Looting Hawaiian Gardens
The Last Good Cop
by Ron Russell
Originally published 18 February 1999
in New Times Los Angeles

IF WALTER MCKINNEY had played it by the numbers, an innocent man might well
be dead. No one can say for certain, but in gang-infested Hawaiian Gardens,
retaliation is the norm for those bold -- or foolhardy -- enough to help the
cops put a homeboy behind bars. Especially when the homie is a reputed tax
collector for the Mexican Mafia prison gang, facing a three-strikes
conviction for firearms possession, which could put him away for life.

And so it was that on an October afternoon in 1996, ex-con Armando Ochoa --
about to be wrestled to the ground in an alley by police -- tossed a
silver-handled deringer over a fence into the backyard of a middle-aged
aircraft mechanic. In the ensuing moments, then-Hawaiian Gardens police
chief McKinney would cross the slippery divide between 17 years of law
enforcement professionalism and his conscience. McKinney knocked at the
man's door on Clarkesdale Street, on the notorious southwest side of town,
and asked permission to retrieve the gun. But because he had a couple of
mean guard dogs in the back, the man volunteered to do it himself. It was
the kind of deed that under other circumstances wouldn't have merited a
second thought. Except for one deceptively small detail. Knowing firsthand
the retaliatory viciousness of gang members who've held tiny Hawaiian
Gardens in their grip for years, McKinney -- at the man's request --
purposely omitted the homeowner's role from the official retelling of the
incident. In the police report, McKinney stated that he -- the chief -- had
recovered the gun. He testified similarly at Ochoa's preliminary hearing.
The chief hadn't counted on the defendant's procuring a private investigator
who, upon visiting the frightened mechanic, discovered the inconsistency. As
a point of law, just who had first touched the gun might have made little
material difference in the outcome of the felon's case. But the tainted
testimony was enough to spook prosecutors to cut a deal with Ochoa, removing
his crime from three-strikes consideration and instead sending him back to
prison for a mere 16 months.

The shocker, however, was to come. By McKinney's account, the prosecutor
assigned to investigate his offense told him not to worry, to let it blow
over, and chances were there would be no need for the chief to plead guilty
to even a misdemeanor, as someone in the L.A. County District Attorney's
office had first suggested. No one connected with the case imagined that the
37-year-old McKinney -- lauded for leading the short-lived Hawaiian Gardens
police force after years of perceived community neglect by the L.A. County
Sheriff's Department -- would be drummed out of law enforcement. And
certainly no one could have predicted that the D.A.'s office, after first
approaching the offense as a nickel foul, would belatedly reverse field and
pursue not one, but two felony charges against the popular officer.
Especially since, by the time the charges were filed on March 31, 1998, a
pro-Sheriff's Department faction among Hawaiian Gardens' politicians had
succeeded in disbanding the police department, and McKinney had moved on to
become police chief in distant Desert Hot Springs.

