I’ve been asked to lay out the chronological narrative of what happened between me and the LA Times/LAPD. Please excuse my use of the third person; I think it’s easier to follow.
October 3, 2001, 8 pm
Cartoonist Ted Rall leaves CBS Television City in the West Hollywood section of L.A. after taping an appearance on “Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher.” He plans to meet a group of friends and family on nearby Melrose Boulevard.
As he walks on the north side of Melrose, LAPD Motorcycle Officer Will(ie) Durr, an approximately 5-year veteran of the West Traffic Division, confronts him and accuses Rall of jaywalking across the intersection of N. Spaulding St. Rall had not jaywalked. Nevertheless, he is quiet, polite and compliant. He does not argue with Durr.
Rall volunteers his ID, a California driver’s license. Durr grabs Rall, roughly pushes him against a wall, and handcuffs him. He orders Rall not to move, then steps a short distance, perhaps 10 feet away close to his motorcycle on the curb, where he calls in Rall’s information and writes him a ticket.
A small crowd of bystanders, about two dozen people gather around Rall and Durr. Some just watch. Others discuss among themselves. Several confront the officer. A woman demands: “Take off his handcuffs!” Durr replies: “No no no no, I’m giving him a ticket first.” Several other people insult the officer, implying that he wants to sodomize Rall and offering to sate his sexual urges. Someone complains that there are bigger problems going on in L.A. As people talk to him, Durr whistles loudly.
Durr finishes writing the summons, which later turns out to be for misdemeanor jaywalking, a charge that would go on a permanent criminal record. He explains to Rall that he should call the number on the ticket. Rall asks Durr about the cost of the fine; Durr claims he doesn’t know (probably untrue; it’s currently a flat $197). Durr tells Rall he wants to remove Rall’s handcuffs so he can sign the ticket. Durr removes Rall’s cuffs.
Durr says that he’s returning Rall’s license, but instead tosses it in the gutter. (In one of a few recountings of the incident over the years, mistakenly remembers it as tossing his wallet, which contains his license. Rall correctly states it’s just the license in the relevant May 11th blog. Also, Rall sometimes calls it the “gutter,” at other times, the “sewer.” Though “gutter” is preferred, the two words are interchangeable.)
Rall, now late to find a restaurant to tell his friends and family about, asks Durr if he knows any place to eat. (Psychologists call Rall’s unusual question “normalizing” behavior — an attempt to de-escalate a high-tension confrontation.) At about this time, a white LAPD motorcycle policeman (Durr is black) pulls up. He urges Durr to stop what he’s doing. The two leave together.
Rall goes to dinner, where he describes what just happened to his friends and family, some of whom urge him to file a formal complaint. One, a local Angeleno, offers to contact City Hall to find out how to handle the ticket. She later tells Rall she managed to have the misdemeanor charge dropped but that he nevertheless has to pay the fine, which he does. (This is a standard disposition of jaywalking violations in L.A.)
October 13, 2001
Rall writes a letter to the LAPD to complain about Durr for false arrest and rude behavior. Acting on advice from the aforementioned friend not to mention the handcuffing (because it was legal, he wasn’t injured and might provoke retaliation from LAPD), Rall omits the handcuffs and rough treatment from his complaint.
May 11, 2015
The Los Angeles Times publishes Rall’s blog/column to accompany his weekly editorial cartoon. Since the cartoon is about an LAPD jaywalking crackdown, Rall opens his blog with a few paragraphs recounting his 2001 arrest.
Thursday, July 23, 2015
Rall receives a phone call from Paul Pringle, an LA Times investigative reporter. Rall replies quickly answers all of Pringle’s questions thoroughly.
In a recorded phone interview, Pringle tells him LAPD is disputing his May 11th blog on the basis of an audiotape secretly made by Durr of the 2001 stop. Rall has drawn at least 17 cartoons for The Los Angeles Times criticizing the police for being violent, unprofessional and inept.
Pringle says LAPD says Rall’s depiction of an unprofessional Durr “never happened”: no angry crowd, no handcuffs, no toss of the license. Pringle grills him about “discrepancies” between the apparently “polite encounter” on the tape and Rall’s description of an unprofessional policeman. (No mention is made of the false arrest.) He even asks why the sound of the license striking the ground cannot be heard.
Pringle tells Rall that Officer Durr has never handcuffed anyone throughout his long career with LAPD.
Rall is being treated as “guilty until proven innocent,” based upon the LAPD tape.
