The Los Angeles Times has fired political cartoonist Ted Rall, who worked on a freelance basis, after finding “inconsistencies” in a post he wrote in May for the newspaper’s OpinionLA blog about being stopped by police in 2001 for jaywalking. However, Rall insists his story is true, and accuses the Los Angeles Police Department of pressuring the paper to ax him.
Rall, who has drawn many cartoons critical of the LAPD, described the incident in the original blog post:
All of a sudden, a motorcycle officer zoomed over, threw me up against the wall, slapped on the cuffs, roughed me up and wrote me a ticket. It was an ugly scene, and in broad daylight it must have looked like one, because within minutes there were a couple of dozen passersby shouting at the cop.
Another motorcycle officer appeared, asked the colleague what the heck he was thinking and ordered him to let me go, which he did. But not before he threw my driver’s license into the sewer.
Last week, a reporter from the LA Times called Rall to say the LAPD had provided the paper with proof the cartoonist’s allegations were false — that he was never handcuffed, the officer wasn’t rude, and the license was never tossed in the sewer. That evidence came in the form of an audiotape the officer made on the scene, unbeknownst to Rall, who posted it as part of his response to the Times’ statement. The tape is poor quality, and much of the conversation between Rall and the officer is inaudible, but the cartoonist contends it’s not inconsistent with his account of events.
“Unlike me, [the police officer] knows he’s being recorded. So he plays to the tape,” Rall writes (emphasis in the original). “If you listen carefully, however, you might pick up the jovial sarcasm in his voice.” The tape also doesn’t show the officer “smirking” as he throws the license into the gutter (a word Rall uses interchangeably with “sewer”), and the absence of handcuff sounds doesn’t mean he wasn’t handcuffed.
Rall filed a complaint with the LAPD at the time of the incident, in which he called the officer’s behavior “belligerent and hostile.” He stated the cop tossed the license into the gutter, but didn’t mention being handcuffed or treated violently. The Times cited this, along with the tape, as inconsistent with Rall’s account in the blog post. But Rall says that at the time he was more concerned about the false misdemeanor charge:
The answer is, I was, at the time, far more concerned and angry about being falsely charged with a misdemeanor that could have created a criminal record. Being roughly detained was just something I endured. Though traumatized, I hadn’t been physically injured. Moreover, I was a talk show host at KFI, a Los Angeles radio station, and certainly didn’t need any public scuffles with the LAPD.
And, he adds, “Why would I file a formal complaint, and thus subject myself to investigation, if I were lying?”
The LAPD also told the Times that its Internal Affairs division repeatedly tried to contact Rall, but that he never responded; the department provided a call log. Rall continues to maintain that the police never called him, and that he learned the case had been closed when he called them.
In the end, Rall admits, “Truth is, this is a he said/he said story. Either you believe that a Los Angeles police officer mistreated me or you don’t.” However, he feels that the common experience of others who have dealt with the LAPD will bear him out, and he leveled an accusation of his own:
What I don’t doubt is that the relationship between the Times and the LAPD is way too cozy.
This much is clear: It was easier for The Los Angeles Times to throw a cartoonist under a bus than it was to stand by him in the face of institutional anger.
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