But astonishingly, to avoid the possibility of being sent to prison,
McKinney last December pleaded no contest to one count of filing a false
police report. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Nancy Brown, at the
prosecutor's urging, chose to treat the offense as a felony, rather than a
misdemeanor, as McKinney's lawyer pleaded with her to do. "If ever there
could be a factual scenario justifying the court's exercise of discretion to
declare a wobbler (an offense that may be treated as either a felony or
misdemeanor) to be a misdemeanor...this one must be so," begged Michael P.
Stone, the attorney. To bolster his plea, Stone had introduced letters from
public officials praising McKinney's accomplishments as police chief of the
troubled southeast L.A. County community, in the most glowing terms.
"Nothing less than exemplary," wrote Borden Olive of the county Human
Relations Commission. "Incredible," added L.A. City Councilman Richard
Alatorre. Even the probation officer assigned to the case noted that in
arresting Ochoa, McKinney was "effectively doing his job," adding that "it
did not appear that he was intentionally trying to be negligent or
attempting to create a criminal harm." But the judge wasn't swayed. After
giving him a tongue-lashing for failing to uphold his public trust, she
sentenced him as a felon. Besides imposing three years of highly restrictive
court-supervised probation ordinarily reserved for hardened criminals, Brown
ordered McKinney to perform 500 hours of community service, or roughly five
times the amount that even child abusers have been known to receive.
Professionally ruined and financially devastated, McKinney says he felt the
plea arrangement was the best he could muster. The plea and its disposition
has shocked the ex-chief's admirers within law enforcement and prompted some
prosecutors to privately express dismay. But his is hardly a tale of a good
cop gone bad. It more resembles justice run amok -- a combustible
combination of local politics, Sheriff's Department resentment, an
exceedingly aggressive district attorney's office, and a judicial system
that, in the end, chose to punish an exemplary cop's lapse of judgment with
its eyes closed. To borrow a term from White House lawyers, the
proportionality of McKinney's crime hardly seems to fit the punishment.
Indeed, there are those who insist the ex-chief's real offense may have been
to antagonize powerful political interests in the community while combating
a vicious hate-crime problem the town's leaders -- and the Sheriff's
Department -- have tried to pretend doesn't exist. The fudged police report,
they say, provided the ammunition to do him in. "This kind of thing isn't
supposed to happen to dedicated, decent cops in this country," insists
former Hawaiian Gardens police detective Radames Gil. "Anybody who says
Walter didn't get railroaded doesn't have his head on straight."

-----------------------

Part Two

-----------------------

In all likelihood, anyone who tried to accomplish what McKinney did in
Hawaiian Gardens was bound to face problems. Sandwiched between Lakewood and
Long Beach on three sides and pressed against the Orange County town of
Cypress on the other, the eight-tenths-of-a-square-mile community,
population 14,500, is unlike any other in L.A. County. Many residents (70
percent of the town is Hispanic) have ancestors who've lived there since
before World War II, when the town was a rural enclave of immigrant dairy
workers. Even the name Hawaiian Gardens has outlaw origins, drawn from a
Prohibition-era fruit stand where bootleg whisky was sold under the counter.
In a community where many families are blood relations and almost everyone
knows everyone else, Hawaiian Gardens also boasts a unique brand of
street-gang life. The venerable Barrio Hawaiian Gardens gang traces its
roots back four decades. (An HG member incarcerated at Deuel Vocational
Institute in the San Joaquin Valley in 1957 was among the 13 founders of the
Mexican Mafia.) A 1995 police survey estimated that 700 residents were
active gang members -- nearly five percent of the city's population. Unlike
in South Central or parts of the San Fernando Valley, where black and Latino
gang members have grown accustomed to uneasy coexistence, Hawaiian Gardens'
insular barrio boys -- including a younger group of HGs who refer to
themselves as Loquitos -- have never had to compete with rival Latino gangs.
Mixing intense gang loyalty with a fierce pride of place, their interests --
and influence -- stop at the city limits.

Against this backdrop, the community was ripe to become a hotbed of racial
terror once African Americans began to move there in the early 1990s. The
pattern of race violence had actually begun in 1989, when a Loquito teenager
died after being caught in the cross fire of a drug deal gone awry. The
reputed shooter, an out-of-towner, was African American. Racial tensions
ramped up dramatically in 1994 after a couple of apartment buildings on the
east side of town began accepting so-called Section 8 vouchers -- part of a
program in which the federal government subsidizes the rents of qualifying
low-income families. Among them were a few dozen blacks.

