November 28, 2016 (Fault Lines) — It’s no secret that police officers have access to tremendous amounts of sensitive data. As investigators, their powers are almost limitless. The have access to interdepartmental reports, state and national databases, and even reports of outlying agencies. With that power and access, law enforcement is entrusted to utilize these resources for legitimate purposes. Well, and if you are Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Detective Mark Lillienfeld, for friendly favors as well.
Lucky for Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Craig Richman, he had a friend in Lillienfeld. After a confrontation with a housekeeper over dog poop, Richman found himself the subject of a criminal complaint. Judge Richman was accused of battery after the housekeeper suffered bruises and cuts to her face following her confrontation with Richman. Unfortunately, the battery had been investigated by the Los Angeles Police Department rather than Lillienfeld’s agency. Yet, that didn’t stop Lillienfeld from getting involved.
Like any good law enforcement officer, Lillienfeld was all too eager to help put away the bad guy. Oh wait, that’s not what he did. Shortly after the Los Angeles Times reported the charges against Richman, Lillienfeld jumped in to help his friend. Lillienfeld and Richman were longtime acquaintances.
The detective and the judge had known each other since at least 1996, when Richman was a prosecutor handling an attempted murder case Lillienfeld investigated. The detective would later visit the judge’s home to get warrants signed. Lillienfeld’s wife worked in Richman’s courtroom, transcribing hearings as an official court reporter.
As detailed in a Los Angeles County prosecutor’s memo, on October 24, 2013, Lillienfeld contacted a Los Angeles Fire Department investigator to look in to any medical runs or calls involving the housekeeper that may have occurred on July 18, 2013, the date of the altercation between Richman and the housekeeper. It was clear Lillienfeld was looking for any information regarding emergency services that might have been rendered to the housekeeper. The fire department investigator responded that he did not have access to EMS records and that a search warrant could be served for further information.
The next day, Lillienfeld queried local and state databases for information on the housekeeper. Not satisfied with his investigation, Lillienfeld then accessed criminal history databases. Still coming up short, Lillienfeld assigned a crime analyst the task of further researching the housekeeper.
At some point during his investigation, Lillienfeld learned that the housekeeper had been pulled over and investigated for suspicion of driving under the influence. Though no charges were ever filed against the housekeeper, the Ventura County Sheriff maintained a report of that investigation. Lillienfeld promptly requested that report. Ventura County complied with the request and produced its report, bearing an official stamp indicating the records were not to be duplicated.
Finally, it appeared Lillienfeld came up with something that would help his friend. Apparently, he did not realize his friend would submit the ill-gotten report into official court documents.
It is a misdemeanor for a law enforcement officer to obtain information from confidential criminal records and reports for personal reasons or furnish it to someone not involved in the investigation.
Not only had Lillienfeld accessed confidential records for personal reasons, but he appears to have furnished it to his friend, Judge Richman. Surely, that’s not what happened here, right?
The city attorney handling Richman’s prosecution was surprised to find the police report submitted in a mitigation package by Richman’s lawyer, thus he made inquiries as to how the arrest report might have been obtained. The city attorney contacted Ventura County and learned the report had been released to Detective Lillienfeld upon his request. The city attorney attempted to contact Lillienfeld by phone and email to no avail.
Receiving no explanation from Lillienfeld, the city attorney turned the matter over to the Justice System Integrity Division to determine whether Lillienfeld might have run afoul of the law himself by accessing and then disclosing the confidential report. The Justice System Integrity Division, in turn, provided this information to the sheriff’s internal affairs bureau for investigation.
With the trial over and Richman acquitted in the battery charge, it seemed all was said and done. No harm, no foul. Ultimately the report was of no use in Richman’s case. Yet, that didn’t necessarily close out the internal investigation into why Lillienfeld had involved himself in this case and whether or not he released the report to Richman.
At best, the evidence revealed the report inexplicitly appeared in Richman’s lawyer’s office. Yet, not obtained by his private investigator or subpoena. In the face of his own computer trail, Lillienfeld offered up his defense: yes, he had made the inquiries into the housekeeper, but he did so at the bequest of Sheriff Lee Baca. Never mind that Baca had no recollection of asking the homicide detective to undertake such an inquiry. Surely, he’s just old and on the verge of dementia, or so responded Lillienfield when confronted with Baca’s lack of recollection. Never mind that this would have normally been handled by a different division, as Lillienfeld characterized the inquiry as a threat assessment. Under Lillienfeld’s account, he was checking to see if the housekeeper was a threat to the judge.
Never mind that Lillienfeld didn’t bother to respond to the city attorney’s inquires as he deemed those inquiries to be “unprofessional, snotty, snarky, [and] borderline unethical.” How dare a city attorney inquire of the homicide detective what he was investigating and whether or not he had released a report? Those types of questions were beneath him and such an affront to his own integrity that they didn’t even require a response regarding his legitimate threat assessment investigation as the behest of Sheriff Baca.
Never mind that Lillienfeld was the only person with access to the report. Perhaps some unknown person accessed the file in Lillienfeld’s drawer back at the office and disseminated it without his knowledge.
Never mind that the prosecutor declined to file charges against Lillienfeld for misuse of official information in a totally circumstantial case. We have his word, and his alone, that he was conducting official business when he joined in the investigation of his friend’s criminal case. Yeah, that’s it: it was all official. Nothing to see here folks, move along. There’s no logical explanation for how Lillienfeld’s copy of the housekeeper’s arrest report ended up in his friend’s hands. But just in case Judge Richman needed it, there it was. It’s good to have friends, especially when the friend is a cop.
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