Nuisance abatement suits are brought by the Los Angeles City Attorney against homeowners or commercial landlords or tenants who allegedly allow their property to be used to further criminal activity. The City of Los Angeles notoriously uses such suits along with gang injunctions and the myriad of laws criminalizing homelessness to effect and defend the progress of gentrification.1
The suits benefit the City on a number of levels. More broadly they’re a way to terrorize poor property owners by reminding them that they can be randomly targeted and forced to sell their homes. Nuisance suits also give the City a way to change the character of a neighborhood by targeting businesses that don’t suit the image being created by gentrifying developers. Most pragmatically, most cynically, the City also uses them to increase its surveillance capacities in gentrifying neighborhoods.
For instance, prior to bringing suit the City often demands that property owners install street-facing surveillance cameras and give LAPD full-time at-will access to the video feed. If you’re walking by Holiday Liquor at 4966 W. Adams, e.g., smile for the camera because LAPD is watching you! This phenomenon, among many others, is discussed in an essential recent paper by Ananya Roy, Terra Graziani, and Pamela Stephens, who note that in the infamous 2017 Chesapeake Apartments nuisance case, the City sought a number of concessions of this sort from the owner:
the establishment of extensive security systems at the property with direct access by the Los Angeles Police Department to these systems of monitoring and surveillance. … including video monitoring and electronic access control systems and private security guards.
Because nuisance abatements are civil cases of a kind that doesn’t require a jury, the standards of proof are very low,2 and there’s apparently no evidence at all that they further their public purpose of making neighborhoods safer. It appears that in practice the unsupported word, which as the world knows is not worth much, of a single LAPD gang officer is enough to open such a case, and once it’s opened it’s as good as won in general given the very high cost of defending.
But sometimes owners defend the cases, which can be revelatory. In particular, in 2018 the City Attorney filed a nuisance suit against the owner of Holiday Liquor, located at 4966 W. Adams Blvd. and the owner defended the case. We’ve had the petition itself for a while, but very recently I obtained transcribed depositions of three LAPD officers taken by the defense attorney in the case:
◈ Ana Maria Mejia depo — Senior Lead Officer for the area when the petition was filed.
◈ Filiberto Garcia depo — LAPD Gang officer whose observations apparently form the basis of the complaint.
◈ Jedd Levin depo — LAPD undercover Officer assigned to the relevant area.
And they are filled with fascinating information, much of it new to me, and with a really revealing level of detail. For instance, self-proclaimed undercover LAPD officer Jedd Levin3 on the camera question:
Q: And would you also recommend installing a mental [sic]— remotely-monitorable high-resolution cameras?
A: I have.
Q: What is the purpose of that?
A: Well, with the nuisance property, typically there’s crimes that occur. Um, and a lot of times those crimes occur because there is no surveillance cameras that could help aid in the arrest of the person that commits a crime. So, in essence, you — persons will use or pick certain areas to commit crimes because they know that they’re not being recorded or, if they are being recorded, that it’s not usable evidence.
Q: And so, essentially, if it’s a crime of opportunity, there’s no way of finding out who committed the crime?
A: I don’t understand that question.
Q: So, the essence of the camera is to at least act as a form of deterrence to a potential criminal that they could be arrested by looking at the monitor or finding out who committed that crime; correct?
See how Levin first claims that crimes occur because there are no cameras, but even if there were cameras the criminals know the evidence isn’t usable if its only being recorded. He goes on to say that the cameras prevent crime because criminals know they may be identified from the recording. This seems pretty tenuous if the goal is really to reduce crime. And Levin goes on to admit that he, and presumably other LAPD officers, have unlimited access to the camera feeds and that requiring targeted property owners to install cameras is a typical LAPD move:
Q: Okay. Do you have any information as to whether or not Holiday Liquor and this management has installed or maintained remotely-monitorable high-resolution cameras?
Q: Do you have access to those cameras?
Q: And that is in keeping with your recommendation in abatement cases in other situations; correct?
A: Yes. But it’s — to be clear, I — that has nothing to do with me on this one. That’s just —
Q: No. I know. I’m just asking that — you know, you have a —
A: It’s in line with other recommendations that I have made in the past with other abatement locations.
That is, Levin always recommends that owners of targeted properties install cameras and give LAPD remote monitoring access to them. Lack of cameras causes crime but the only way cameras prevent crime is that criminals may worry they’ll be identified on video. What’s missing here is an explanation for why LAPD needs to monitor the feeds remotely without specific permission. There’s no way for potential criminals to know that LAPD is really watching, so that doesn’t add to deterrence even on the cop’s own explanation.