Then, from 1995 through 1997, there occurred at least three-dozen verifiable
hate crimes perpetrated against African Americans in the community,
including three murders, numerous physical assaults, and half a dozen fire
bombings. No one really knows how the slew of hate violence compared to any
previous epoch because, until 1995, no one had ever tried to keep track of
such incidents. But one thing is certain: Hawaiian Gardens' political
leaders, concerned about the town's image, tried their best to pretend
publicly that there was no problem. "I think it's blown out of proportion,"
said Councilman Don Shultze, in a response typical of city officials when
New Times wrote about the hate crimes a year ago. Even Paul Gonzalez, the
principal of Fedde Junior High, where police had been called to quell
racially motivated fights, described race relations in the town in almost
bucolic terms. Similarly, sheriff's Capt. Marvin Cavanaugh of the Lakewood
Station, which had long been responsible for policing the community, took
the view that the hate crime issue had been overblown. But if Hawaiian
Gardens' political leaders thought their new police chief would toe the
party line, they were mistaken. Not only did McKinney launch a campaign to
vigorously pursue hate crime suspects, but -- to the befuddlement of
image-conscious local leaders -- he did something that no sheriff's official
had ever done: He spoke out publicly on the issue, goading residents to
cooperate with police to help stamp out the scourge. However frustrating it
may have seemed to have their police chief drawing public attention to a
problem about which City Hall and the Sheriff's Department were in denial,
there was little anyone could do to silence him. Especially after the
scrappy little police department began making arrests in some of the more
egregious hate-crime cases.

While impressive, the arrests were only part of the equation. Living in fear
of retaliation, ordinary citizens in Hawaiian Gardens have long remained
silent rather than help prosecute the town's racist gang-bangers. McKinney's
cops sought to change that by relentlessly campaigning for prospective
witnesses to come forward, and pledging to protect them. To that end, the HG
cops scored a coup in 1996 after 27-year-old Martin Hammonds, an African
American and a former local high school football star, was gunned down
assassination-style while walking along busy Norwalk Boulevard in
mid-afternoon. The officer first to arrive at the scene estimated there were
two-dozen potential witnesses there. But when he attempted to collect names,
they all scattered, even as Hammonds lay dying. During the next three weeks,
HG police went house-to-house and store-to-store in the area, pleading and
cajoling for someone -- anyone -- to come forward. They distributed hundreds
of leaflets. They recruited merchants and other respected community members
to intercede on their behalf. Nearly a month to the day after the murder,
the effort paid off. A lone conscience-stricken eyewitness, agreeing to
testify in exchange for entering a witness-protection program, contacted
police. On the strength of the witness' testimony, the shooter, Rudy Villa
Jr., was convicted and sentenced to 65 years to life in prison.

HG cops were similarly successful in making arrests in the two other
hate-crime murders. In one, 29-year-old clothing salesman Demario Young was
removing dresses from his van in front of an apartment building when a young
Latino who had earlier taunted him with racial slurs hopped out of a car and
pumped a bullet into his chest at close range. In the other killing -- the
most vicious of all -- 24-year-old Virgil Henry, waiting at a bus stop on
busy Carson Boulevard, was chased by an epithet-yelling mob of 10 to 14
young Latinos into a shopping center parking lot. After he tripped and fell,
several of the pursuers -- allegedly including one female -- took turns
beating his brains out with a baseball bat.

After going 3-for-3 in solving the hate murders, McKinney and the police
department enjoyed widespread approval in the community, even as elected
officials chafed at his constantly contradicting them for pooh-poohing the
hate-crime problem. But for all his success, McKinney may have pushed his
luck when he ticked off the person who arguably exerts more power than any
other in Hawaiian Gardens: investor and physician Irving Moskowitz. The
70-year-old Miami Beach millionaire has for years funneled proceeds from his
hugely successful Hawaiian Gardens bingo hall to a charitable foundation
that, in turn, is a lifeline to right-wing Israeli causes. The first sign of
trouble for McKinney was when Moskowitz backed a 1996 recall of two city
councilmembers who had supported the police department's investigation of
voter fraud and other alleged abuses by City Hall employees reputedly on his
payroll. (McKinney had had the temerity to actually arrest one of
Moskowitz's people.) When the Moskowitz foundation -- which had kept the
cash-starved city afloat by infusing $200,000 a month into the city's
coffers -- prevented its funds from being used to subsidize the police, it
was sayonara for HG's brief, and successful, police experiment. "I can tell
you, the glee on the part of the Sheriff's Department in getting the
Hawaiian Gardens contract back was almost palpable," says Roger Chandler, a
24-year sheriff's veteran and now a private consultant. As for McKinney,
whom Chandler calls "the best law-enforcement officer Hawaiian Gardens will
ever see," there would be a personal price to pay "because he made them [the
Sheriff's Department] look bad...and when he slipped up, they made him pay."
"This kind of thing isn't supposed to happen to dedicated, decent cops in
this country," insists former Hawaiian Gardens Detective Radames Gil.


