-related.

    Compton Mayor Eric Perrodin, often a harsh critic of the Sheriff's Department, said at the time that he was thankful for the help. He noted at a City Council meeting in January that Baca risked alienating the county Board of Supervisors by shifting his already limited resources to a poor city.

    Capt. Eric Hamilton, who heads the Compton station, said even with the weekend troubles, serious and violent crime remains way down compared to last year. Through July 22, 2005, there had been 417 reports of aggravated assaults with a firearm. This year, the total through the same period was 272. In addition, Hamilton said there has been a reduction in burglary, larceny and vehicle theft.

    He remains hopeful that homicides in the city can be kept near or below the 39 reported in 2004 — the lowest total for Compton in two decades.

    "We were lucky and obviously it made a difference and saved some lives," Hamilton said of Baca's decision to shift resources to Compton. "But we said that from the very beginning they weren't going to be permanent items. They made a difference, but I think if you want a long-term impact we need to consider adding considerable new resources."

    The cash-strapped city contracts with the sheriff for 78 patrol deputies to police an area that includes about 57 known street gangs and has long had one of the highest homicide rates in the country. The cost of the contract is about $14 million a year and city officials say they are struggling to meet a recent increase in the sheriff's rate, much less find funds for additional officers.

    "It becomes very difficult when you're looking at 7% and higher annual increases for the same staff," Kilroy said. "Our bill for next year went up $750,000 without any increase in staff."

    Community leaders and sheriff's officials said they believe the rash of weekend violence disguises the progress made over the last several months.

    Peavy, the head of the homicide unit, said investigators have solved about one-third of the homicides this year, meaning prosecutors filed charges in the cases, and are on track to arrest suspects in another third.

    Of the 44 homicides last year, including gang and non-gang crime, "year to date I think we'd solved eight of them, so we're doing much better," he said.

    That has been possible, in part, because law enforcement officials have had increased cooperation from people willing to step forward to say what they witnessed or through anonymous tip lines.

    Councilman Isadore Hall III said he remains optimistic about the city's future.

    In addition to the increase in deputies provided by Baca, Hall said community outreach efforts to mobilize block clubs and encourage residents to speak up about crime have made a difference.

    At a City Council meeting scheduled for today, Hall said elected officials plan to talk about what can be done to immediately stem the surge in violence.

    "I'm still thankful that we are nowhere near where we were last year," he said. "We aren't going to sit on our duffs and wait for crime to accelerate before we act. I don't want the community to get comfortable with the kind of violence we saw over the weekend."

     

    reprinted from the Los Angeles Times

    May 14,2004

    2 Ex-Compton Officials Sentenced

    Both men were convicted of using city-issued credit cards for personal expenses.

    By Cynthia Daniels and Kevin Pang, Times Staff Writers 

    Two ex-Compton government officials were sentenced today on corruption charges, a day after former mayor Omar Bradley received a three-year jail term for misappropriating public funds.

    Former Compton City Manager John D. Johnson was sentenced to three years in prison. Ex-Councilman Amen Rahh was given three years probation, and ordered to perform 250 days of community service.

    The three were convicted in February of using city-issued credit cards to pay for clothing, golf shoes in-room movies and other personal expenses.

    As he prepared to hand down a sentence, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jack Morgan said Johnson was "a person in charge of leading the city. He took advantage of the position of trust."

    Rahh was given the lightest sentence, Morgan said, out of concern for his age, 56, and poor health.

    During Bradley's hearing Thursday, Judge Jack Morgan said the former mayor had done "a lot of good in his life," but added, "Somehow, when he assumed this power responsible for being the leader of the city, that attitude changed."

    In a crowded courtroom, Judge Jack Morgan said of the former mayor: "I have no doubt this gentlemen has done a lot of good in his life.

    Somehow, when he assumed this power responsible for being the leader of the city, that attitude changed."