There must therefore be other reasons than crime prevention that LAPD always insists on remotely monitorable cameras. The very existence of surveillance creates a low level of terror in the surveilled communities, and the sheer quantity of the cameras linked with the imminent possibility of hooking them all up to facial recognition software suggests much, much more dire threats.
And don’t forget that when the City files one of these nuisance abatement suits it starts with a petition, which is supposed to at least outline the evidence they plan to present to support their argument. In nuisance cases this always includes a parade of horribles at the location. Like undercover officers bought 14 grams of meth in 38 separate transactions at the location in January and there was a murder 800 feet west of the location and some gang-looking kids were seen sitting out front engaging in gang-looking activities on 91 separate occasions, all of this reported to the City Attorney by the police involved in the case.
And the petition for Holiday Liquor is no different. But when the owner’s lawyer tries to pin the officers he’s deposing down on these qualifying events, it turns out they don’t really remember any of them. Like e.g. SLO Mejia finally seems to admit in her depo that actually only one person complained to her about gang activities at Holiday Liquor, and that she really had no way of knowing whether the putative gang kids were attracted by another liquor store down the street. I don’t yet have a copy of Mejia’s declaration, but it’s hard to believe its as vague as she is here regarding the qualifying nuisance activities.
The same is true of LAPD Officer Filiberto Garcia’s testimony. Even under detailed questioning he can’t really think of any particular crimes attributable specifically to Holiday Liquor. But he’s a qualified gang expert, which means he took an idiotic gang course like this one I wrote about last year, and is now somehow allowed to testify under oath about the crapola he learned in the course, as if that makes it more likely to be true instead of the exact opposite. So he explains how gangs use liquor stores and how he knows Holiday Liquor is a gang hangout. The short version is that he’s seen gang members around the store and that means they’re “claiming” it, which means it’s a nuisance and needs cameras:
Q: What type of properties are attractive to gang presence?
A: From my training and experience, weed shops, smoke shops that sell tobacco products, liquor stores, parks, city parks, and sometimes residence, which are like gang locations that could be of an affluent gang member that they hang out at a residence. Gas stations, and sometimes just in general, they like a — like a market — like, you know, like business squares, sometimes they take over those.
Q: How do they take over all these type of businesses based on your training and experience?
A: Well, the way they establish dominance in those types of businesses is by hanging out frequently, at times hanging while — having a presence there with either one
9 gang member or more. They also establish their presence there by graffiti, gang graffiti. Another way they establish their stronghold there is by committing crimes in that location, that — that way it instills fear within the community either to go there or not go there, and that’s one other way, and by narcotic sales.
And therefore, says the LAPD Officer with the depth of training and experience afforded to him by a class on gangs run by the LAPD using information that the LAPD has found effective in locking kids up, every kind of store or park or house is probably a gang stronghold and at least we need to force them to have cameras, and failing that to sell their property and move to freaking Antelope Valley or whatever.4
There is so much interesting stuff in Garcia’s depo, by the way. If you only read one of them read that one. And search in the PDF for YouTube, by the way, to hear the official LAPD line on how gangs like to have their hangout places in their videos and that’s how you can tell they “claim them as strongholds” or whatever really sensational way one might describe the fact that kids making videos will often make them in their home neighborhoods. And more. But I’ll close with some humor. Garcia, like many police, can’t even remember which side he’s on anymore:
A: I’ve been working southwest almost nearly eight years — almost eight years.
15 It’s not — it’s not just my gang expertise. It’s me as a patrol officer patrolling that area, and me working as a gang member or a gang officer. Sorry, gang member.
MS. ROBERTSON: Don’t let that one get out.
THE WITNESS: Yeah, it’s out now.
Got the pic of the camera from Wikimedia and the cop logo stuff from somewhere or another.
- And also in poor but not yet gentrifying neighborhoods as a kind of governmental terrorism, like random police stops, just to remind residents of their subalternity.
- In practice due to deferential judges if not to an actual lower standard of proof. In my experience judges will believe any crapola the City of LA can spin out in a pleading unless it’s internally contradictory. Juries in my experience can be very, very much more skeptical of the official version of events.
- “I’m an undercover police officer, and I don’t typically introduce myself to the public.” Levin Declaration p.8 (p.7 in the internal document numbering).
- Tangentially, these classes are really pernicious, not only because of the stupid made-up crap they teach, but also because they’re not taught by scholars or other people who are expected to study a subject in order to understand it. They’re designed and taught instead by police, whose goal is to understand the right words to put in the police report to make a conviction more likely. And yet somehow such classes qualify cops to testify under oath as experts about the nonsense they learned in the class that essentially taught them what to say when they testify under oath. It’s very bad. If we have to have cops I guess it’s good for them to take classes, but it’s not good for them to take classes taught by cops. Not sure how to fix this but I thought I’d point it out.