At first, Gil, the Hawaiian Gardens detective, thought it was his
imagination. While driving a patrol car on Carson Boulevard that October
Thursday in 1996, he noticed a man walking alone on the north side of the
street who looked strikingly similar to Armando Ochoa. "Nah, it couldn't
be," the detective recalls thinking as he took a second and then a third
look. Ochoa stared straight ahead, as if not to notice the squad car. Only a
few days earlier, FBI agents had come to Hawaiian Gardens hoping to question
Ochoa in connection with a series of drug-related murders in which the
Mexican Mafia had been implicated. They left disappointed after being told
by police that the five-time convicted felon had not been seen around town
in a long time. Could this be him? Gil took a last look, this time through
his rearview mirror, and instinctively made a U-turn. Ochoa began to run,
disappearing into the neighborhood south of the boulevard. Gil gave chase,
even as he got on the radio to call for help.

That McKinney should respond as his backup wasn't unusual. Being chief of a
department with only 21 people on the payroll was more than a desk job. When
McKinney caught up with the chase, Gil was out of his car and closing in on
Ochoa in the alley. A moment later, Gil subdued him. But before either of
the officers could get close enough to place handcuffs on him, they saw the
suspect reach into his pocket and toss a gun over the fence. McKinney peeked
through the fence and spotted it on some concrete next to a pickup truck.

-------------------------

Part Three

-------------------------

While Gil detained Ochoa, McKinney went to the front of the house to tell
the man who lived there what had happened and to ask to enter the backyard.
When the man explained about the dogs and volunteered to get the gun,
McKinney didn't object. He wasn't concerned about preserving fingerprints.
(Two police officers having observed the parolee toss the weapon was more
than sufficient to make a possession case.) After handing it over, the
homeowner, almost as an afterthought, asked a favor that any cop in Hawaiian
Gardens could understand: that his name be kept out of the matter. McKinney
assured him it would be.

It's dangerous enough in Hawaiian Gardens to antagonize gang members, but
Ochoa was no garden-variety street tough. Department of Corrections
investigators had already informed local police that Ochoa was suspected of
working directly for the Mexican Mafia, or la Eme (the Spanish pronunciation
for "M"), as it is known. His reputed role: collecting a percentage of
drug-trafficking proceeds from local gang members on la Eme's behalf.
Ticking off the Mexican Mafia is something one doesn't do, especially in an
entrenched, decades-old mafia stronghold such as Hawaiian Gardens. McKinney
knew that if word got out the man had helped to put away someone integral to
la Eme's local operation, some mafia boss in prison might well issue an
assassination order that local gang hoods, eager to win brownie points,
would carry out.

After all, revenge and retaliation are a way of life in the community. As
chief, McKinney had witnessed it countless times, often involving crimes as
simple as burglary and car theft. He had seen both witnesses and victims
targeted for retaliation by gang members as soon as word leaked out they had
provided help to police -- or, heaven forbid -- had agreed to testify in
court. Ordinary hardworking citizens had been subjected to assaults,
firebombings, death threats -- you name it -- sometimes only days before
they were to appear in court. The targets had included one of McKinney's own
police officers, gunned down and left paralyzed during an
assassination-style assault at his home, which also left the officer's
teenage son seriously wounded. That attack had come barely a month before
the officer had been scheduled to testify in the Hammonds hate-crime murder.

"By leaving the homeowner's name out of the report," Stone, the ex-chief's
lawyer, argued, "[McKinney] believed he was doing the community a greater
good, and was not trying to pervert or obstruct the justice system." In
fact, by trying to protect the homeowner, McKinney had placed himself in the
awkward position of having to testify at Ochoa's preliminary hearing. It
wasn't a prospect he relished. But neither did he believe, at the time, that
he would ever be asked to testify. With a federal racketeering prosecution
of the alleged Mexican Mafia murders imminent, it seemed a good bet that
authorities would not need to press charges against Ochoa for the parole
violation. That is, until the feds announced their suspects. Ochoa wasn't
among them.


