Two Los Angeles police officers responded to a report of a possible dead body inside a home and found a deceased woman. When one left the room, the other officer deactivated his body camera.
Unbeknown to him, though, the camera continued recording.
The footage it captured allegedly showed the unnamed officer fondling the dead woman’s breasts when he thought no one was watching.
A spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department confirmed that an officer has been removed from duty pending an internal investigation into the footage, which will determine whether the officer violated department policies and if his actions merit termination.
“There is an official investigation of this officer, who was caught on camera fondling a woman,” LAPD spokesman Tony Im told The Washington Post. He declined to offer further details, citing rules surrounding personnel issues and “due process.”
The incident, first reported by the Los Angeles Times, surfaced during a random review of body-camera footage. It is unclear when the officers responded to the call at the Los Angeles home or how long the alleged fondling lasted. According to the newspaper, the LAPD’s police chief and union agreed last month to allow random inspections of body-camera recordings to ensure officers interact appropriately with the city’s residents and visitors. Police supervisors could previously review footage after arrests, use-of-force incidents or complaints from the public.
The body camera captured the incident even after the officer tried to disable it because of a two-minute buffer, which saves footage recorded for two minutes before the device is turned on, the Associated Press reported. When the officer restarted the camera at the scene, it saved the preceding two minutes and allegedly caught him abusing the corpse.
The officer had previously been assigned to the downtown Central Division, the Times reported. LAPD will also investigate the officer’s actions at other calls, the newspaper reported.
“We are going to look at all the evidence,” LAPD spokesman Josh Rubenstein told BuzzFeed News. “We’re going to review body-worn video. We are going to talk to witnesses.”
When LAPD first deployed more than 7,000 body cameras in December 2014, many advocates lauded the move, saying the cams would help increase public trust and police transparency. But critics argued that the constant taping, which totals 14,000 recordings daily, could raise privacy concerns.
While body cameras tend to reduce the number of citizen complaints, a 2015 investigation by The Post found that videos of alleged misconduct are rarely released, even in fatal shootings, and are sometimes significantly edited. LAPD began voluntarily releasing videos in 2018, and most of the footage that has been made public involves police shootings.
This latest incident marks a rare occasion when a police department has surfaced alleged misconduct in an incident that did not involve an arrest or use of force.
LAPD Assistant Chief Robert Arcos told the Times that the body-camera recording was “very disturbing.”
The police union called the accusation a departure from LAPD values, which include reverence for the deceased.
“If this allegation is true, then the behavior exhibited by this officer is not only wrong, but extremely disturbing, and does not align with the values we, as police officers, hold dear,” the Los Angeles Police Protective League said in a statement shared with The Post. “This behavior has no place in law enforcement.”
LAPD did not identify the officer or offer details about how long he had worked for the department. Im told The Post that the officer has been “assigned to home,” which means he has been removed from police duty but will still be paid until the internal review is completed. Im said he could not say whether the footage may result in criminal charges because it is too early in the investigation.
“There could be anything coming in the next few days,” he said.