SYNDICATED COLUMN: 14 Years Ago, a Woman Vindicated Me Now

A woman walking down the street in West Hollywood saw a police officer roughing up and handcuffing a man, whom he accused of jaywalking. Appalled, she challenged the officer. “Take off his handcuffs!” she demanded.

Noticing the commotion, more passersby approached. Soon a small crowd of people had gathered around. Some people shouted at the officer to stop. Others mocked his aggressiveness, sarcastically suggesting that his unfulfilled sexual desires explained his behavior. Surrounded by pissed-off citizens, the cop replied with a smirk: “I’m SO scared.” Others stood and watched, witnessing.

This happened 14 years ago. The man was me.

None of us knew that the cop, Officer Will Durr, was secretly capturing the audio of my arrest on a tape recorder — some of it, anyway.

Last week, a LAPD dub of Durr’s tape savaged my career in journalism, which can never be the same. But then that woman’s angry voice — “Take off his handcuffs!” — vindicated me. It was a kind of time travel. This woman, yelling on Melrose Boulevard on October 3, 2001, changed my life on July 30, 2015.

I wish I could go back in time so I could kiss her.

Or do her laundry. Whatever she wants.

About two weeks ago, someone at the LAPD and/or LAPPL (the LAPD police union) gave the dub of Durr’s tape to some unknown person at The Los Angeles Times. Despite obvious gaps in their credibility and logic, the Times used the tape as its justification, not to merely fire me, but to internationally shame me with a “Note to Readers,” signed by editorial page editor Nick Goldberg, that accused me of having lied about the cop’s actions during my 2001 jaywalking bust. In journalism, that’s a career death sentence, and Goldberg knew it.

What Goldberg didn’t know was that the real liars were the LAPD. And what Goldberg didn’t learn was one of the first rules of journalism: check it out.

If I brought a tape to any editor worth a damn, she’d say: have it analyzed and checked for signs of tampering. Not Goldberg, or Times reporter Paul Pringle, who was assigned to investigate me. They “authenticated” the tape by — get this — asking the cops whether their own tape was legit.

The answer to that question turned out to be: Not so much.

Thank god for technology. Despite Officer Durr’s apparent attempts to cover up those unpleasant remarks from the angry crowd by whistling into his mic, and covering it up, audio technicians were able to clean it up enough to reveal the truth.

“Take off his handcuffs!” That line, and many others, proved that I’d been cuffed, and that there had been an angry crowd — two crucial bones of contention. In the court of public opinion, I’d been vindicated.

The truth: which I’d been telling. The truth: which the cops did not. The truth: which the LA Times doesn’t care about — I’m still fired. The now-discredited “Note to Readers” is still up, with no mention of the secrets revealed by the enhanced audio tape.

But the truth is out. I have a fight ahead of me, sure. But I couldn’t defend myself without it.

There’s no way that woman could have known, or knows now, that her declarative statement — “Take off his handcuffs!” — was or ever would do any good. She, and the other witnesses, probably felt angry and impotent and helpless in the face of obvious injustice by an agent of the state.

If the woman on Melrose, whom I would kiss if I could, remembers this incident, it’s likely as just another time where she got involved but accomplished nothing.

But she’d be wrong.

My case serves as yet another example of the importance of stepping forward to witness, document and interfere with unfairness and state violence whenever you can. If, for example, you see a cop hassling someone, document the stop with your cellphone camera (don’t comment or talk because it blocks other sounds). If you dare, speak truth to power by demanding the officer’s badge information and name, and asking that he stop what he’s doing. Even if you just stand and watch, you greatly reduce the chances of another brutal police killing or maiming.

As a white man, I’m lucky. I suffer only a small fraction of the disgusting greed and brutality of corrupt police officers experienced by black and other people of color every day. I’m grateful.

One small way I can show my appreciation for my privileged status in American society is to speak out, like here, about my own experiences with bad cops. Because if it’s happening to white guys like me, you know it’s even worse for people of color.

In this case, however, I couldn’t have done it without that voice from the past, that beautiful angry ghost from 2001. So: witness. Document. Fight back.

It really does count.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower, to be published August 25th. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)



  • Beautiful, Ted.

    Don’t stop kicking and punching.

    These corporate attack dogs need to be taken down a few notches.

  • You can be assured that the officer will be punished for his crime. It is a severe violation of department policy to get caught.

  • When I first began reading, I was thinking that an eyewitness had stepped forward and identified herself (wishful thinking). How likely is THAT, after fourteen years?
    Keep after them, Ted.
    I’m confident you’re going to win this war!

  • > Because if it’s happening to white guys like me, you know it’s even worse for people of color.

    Or, to look at it from the other side of the looking glass – if we allow cops to keep shooting unarmed black teens, they’ll generalize it to shooting unarmed white teens. There’s not that much difference in the eyes of the ‘law’ – scum is scum, and if there are no consequences to shooting scum then it’s open season.

    “scum” = not a cop and not rich white. (Just ask OJ about LA cops & rich black.)

  • Well, this is really important. I hope you have been talking about this little episode with your lawyer. Good luck with your fight against Goliath. Such a pathetic bunch of nimrods.

    • Yes. Losing a job and perhaps a way of earning a living due to malicious slander is so unimportant. Who cares if editors and reporters don’t vet facts? What’s it matter if cops lie?

  • drooling zombies everywhere
    August 5, 2015 11:39 PM

    Radio interviews with Ted Rall talking about getting a “burn notice” from the L.A. Times:

  • alex_the_tired
    August 6, 2015 7:35 AM

    You should start listing which organizations you’ve reached out to for support. This will be useful when you write the book. “… and the following ‘paragons’ of journalistic integrity ignored me when I asked them to evaluate the behavior of one of their peers …”

    I find it simply staggering that the LATimes Reader Representative hasn’t said a WORD about this.
    I am amazed that I see nothing on this on the Poynter site or any of the other similar sites.
    I would actively ask each organization, one at a time, for an explanation of why they are NOT saying anything. Because not doing something can be just as bad as doing something.

    • Yeah, it’s not like you can get fired for speaking out against the gendarmes. Oh, wait …

      Isn’t “intimidation of the press” one of the warning signs of impending fascism? How many similar situations have we missed simply because nobody told us about it?

      I’ll try a letter to the editor of the largest nearby paper, and invite other Rall fanboys to do the same.

  • Rules of journalistic integrity and truthiness
    Get with the new program (same as the old program):

    lying*1 about the cops: get fired for lack of journalistic integrity
    lying*2 about China, Russia, Putin, Saddam Hussein, GOP/Dems (depending on which side your bread is buttered): guaranteed career advancement
    lying*3 about whistleblowers, riff-raff, demonstrators, people of color: if that’s not your knee-jerk reaction, what are you even doing here?

    aren’t you glad that our newspapers maintain such high truthiness standards?

    *1 telling a story at odds with theirs
    *2 exaggerating or making stuff up is fine; coming up with actual criminal behavior, while easy, will make you look like a nerd
    *3 insinuate. change the topic. wasn’t his girlfriend a stripper?

    • Excellent post!

      One other side effect of lying about Saddam Hessein is getting reelected.

      • thank you… and yes, even to be regarded as a serious contender for the job in the first place…

        was a little off topic, though – I respect it that Ted needs to focus on defending his own record and that honesty is important to people like us here on this forum.

        still this is ironic since in the journalism world, there are quite recognizable standards with respect to lying by commission and ommission. it is pretty clear that exaggerating a run-in with the police would be a badge of honor for a scotch drinking golf-buddy “one of us” access journalism kind of guy who is a little hazy on the details of the charges that daddy made go away all those years ago.