If Ochoa appeared confident upon being brought into Norwalk Superior Court
to stand trial in August 1997, it was for good reason. As someone who had
already been in and out of prison three times before the state's
three-strikes law was enacted, the 48-year-old convict had been a model
student of criminal law, if not a model prisoner. His self-taught prison
research was about to pay off handsomely. He had become skilled at writing
legal briefs, and, as quickly became evident, a master at leaving no
investigatory stone unturned. Eschewing legal advice, he had persuaded a
judge to allow him to represent himself in a case that, if he lost, could
result in his being sent back to prison for life. McKinney knew that if word
got out the man had helped put away someone integral to the Mexican Mafia's
local operation, an assassination order might well be put out.

It was something to behold -- a reputed tax collector for la Eme
representing himself pro per, in such a high-stakes case. Even John Lynch,
the supervising attorney who heads the Norwalk DA's office, dropped into the
courtroom to take a look. But the trial would end abruptly.

Unknown to Lynch, but known to the deputy prosecutor who had elected to go
forward with the case, Ochoa had earlier obtained the services of a
court-appointed investigator who had visited the man on Clarkesdale Street
and come away with a fortuitous piece of information: McKinney hadn't
recovered the gun.

The discovery had occurred after McKinney had been the sole witness at
Ochoa's preliminary hearing in March 1997. At the hearing, McKinney,
referring to his police report, testified that the property owner had given
him permission to go in the backyard and that he had found the gun there.
Once confronted with the investigator's discovery, McKinney had subsequently
set the record straight about the particulars, including explaining why he
had taken liberties with the police report. Nonetheless, the deputy district
attorney assigned to the Ochoa case, Craig Omura, had chosen to go forward
with McKinney as a witness at trial. The plan was to lay out the whole story
for the jury, including the chief's rationale for fuzzing the details.

-------------------------

Part Four

-------------------------

But Lynch, upon learning these things, would have nothing of it. Walking
into the courtroom out of curiosity about Ochoa's self-representation, Lynch
listened during an early recess as Omura nonchalantly filled him in on the
background of the case and explained the prosecutor's strategy. When Omura
got to the point about the tainted testimony, the Norwalk supervisor quickly
hit the stop button. That same day, Lynch pulled the plug on the trial, and,
in short order, negotiated a reduced plea with Ochoa. As part of the plea
arrangement, Ochoa filed an affidavit in which he admitted to possessing the
firearm illegally and described how he had attempted to get rid of it that
day by tossing it over the fence, where McKinney -- with the property
owner's help -- had recovered it. Ochoa returned to jail. McKinney went
about his business as Hawaiian Gardens' police chief, but with a difference.
He had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.


In mid-October 1997, just two weeks before the Hawaiian Gardens Police
Department ceased to exist, Deputy District Attorney Jim Cosper, with the
DA's special investigations unit, came to visit McKinney at the police
station. By McKinney's account, the visit was cordial, with Cosper telling
him he was authorized to dispose of the case, and the way he foresaw it
playing out was for McKinney to agree to plead guilty to a misdemeanor count
of filing a false police report. "I told him I was willing to do that, and
if that's how they wanted to handle it, I was ready to cooperate," McKinney
says. The next day Cosper called with even more comforting news. According
to McKinney, Cosper told him that in all likelihood it wouldn't be necessary
for him to plead guilty to a misdemeanor after all. "It was one of those
'don't lose any sleep over this' type calls," recalls the ex-chief. In fact,
McKinney viewed the phone call as a gesture of kindness. Cosper had learned
the day before that McKinney hadn't yet contacted a lawyer and, McKinney
says, "the clear impression was that he didn't think I should bother. His
message was I shouldn't worry about the situation because no one cared to
pursue it. They were just going to let it gather dust."