Asked what Pringle is working on — a story? — Pringle replies that he doesn’t know, that “they asked me to look into this.” This indicates that he probably was not the recipient of the tape.
Though tight-lipped about other matters, Pringle curiously volunteers that he knows the LAPD-supplied tape is legit and has not been tampered with, because the LAPD itself has assured the Times of this. The Times does not send the recording to an outside audio expert to have it analyzed for signs of manipulation such as splicing or editing. The Times also does not have the tape “enhanced” to see if more voices or sounds can be heard on it. (According to the paper in a statement issued August 19th, it still had not tried to have it enhanced, a common procedure.)
Rall then gets a call from Times editorial page editor Nick Goldberg. Goldberg, evidently not in the loop, asks: “What’s going on?” Rall fills him in, explaining his side of the story. Goldberg’s call implies that he did not order Pringle to investigate Rall.
Rall receives more calls from Pringle, who asks Rall to download a digitized version of the audio file via Dropbox. As Pringle listens on the phone, Rall listens to the tape, which contains 20 seconds of barely audible chatter by Durr followed by 6 minutes of inaudible noise. “This is a joke!” Rall tells Pringle it’s a “he said/he said” situation, arguing that it doesn’t prove or disprove anything in dispute: him being handcuffed, his driver’s license getting tossed, or the presence of the angry crowd. Without video, audio tells little, Rall says. Furthermore, the quality of the recording is atrocious.
Friday, July 24, 2015
Rall files his usual cartoon and blog for the Times because the Opinion Pages go to bed Friday afternoons. Goldberg emails Rall that the paper will make its decision after the weekend. However, Rall’s work does not appear Monday. This means the paper has decided to fire him less than 24 hours after talking to him, without having the tape analyzed or authenticated, without allowing him to tell his side of the story to members of the Editorial Board, the usual arbiter of decisions about an editorial cartoonist.
Monday, July 27, 2015
Rall calls deputy editorial page editor Susan Brenneman, who fills in for his usual editor, deputy editorial page editor Cherry Gee when she is on away. (Gee is on vacation to Japan for three weeks.) Brenneman tells Rall she is out of the loop on this issue, and has not attended any meetings about it. This means the Editorial Board was probably not involved.
At 3 pm PDT, Goldberg calls to inform him that the paper will run an Editor’s Note the next morning telling Times readers that due to discrepancies between Rall’s blog and the LAPD-supplied audiotape, the paper will no longer use his work. In journalism, this is the “nuclear option” normally reserved for extreme cases of malfeasance, such as repeated plagiarism.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Goldberg’s Editorial Note is published.
Tom Ewing of ANewDomain.net publishes an article that points out numerous YouTube videos of Angelenos standing in handcuffs while receiving tickets for jaywalking. Rall sends this to Goldberg, who does not reply.
Thursday, July 30, 2015
Rall posts a short snippet of cleaned-up audiotape processed from the LAPD WAV file in which the woman shouting “Take off his handcuffs!” can be heard. Rall writes Goldberg and the Editorial Board to inform them that this shows that, in fact, he was handcuffed and that there was at least one angry passerby, as he’d originally claimed on May 11th. Rall receives no reply.
Rall also posts an article to ANewDomain.net pointing out that Durr has indeed cuffed at least one suspect — and made fun of him as he stood waiting, for a lesser offense than jaywalking. He’s quoted and photographed in, of all places, the LA Times. Rall sends this to Goldberg. There is no reply.
Sunday, August 2, 2015
Rall posts a full-length “enhanced” audiotape cleaned up by a professional L.A. post-production company, Post Haste Digital. The 6:20 enhanced version reveals many new voices not audible on the original audiotape, including 3-4 people giving Officer Durr a hard time as described above. Comparing the two audiofiles, it becomes clear that Durr’s whistles were a deliberate attempt to drown out the mic so that the sounds of the angry members of the crowd are not audible. Rall emails Goldberg and the Editorial Board again, asking them to reconsider their decision in light of the new facts. The Times does not react.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Nearly three weeks after Rall supplied the first enhanced audiotape, the Times posts a 2500-word screed reaffirming its belief that the May 11th blog shouldn’t have run (but, weirdly, not mentioning the paper’s decision to fire him in a humiliating and defamatory way). For the most part, the second statement repeats Goldberg’s July 28th Editor’s Note, adding in quotations that reflect Rall’s dislike of the police.