    Bradley remained quiet during the two-hour hearing, but his son was escorted out of the courtroom after yelling at the judge. The outburst came after Morgan questioned the believability of the testimony of Bradley's wife.

    "He's calling my mother a liar!" Omar Rashad yelled. "You can't call my family a liar."

    Bradley turned and admonished his son to "sit down or go outside." But sheriff's deputies already were ushering him out.

    Prosecutors argued that Bradley should not be eligible for probation because, although he was charged with misappropriation of funds, his actions constituted embezzlement, an offense that does not allow probation.

    "Defendant Bradley had taken various amounts of money from time to time for his own personal use," Deputy Dist. Atty. Terry Bork said during the sentencing hearing. "This is not some inadvertence. This is not some mistake. This was intentional, classic embezzlement conduct."

    Bradley's attorney, Ben Pesta, argued that his client never intended embezzlement and that the crime did not warrant a prison sentence.

    At issue, Pesta said, was about $7,000.

    "We consider this amount of money over a period of two years is a relatively low amount of money," he said.

    Prosecutors alleged that Bradley misspent closer to $12,000.

    They also pointed to testimony from family members about an incident several years earlier.

    Relatives said Bradley had canceled a trip to Palm Springs on official business to be at the hospital bedside of his son, who suffered from a genetic skin disorder. Bradley's wife testified she had returned a $2,700 advance given to Bradley for that trip to his secretary. The secretary testified she never received the money.

    Prosecutors were able to show that the son had not been in the hospital on that date.

    Omar Rashad testified at Thursday's hearing that the error was an "honest mistake" and that he had been in the hospital on the same date the year before.

    But Deputy Dist. Atty. Kerry White called that another lie.

    Also at the hearing, Pesta presented as character witnesses Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally (D-Compton) and Bradley's older sister, Linda Bradley.

    "As the mayor, as a councilman, my brother Omar Bradley served the people with distinction," Linda Bradley said. "He worked hard for them and, as a result, we have safer streets, new housing and jobs."

    Bradley asked permission to address the court. The former mayor, now sporting a full-grown beard and short hair rather than his formerly cleanshaven head, attempted to explain how he had gotten to this point.

    "Prior to 1999, I always had the habit of giving money back," Bradley said. But then, while he was serving as mayor of Compton, teaching school, working on his master's degree and coaching football, "I just got lost," he said. "Lost in trying to be somebody."

    Times Staff Writer Zeke Minaya contributed to this report.


    reprinted from the Los Angeles Times
    City Hall Scandal Playing Out in Compton Court


    Ex-officials remain in the spotlight at their trial on charges of misappropriating funds.

    By Richard Marosi
    Times Staff Writer

    December 8, 2003

    Just two years ago, they controlled Compton City Hall. Omar Bradley was the mayor. Amen Rahh and Delores Zurita were his City Council allies. City Manager John D. Johnson ran the day-to-day operations.

    Now they spend their days across the plaza from City Hall, in an 11th-floor courtroom on trial for allegedly using their city-issued credit cards as free passes to charge everything from travel, limousine rides and golf shoes to dental work and health club memberships. 

    The trial has cast the spotlight again on the controversial tenure of Bradley and his allies, who dominated politics in the working-class city for several years.

    The defendants have denied all the charges, with their attorneys offering a variety of defenses, among them that the city was reimbursed. Bradley didn't even like t! o play golf, his lawyer said in an interview.

    "He wasn't playing golf for his own amusement. What he was doing was saying, 'Hey, how about opening up a business in Compton?' " said attorney Ben Pesta, who insisted that all of Bradley's credit card charges were proper.

    The former officials also are charged with double-billing the city for thousands of dollars by collecting cash advances for hotel costs, and then using their city credit cards to pay the bills. 

    Since the former officials lost reelection bids in 2001 and 2002, the city has sunk into a financial crisis so severe that last week it canceled the annual Christmas parade. 

    Some residents blame Bradley and his allies. For them, the trial is nothing less than an opportunity to hold the former officials responsible for the city's ills.