Nothing could have prepared McKinney for the phone call he received from
another deputy DA on March 31 last year. By then, he was chief of police in
Desert Hot Springs, near Palm Springs, and five months removed from Hawaiian
Gardens. He recalls the first words from the unfamiliar voice on the phone
as, "I'm sorry to be the one to have to tell you this." So much for not
worrying. The DA's office had filed two felony charges, one for issuing the
false report and another for perjury, stemming from his testimony at the
preliminary hearing. In disbelief, McKinney put in a call to Cosper. But
when the deputy DA who had earlier reassured him offered his condolences,
McKinney realized the worst: Someone in the DA's office, for some reason,
had decided to throw the book at him. Within an hour, a sheriff's deputy
friend called to offer comfort of his own. McKinney had spoken with no one
about his situation since getting off the phone with the DA's office. So how
had his friend, the deputy, found out? He had seen an electronic memo,
issued quickly, from the Lakewood Sheriff's Station -- whose personnel
ostensibly had no role in the McKinney investigation and presumably had no
reason, other than through contacts with the DA's office, to even know what
the district attorney had done. The memo informed Sheriff's Department
personnel that the ex-chief of Hawaiian Gardens had been charged with
felonies.

That the Sheriff's Department should exult over the ex-chief's misfortune
was hardly a surprise. After all, sheriff's officials had done little to
hide their contempt for the Hawaiian Gardens Police Department. Not only
were deputies prone to deride HG officers as "keystone cops" and "parking
lot guards" behind their backs, but they even dissed them to their faces,
according to several former HG officers. (The ill will had become so strong
that when the HG police force disbanded, its criminal files were turned over
to police in next-door Cypress, rather than to the sheriffs.) It hadn't
helped that several weeks before the Sheriff's Department resumed its role
as the city's law enforcement agency, McKinney rejected Lakewood Station
Capt. Cavanaugh's idea to stage a massive joint Sheriff's-HG police roundup
of suspected gang members. McKinney let it be known he thought it was a dumb
idea that would only antagonize the community.

But an even more potent reason for the resentment was the very success of
the Hawaiian Gardens police experiment. In the two short years of its
existence, the tiny police force had achieved something heretofore unheard
of during the many years sheriff's deputies had patrolled the community:
enthusiastic and widespread praise. "The rule was always call the sheriffs,
and you could wait maybe two hours if they bothered to come at all," says
former mayor and longtime resident Kathy Navejas. Or, as another longtime
resident puts it, "The sheriffs have always been like an occupying force.
The police department acted like it cared." Beyond the rave reviews for HG
police, the Sheriff's Department was hopping mad on principle since Hawaiian
Gardens had chosen to break away and form its own police force. "They viewed
it as they always do when these small cities who contract with them [for law
enforcement] contemplate forming their own police force: as a virtual act of
treason," says Chandler, the former sheriff's lieutenant, who is now Mayor
Pro Tem of Arcadia in the San Gabriel Valley.

As the consultant whom Hawaiian Gardens officials chose to help organize the
HG force in 1995, Chandler had a bird's-eye view of the animosity exhibited
by the Sheriff's Department toward the fledgling police department. "[The
late Sheriff] Sherman Block took it almost personally that [Hawaiian
Gardens] pulled away," he says. As always, he says, the sheriff was
concerned that any revolt would inspire insurrections elsewhere among the
40-plus cities in the county that contract with the Sheriff's Department for
law enforcement. And, sure enough, not long after Hawaiian Gardens bolted,
nearby Santa Fe Springs followed suit, turning to the city of Whittier to
provide its policing. Another town, Artesia, came close to dumping the
Sheriff's Department and contracting with Hawaiian Gardens. As the titular
head of the HG police, McKinney, in essence, had made the Sheriff's
Department look bad by winning the kind of public approval that had long
eluded Block and his deputies. "He was a marked man," Chandler says. "Look,
no one will ever prove it, and certainly no one will ever admit it, but
there's no question in my mind that the Sheriff's Department played a role
in Walter's undoing."


