Law in Contemporary Society
          I was a freshman when I first became involved with the Chaudhry case. Olu Orange, my mock trial coach and an attorney in Los Angeles, knew I spoke Russian. When he needed someone to serve as a translator for witnesses in the predominantly Russian-speaking neighborhood surrounding the corner of North Curson and Sunset Boulevard, he asked me to help.

          The Chaudhry family had left Pakistan in order to escape religious violence and to live in a place they hoped would have more resources for their autistic son, Mohammed. They moved to Los Angeles and opened a small computer repair business. They raised their children. Sent them to public school. Payed taxes. Voted. When Mohammed turned eighteen and began exhibiting symptoms of autism elopement, or what is best characterized as wandering and a predilection towards living outdoors, neither his family’s pleas nor the law could keep him at home. For weeks and sometimes months, Mohammed would leave home and sleep outside, not telling his family where he was. But no matter what, he would never go more than a week without a phone call and no matter what, his family never stopped waiting for him to come home.

          When a few weeks passed without Mohammed’s customary check-in, his family began to worry even more than usual. They went to the police and filed a missing persons report; but Mohammed wasn’t missing and the California ID in his back pocket ensured that the police could have told his family exactly where he was. Yet for more than a month, as Mohammed’s body decomposed in the LA County Morgue, the police told his family nothing. It wasn’t until Mrs. Chaudhry showed up at the morgue that the family learned of their son’s passing. His death was a tragedy tripled by the almost unrecognizable state of his body. The extent of the decay made the strict burial rules, to which the Chaudhrys, as devout Muslims adhered, impossible to now follow. The Chaudhrys had not only lost their son in this life, but they had also lost any hope of reconciliation in the hereafter.

          After completing what he termed to be a “thorough” investigation, Chief Bratton sent Mrs. Chaudhry a letter informing her that no information relating to her son’s death could be provided and that no departmental action would be taken against the officer who had shot him. What Chief Bratton didn’t tell her was that her son had been sleeping underneath the balcony of an apartment building, a spot he frequented when his autism took him from home. Officer Cruz and his partner, Officer Romo, were making their rounds when they suddenly decided to investigate the sleeping man. It was Officer Cruz who led the approach, while Officer Romo lit the way with his flashlight. Officer Cruz neither asked for identification nor performed a pat down of Mohammed. Or maybe he did. You see, Officer Cruz either had to admit that he had violated one of the basic tenets of officer protocol and training or he had to admit that he had patted Mohammed down and found no weapon.

          According to Officer Cruz, Mohammed then lunged at him with a knife, nicking him in the hand. Officer Cruz fired four shots, which left Mohammed crumpled on the dirt in a position that the crime scene investigator determined was in no way compatible with the forward moving motion alleged. As for Officer Romo, from the point just before the “lunge” until just after the last shot was fired, he lost all powers of observation including but not limited to those of sight and sound. Or maybe he didn’t. Either Officer Romo had to claim that he saw nothing or he had to admit that he saw something he knew shouldn’t have happened.

          When the lab tested the knife that was found at the scene, it wasn’t Mohammed’s DNA they found on the handle, the DNA that would have been there had he at any point in time held it, but rather, they found an unidentified male’s DNA, DNA for which Officer Cruz repeatedly declined to be tested. It was most likely a prop knife he kept in the car and dropped on the scene after the shooting, Olu explained.

          While telling Mrs. Chaudhry that Officer Cruz had done nothing wrong, Chief Bratton and the LAPD swiftly moved to fire him, ostensibly, for a prior incident detailed in a departmental report: Officer Cruz had freed a female prisoner in exchange for oral sex and then told his supervisor that the girl had jumped out of the open window of his moving squad car (while handcuffed no less) and had thus escaped. This incident had so “damaged his veracity that the LAPD had no further use for him.” But now Chief Bratton, the LAPD, and the City of Los Angeles, all stood by Former Officer Cruz. They were asking a jury to believe him and his version of the events when they themselves had fired him because they could no longer believe anything he said. In the civil trial, where a jury found him liable and awarded 1.7 million dollars in damages, it is the city that will pay. Meanwhile, Former Officer Cruz is a member of the reserves and last I know was back in Afghanistan, where his tendencies, I imagine, are more easily expressed and less likely to be held to any accountability.

          Why had Cruz shot Mohammed? Maybe he was just evil. Maybe he had a little of the AUSA head bashing syndrome in him. Perhaps he wasn’t quite right after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was also evidence that the two officers had been shaking down the homeless for their GR benefits. I still try to understand.

          Like our narrator in Robinson, I was curious about what a murderer was like. When I first met Cruz at his deposition, he smiled and offered me a Sprite.


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r7 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:10:26 - IanSullivan
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