LA police are investigating whether a racist recording was illegally recorded

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles detectives are investigating whether a recording last year that captured racist remarks by city council members was made illegally, the police chief said Tuesday.

The leak of the tape earlier this month sparked a growing scandal in the country’s second-largest city just weeks before Election Day. The council members’ bigoted discussion — laden with gross insults — laid bare unequal representation and divided political power along racial lines in Los Angeles.

The Chairman of the Board, Nury Martinez, resigner in disgrace, while two other council members resisted widespread calls — from the White House down — for their ouster.

The uproar began with the release nearly two weeks ago of a hitherto unknown recording of a private meeting in 2021 involving Martinez and councilors Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo, as well as powerful labor leader Ron Hererra, head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

“The department has opened a criminal investigation into an allegation of eavesdropping,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said Tuesday. during a press briefing in response to a question from The Associated Press.

The group, all Latino Democrats, were captured on the tape plotting to protect their political clout in reshuffling council districts in an hour-long closed meeting that was peppered with bigoted comments. They used racist language to mock their colleagues – as well as the young black son of a councilman – as they planned to protect Latino political strength in council districts.

It is not known who made the tape, or why.

Under California law, all parties must consent to the recording of a private conversation or telephone call. Otherwise, the person who made the recording is liable to criminal and civil penalties. The state’s wiretapping laws are among the strictest in the nation and allow the “injured party” – the person taped without their permission – to sue.

Martinez, de León, Cedillo and Herrera approached the Los Angeles Police Department on Friday – more than two weeks after the recording, which had been posted on Reddit, was first reported by the Los Angeles Times — and asked the agency to investigate, Moore said.

“This (request) was made by the directors – it was not made through an intermediary or otherwise,” he added.

Detectives have since questioned the group as to why they believe the recording was made “illegally and surreptitiously”, the leader said.

“We will also seek, to the extent possible, to understand how such a recording was made and to identify, if possible, the person or persons responsible,” he said.

The county trade union federation previously called the leaked recording illegal and tried unsuccessfully to stop the LA Times from publishing details of the discussion.

No suspects have been identified, Moore said.

Detectives will consult with the city attorney — whose office handles misdemeanors — and county prosecutors for felony charges if necessary, the chief said.

Other questions remain as to what the investigation might entail and whether other recordings have been made at the union federation’s headquarters.

The state is investigating separately how council districts were drawn and if the process was rigged. Attorney General Rob Bonta, a Democrat, said his investigation could result in civil liability or criminal charges, depending on what is uncovered.

The fallout has left City Hall in turmoil, and President Joe Biden has called on de León and Cedillo to step down. Loud protesters at city council meetings have provided a constant backdrop of chanting and shouting as they try to increase pressure on the duo to step down.


Associated Press writer Michael R. Blood contributed.

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