LAPD denies requests for ‘swatting’ calls on BLM leader

The Los Angeles Police Department will not be releasing recordings of two recent “swatting” calls targeting prominent Black Lives Matter leader Melina Abdullah, the department said.

In response to two public records requests from The Times, the LAPD said it does not have a recording of the first alleged call, and would not be releasing a recording of the second because doing so would jeopardize an ongoing investigation.

The department’s responses immediately stoked suspicions by Abdullah and other activists that the LAPD is hiding something about the repeated attacks on one of their biggest critics.

“It raises a lot of concerns,” Abdullah said. “It again speaks to a coverup.”

The LAPD said it is taking the two calls — and a third against Abdullah last summer — seriously, and actively working to find the culprit and bring them to justice.

“The investigation is ongoing and efforts are being made to fully understand this crime and why this victim has been targeted multiple times,” said Capt. Stacy Spell, an LAPD spokesman.

Swatting calls, in which individuals falsely report an emergency to attract a large police response to a location, are dangerous for the targets and have led to deaths in the past.

Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and a regular leader of protests against the LAPD, was first targeted by such a call in August 2020, when a 911 caller falsely claimed he was holding her and others hostage and planned to kill them in order to send a message that “BLM is a bunch of retards.”

Police officers surrounded Abdullah’s home with their guns drawn and ordered everyone outside. Abdullah, livestreaming the incident on social media, eventually went outside and advised the officers that she was fine.

Police officials said the officers at the scene had followed protocols, but Abdullah disagreed — and filed a federal lawsuit last month alleging the LAPD’s response was heavy-handed, traumatizing, “retaliation” for her protest work and in violation of her civil rights.

The first of the two more recent swatting incidents occurred the day after Abdullah filed her lawsuit.

In that incident, on Sept. 23, officers again showed up to Abdullah’s home, though in fewer numbers, again staging in the area until Abdullah’s neighbors managed to reach her by phone and inform police she was fine.

Police at the time said a caller claiming to be Abdullah’s son had claimed she had overdosed on pills and needed help.

However, in response to a public records request for the underlying call, the LAPD said that no such recording exists because the caller reached police via an unrecorded desk line in the West Bureau homicide unit, not 911.

The LAPD did release a related 911 recording of a homicide detective from that unit, whom the department would not identify, reporting the call to a dispatcher and asking that an area patrol unit and supervisor be dispatched to Abdullah’s home.

“We have a possible swatter, but it might be a legitimate call,” the detective said, adding that the caller had “advised that his mother is dead inside the house and he’s armed with an AR-15.”

The dispatcher sent the units while advising them of a “direct premise hazard hit” on the address.

“Melina Abdullah. Known for swatting,” the dispatcher said.

The LAPD maintains “premise hazard” files on addresses that warrant special instructions for responding officers. Such locations include the homes of prominent figures, but also filming locations, consulates, faith centers and other “high risk” locations.

Asked about the inconsistency between the initial account from police, that the caller had said Abdullah had overdosed on pills, and the detective’s comments that the caller sad he was armed with an AR-15, Spell said that the initial remarks were “based upon the best information that was available at the time.”

Abdullah said the changing nature of the story and the lack of any recording of the alleged swatter made her question the police account entirely.

“It just, for me, sounds like it’s completely made up,” she said.

A week after that incident, on Sept. 29, officers again arrived at Abdullah’s home, this time when she was not home. Abdullah said her neighbors sent her video of officers again with their guns drawn.

Police at the time said they received a 911 from a caller falsely alleging to have Abdullah hostage. They said they had to treat the call seriously, responded according to protocols, and left when it was clear that no such threat existed.

Again, The Times filed a public records request for the 911 recording.

On Friday, the LAPD denied The Times’ request, citing an exemption for “investigative” records. A supervisor in the department’s records section said it was determined that releasing the tape would undermine the investigation to identify the person responsible.

Abdullah said the decision was inconsistent with a decision last year to release a 911 recording in the August 2020 swatting incident and increased her belief that the LAPD bears some responsibility for the repeated impact of the calls on her and her family.

“When we don’t even have an audio recording for either of the latter two,” she said, “it makes them even more complicit.”

The LAPD has said that its investigation into the original swatting incident showed that the caller used common technologies to disguise his identity and location and that investigators have so far failed to identify a suspect.

Abdullah’s case is not the only one in which activists have recently accused the LAPD of a lack of transparency in cases involving their critics. Activists have also slammed the department for refusing to release body-camera footage from the arrest late last month of prominent LAPD critic William Gude on suspicion of making a criminal threat.

The LAPD denied a public records request for that video from The Times, and LAPD Chief Michel Moore said he would not use his discretion to override that denial and release the footage. Like Abdullah, Gude has alleged he is being retaliated against for his activism.

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