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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Richard Winton

LAPD serves search warrants in investigation of who recorded racist City Hall leak

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles police detectives have served several search warrants as they attempt to find out who recorded a meeting among three L.A. City Council members and a powerful labor leader filled with racist and offensive comments, law enforcement sources told The Times on Tuesday.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the probe is ongoing, did not identify the specific targets of the warrants.

But they said the department obtained warrants for several social media accounts.

Among them, the sources said, is the Reddit account that posted the audio leak and related cellphone records.

LAPD Major Crimes Division investigators served the warrants, signed by a judge, seeking communications over the last few weeks, and the sources said they expect more warrants to be served as the investigation continues.

LAPD Chief Michel Moore announced the probe last month after former Council President Nury Martinez; council members Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León and former L.A. Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera came to police and asked for an investigation “into the illegal recording of their private conversation.” De León later said he did not make the request.

The conversation took place in October of last year at the offices of the labor federation, which has called the leak “illegal” and vowed to have those involved prosecuted.

After the recordings were posted on Reddit, the union tried to block the Los Angeles Times from publishing details from the audio, saying they were obtained illegally. The Times refused to halt publication.

To seek such warrants, the LAPD had to show a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge there was probable cause that a felony was committed by making the secret recordings, the sources said.

Under California law, all parties must consent to a conversation being recorded. Violations can be prosecuted as a felony or a misdemeanor.

The LAPD investigation has a three-year statute of limitations, so the recordings from a year ago could be considered a crime.

Martinez and the other Latino leaders present have said they were unaware they were being recorded. During their conversation, Martinez said that Councilmember Mike Bonin, who is white, handled his young Black son as though he were an “accessory” and described the boy as a “changuito,” or “monkey.”

Martinez also mocked Oaxacans and said “F— that guy. … He’s with the Blacks” while speaking about Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón. The discussion also included divisive remarks about Jewish and Armenian residents.

The leaked recordings were met with almost universal condemnation, with leaders from President Joe Biden on down calling for the resignation of the three council members. In the aftermath, Martinez resigned, and Cedillo’s term will end Dec. 12, but De León has refused to quit despite mounting pressure. Herrera also has stepped down from his union post.

The investigation is focused heavily on those connected to the Federation of Labor and the meeting room where the discussion took place as well as any electronic devices in the room, according to the sources. Detectives believe the audio made public via the Reddit account may be only a portion of much large set of recordings made at the Labor Fed without consent.

Legal experts interviewed by The Times say the LAPD won’t be able to take action against the individual who posted the recordings on Reddit if they were not connected with making them.

Loyola law professor Laurie Levinson said that while the LAPD might be able to identify the Reddit poster, that person could invoke California’s shield law to protect the source of the recordings.

Prosecutions for illegal recordings remain rare. In 2006, the owner of Xtrajet, a charter jet company, and his associate pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiring to secretly videotape pop singer Michael Jackson and his then-attorney Mark Geragos when he flew from Las Vegas to Santa Barbara to surrender on child molestation charges. The recording came to light after an attempt was made to sell it to the media. According to the indictment, the charter’s operators set up a concealed camcorder to capture discussions.

California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta is conducting a broader probe of the Los Angeles redistricting process that took place last fall, with Bonta saying an inquiry is needed to “restore confidence” in drawing the city’s 15 council districts. That process was underway during the recorded conversation, in which Martinez Herrera, Cedillo and De León discussed redistricting.

The LAPD and attorney general are working to ensure the two probes didn’t needlessly overlap, Moore said. The department has spoken to prosecutors about its investigation.

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