LAPD Officer Houston Tipping’s Death Was No Accident, Lawyer Says: NPR


Los Angeles Police Department officers carry the casket of LAPD Officer Houston R. Tipping at the start of his memorial service Wednesday, June 22 in Los Angeles.

Carolyn Cole/AP

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Carolyn Cole/AP

Los Angeles Police Department officers carry the casket of LAPD Officer Houston R. Tipping at the start of his memorial service Wednesday, June 22 in Los Angeles.

Carolyn Cole/AP

The Los Angeles Police Department officer who was killed during a training exercise, in what authorities called a “tragic accident”, was allegedly targeted for investigating a gang rape committed by colleagues, according to his family.

The LAPD officer’s mother, Houston Tipping, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city. Attorney Bradley Gage told NPR the 32-year-old was deliberately assaulted after submitting reports of a female victim who claims she was raped by four LAPD officers, including one who was part of training during the which Tipping was killed.

“They used this formation as a cover to kill him in retaliation for his whistleblower activity,” Gage said.

Gage said Tipping learned of the alleged assault when a female victim told him about the attack, identifying the accused rapists by the names on their badges. Tipping immediately began reviewing the woman’s reports, moving them “up the chain,” Gage said.

Without a video recording of the incident, accounts of what happened vary

Tipping, a five-year veteran and department bicycle instructor, suffered a spinal injury during a training exercise covering self-defense tactics at an LAPD training academy May 26. Tipping played the role of an uncooperative “suspect” and accused an unnamed officer in the script. The two argued for a short time before the unnamed officer dropped Tipping on his head, causing a catastrophic spinal injury, according to the department. The incident caused Tipping to go into cardiac arrest and he died three days later, never having regained consciousness.

An investigation says 18 officers and a sergeant witnessed the fatal scuffle. LAPD officials have repeatedly said there was no video or audio recording of the training.

The department did not respond to NPR’s request for comment regarding Gage’s claims about the incident or the alleged sexual assault.

Gage disputes the official account, arguing that Tipping was beaten by several officers who “repeatedly punched [him] in the head and body severely enough that he was bleeding, needed stitches, suffered a liver laceration and three broken ribs.” He said UCLA medical experts who examined the Tipping’s autopsy report concluded that the officer’s injuries did not match the department’s version of events.

“If it happened the way they say it happened, how did he end up with six staples in his head and a lacerated liver?” Gage asked.

The LAPD said many of Tipping’s injuries were the result of attempts to revive him at the academy. Again, Gage claims this is untrue. He said medical records obtained by his legal team show that a LUCAS device, which functions as an automatic CPR device and which was in the training room at the time, was not on.

“If they had used the device, that might explain the broken ribs, but we know it was never used,” Gage said.

He added: “The LAPD also tried to claim that the broken ribs could be a cause of the perforated liver. But as I understand it, the ribs were on the opposite side of the liver.”

And regardless of the differing accounts given by the officers present, Gage said LAPD training guidelines state that a person is not supposed to be lifted off the ground.

“When you look at all these horrible injuries, the truth is something seriously went wrong here,” he said. “It raises a number of questions that the family would like answered.”

LAPD offers an account of the incident to the public

On Tuesday, the LAPD submitted a report on Tipping’s death to the Los Angeles Police Commission. This is the first detailed public account the LAPD has offered of the fatal incident.

“This was not a mob attack as alleged, rather (a one-on-one scenario) in which Officer Tipping played the role of suspect in order to help officers learn how to deal with this individual,” Lizabeth Rhodes, director of the Office of Constitutional Policing and Policy, told the city’s police commission.

The same script had been run about 10 times before Tipping took a turn, she explained.

Rhodes told the commission that Tipping was ordered to aggressively attack a trainee officer, posing as a suspect. Reportedly, the trainee hit Tipping in the leg with a foam baton and he reacted “as he was supposed to in this scenario, dropping to his knees to simulate a successful baton strike”.

Tips haven’t stayed low, according to Rhodes.

“Officer Tipping then lifted the officer, cadet, off the ground and the cadet’s arm passed around Officer Tipping’s neck, curling forward from the cheek and Officer Tipping’s throat. As the two fell to the ground, Officer Tipping’s neck remained in that hold,” Rhodes said.

She said it was immediately clear that Tipping, who “had difficulty speaking”, had been injured, prompting officers at the training session to begin first aid.

“The coroner’s office determined it was an accident, as did the department,” Rhodes said. “It was a tragic accident and once again we express our condolences.”

The ministry made recommendations to improve the school for bike patrollers, including safety training. But Rhodes said the recommendations probably wouldn’t have prevented Tipping’s death.

Gage is asking the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office to launch an independent investigation into the case.

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