By Rory Fleming
The story of how LAPD police officers Louis Lozano and Eric Mitchell got fired sounds like a B-plot in a buddy-cop movie, except somehow it’s real. A robbery involving several suspects was in progress at a Macy’s in Crenshaw Mall. Their commanding officer, Sargeant Gomez, called the two men on their police radio, asking for them to respond. They were in the area. The first time, they ignored Sgt. Gomez. The second time, Gomez testified, they said “No” and hung up.
See, there was something much more pressing in the lives of Officers Lozano and Mitchell than stopping violent crime. They were on the hunt for a virtual Snorlax, a coveted mark on the cellphone game Pokémon Go.
From one nerd to another, I am much more empathetic to the dilemma these former officers faced than their department and the courts. There have been countless times when my wife has said “time for dinner,” only for me to respond “hold on, I’m in a boss fight” to her sizable chagrin. Snorlax is a rare Pokémon who sleeps all day and fans agree that he is really cute. The Pokémon slogan, “Gotta catch ‘em all,” is a lot of pressure, but if you’re only going to catch some of them, a Snorlax is a pretty good one to get.
However, I am not an LAPD cop. I am a journalist with a flexible schedule. People don’t get away with brazen store robberies because I am sitting my ass down on the couch.
At least Lozano and Mitchell got fired, a decision which the Second Appellate District of the California Court of Appeals upheld on January 7. But they should have taken the L. To me, appealing the decision is what truly shows they are weak of character. They willfully chose Snorlax over the job. Let them rebuild their lives by picking up a different trade than public safety, unless they show extreme contrition many years from now.
Gregory G. Yacoubian, the attorney who handled their frivolous appeal, is also a problem. A police union attorney with the Los Angeles Police Protective League, he was a former LAPD officer himself, and is apparently dedicated to preventing accountability for bad officers at any cost. The only way this appeal would have worked is if the courts suppressed the audio footage from the officers’ car. But I would like to know how many times Mr. Yacoubian has cursed under his breath because a defendant “got off on a technicality,” a/k/a cop-talk for “law enforcement violated the defendant’s constitutional rights and the courts responded accordingly.”
Unfortunately, Yacoubian is also an expert witness who travels around the country.
While these two LAPD cops were prioritizing Snorlax over public safety, many Californians and national media pundits have been stoking fears of a crime wave targeting big retail chain stores, as well as of declining crime rates simply reflecting people not even reporting crimes where they know progressive DAs are in charge. Police officials across California are driving that narrative, which sets the stage for an impossible debate, because one cannot empirically prove or disprove the extent of unreported crimes with any reasonable degree of accuracy. Indeed, people and corporations who dislike anything but throw-away-the-key justice have political incentives to lie.
Rory is a licensed attorney and writer.