    "The city of Compton has been placed in a state of financial ruin. I think they should be thrown in jail," said Pamela Bates, who is a member of a citiz! ens group that regularly attends the court proceedings.

    But others see the prosecution as a potentially tragic end for Bradley, a former teacher whose charismatic, flamboyant leadership once inspired hope for the future of the long-struggling city.

    They say he brought in jobs, built new housing and beautified the city, and is being blamed for the mistakes of current leaders.

    If convicted, Bradley and the other defendants — who also include current Councilwoman Yvonne Arceneaux, not a Bradley ally — would be barred from elected office in California. They could face up to four years in prison. Each of the defendants was charged with two felony counts of misappropriation of public funds.

    "It makes me feel sad…. This city was going forward under Bradley," said Jean Bludso, a 30-year Compton resident. "There is no justice, from the D.A.'s office on down."

    For the district attorney's public integrity unit, the trial will be a test of juror appeal! for this type of prosecution of politicians, according to prosecutors. The unit has launched credit card abuse investigations in other cities, including neighboring Lynwood.

    The trial, entering its third week, has been short on drama. Testimony has focused primarily on purchasing procedures and analysis of spending patterns. But lawyers clashed briefly Thursday afternoon when Anthony Willoughby, Zurita's attorney, tried to inject race into the trial. All of the defendants are African Americans.

    He asked an investigator if he thought a white politician who paid for his greens fees with public funds would be prosecuted. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Jack W. Morgan cut Willoughby off, agreeing with prosecutors, who said the issue was irrelevant.

    In the trial, which focuses on use of the credit cards from 1999 to 2001, prosecutors have leveled the most serious accusations against Bradley, Rahh and Johnson. Zurita, who is Bradley's aunt, and Arcene! aux made swift reimbursements in many cases and used their cards less than the others.

    Prosecutors contend that Bradley used public funds to purchase airline tickets for his wife, in-room movies at hotels, golf shoes, divot repair tools and a hat.

    Rahh, who teaches at Compton Community College, allegedly paid for his brother's dental work and more than $2,000 in rental car bills for a friend. He also used his card to pay for a $1,000 health club membership, golf purchases and in-room movies, according to the charges.

    Johnson allegedly spent $5,300 to send his son's basketball team to Florida for a tournament. He also allegedly charged the city $1,186
    for a three-year family membership in a 24 Hour Fitness Club in the Inland Empire, where he lives. 

    Prosecutors have called or plan to call about 55 witnesses, including members of the basketball team, several city officials — and a forensic auditor, who will detail the money trail.

    A full pict! ure of the various defenses has yet to emerge, because only attorneys for Johnson and Zurita have given opening statements. Willoughby, Zurita's attorney, said that his client paid the city back immediately for all her expenses and that Compton owes her money
    because she didn't bill for all of her costs.

    George Bird — the attorney for Arceneaux, who was reelected in 2001 — said his client got permission from a city manager to use her credit card for a repair on her car that was damaged by a pothole. Her only other personal purchase was a mistake, and she repaid the money when she was notified, he said.

    In his opening statement, Johnson's attorney, Winston McKesson, posed an argument that could emerge as a key element in the case. He said Compton's ordinance governing the use of credit cards allows for reimbursement of questionable purchases.

    Deputy Dist. Atty. Terry Bork, the lead prosecutor in the case, argued that the ordinance states unambiguously tha! t the cards are to be used for city-authorized business only.

    He also told jurors that the defendants made the bulk of their reimbursements after their spending habits became a community issue and after investigators served search warrants in September 2001 at City Hall for credit card records.

    "After months and sometimes up to two years, where little or no reimbursements were made, suddenly there was a flood," said Bork in an interview.

    After the credit card purchases became controversial, he said, City Manager Johnson started blacking out lines on credit card bills to hide certain purchases. Bork said that was evidence that Johnson knew he was doing wrong.  

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