Indeed, it seems unlikely that had the matter been resolved by the DA's
Norwalk office, McKinney would have walked the plank. "My take on it was
that it was a great price for a small crime," says Lynch, the Norwalk DA
supervisor. "This was not one of those deals where you think we've really
caught a bad guy, and society is better off for it. This was more sad and
pathetic than anything else." While Lynch asserts that what McKinney did was
serious and merited serious punishment, he also confirms that he did not
take the initiative personally to prosecute the ex-chief as a felon. Rather,
in keeping with his responsibility, he referred the matter to the DA's
special investigations unit, which is where Cosper entered the picture.

Cosper at first expressed willingness to discuss the case, provided he had
the approval of Nicholas Koumjian, the deputy district attorney who
ultimately was assigned to press charges against the ex-chief. But when
approached about the matter, Koumjian abruptly refused to comment. "You're
not going to goad me into saying anything about that one," he says. Had
district attorney Gil Garcetti personally interceded in the McKinney case?
Typically, Garcetti declined to be interviewed for this article, but through
office spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons, he denied the Sheriff's Department played
any role. Gibbons said that while Garcetti was "always kept informed" about
the case, "He was not the shot-caller." As for McKinney's recollection of
his early dealings with Cosper, Gibbons said that Cosper "does not recall
the conversations that way."

As for Hawaiian Gardens, denial continues to be the order of the day. "It's
very peaceful here now," proclaims Mayor Ralph Cesena. Never mind that
prosecutors have had to dismiss charges against two suspected hate-crime
murderers and then re-file them, after fearful witnesses refused to get
involved. Authorities are hopeful, but by no means assured, that people will
step forward in each case as they move toward trial a second -- and final --
time. Like the mayor, Lakewood sheriff's Capt. Cavanaugh is also ebullient.
"We've gotten rid of the hate-crime problem," he insists, "through a lot of
dedicated effort and teamwork from Hawaiian Gardens' officials." The captain
says that in all of 1998, there were only three reported hate crimes and
that the last one occurred in June.

But when informed of the Sheriff's Department's hate-crime assessment,
others in the community laugh.

"Three hate crimes last year?," asks Michael Bennett, 44, an African
American, incredulously. "I've been the victim of three hate crimes myself
just since October." Bennett, the uncle of murder victim Hammonds, says that
about a dozen Loquitos chased him and threw beer bottles last October, and
that several weeks later, gang members yelling racial slurs attacked him,
knocking several of his teeth out. He reported each incident to deputies, he
says, "but I wasn't able to identify anybody so I don't think they followed
up."

Cavanaugh also attributes the improvement to his department's working
closely with a citizens group called Hawaiian Gardens for Unity, which meets
once a month at a local food bank, sponsored by Moskowitz, the
philanthropist. But even there, others paint a different picture. "We had to
beg the Sheriff's Department for months to send a representative to the
meetings," says volunteer Diane Wright. Keith Hamilton, an African-American
father of two teenagers, who has stuck it out through the tough times of
recent years, offers a similar view. "There's really nothing going on to
address the problem," he says. "If hate crime has diminished, it's because
some of the baddest apples [among HG gang members] just happen to be behind
bars at the moment." Adds Borden Olive, of the county Human Relations
Commission, "The bottom line is that most blacks have packed up and
left...You can't have a crime without a victim."

Meanwhile, McKinney, whose once-promising law enforcement career is history,
is trying to pick up the pieces of his life. Facing $25,000 in legal fees,
the father of a 20-year-old daughter who is in college and an 11-year-old
son has spent the better part of a year drawing down his retirement savings
to make ends meet. Prospective employers take one look at his rsum -- which
includes a master's degree in public administration besides his two police
chief positions -- and have refused to hire him, not even as a bus driver.
Finally, in December, he landed a job as a mid-level manager for an
L.A.-area charitable organization. "I'm lucky to have it, and I want to keep
it," he says. McKinney has sought to stay out of the public eye. Only after
the greatest reluctance did he agree to be interviewed for this article, and
he declined to allow his photo to be taken. "I've got to put what's happened
behind me," he says. "I can't look back."

View all articles


2003 design by elbop for the Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens and Jerusalem