Los Angeles police will not release records of two recent “swatting” calls targeting prominent Black Lives Matter leader Melina Abdullah, the department said.
In response to two inquiries about public records from The Times, the LAPD announced that it has no record of the first alleged call and would not publish a record of the second as it would jeopardize an ongoing investigation.
The department’s responses immediately raised suspicions among Abdullah and other activists that the LAPD was hiding something about the repeated attacks on one of its greatest critics.
“That raises a lot of concerns,” said Abdullah. “It speaks again for a cover-up.”
The LAPD said it was taking the two calls – and a third one against Abdullah last summer – seriously and was actively working to find the culprit and bring him 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 Captain Stacy Spell, a LAPD spokesman.
Swatting calls, where individuals falsely report an emergency to direct a major police response to a location, are dangerous to the targets and have historically resulted in death.
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 an 911 operator falsely claimed he had held her and others hostage and planned to call them kill to send a message that “BLM is a bunch of those left behind”.
Police surrounded Abdullah’s apartment with guns drawn and ordered everyone outside. Abdullah, who streamed the incident live on social media, eventually went outside and told officials that she was fine.
Police officials said local officials followed protocols, but Abdullah disagreed – and filed a federal lawsuit last month claiming the LAPD’s response was clumsy, traumatizing, “retaliation” for their protest work and violations of their civil rights .
The first of the two more recent incidents occurred the day after Abdullah filed her lawsuit.
In the incident, officials reappeared at Abdullah’s home on September 23, albeit in smaller numbers, and stayed in the area again until Abdullah’s neighbors managed to call her and informed the police that she was okay went.
Police said at the time that a caller claiming to be Abdullah’s son alleged she had overdosed on pills and needed help.
However, in response to a request for public recordings for the underlying call, the LAPD said that no such record exists because the caller reached the police on an unrecorded phone line at the West Bureau Homicide Squad, not 911.
The LAPD released a corresponding 911 recording of a homicide detective from the unit, whom the department would not identify, who reported the call to a dispatcher and asked to send an area patrol and a warden to Abdullah’s house.
“We have a possible gossip, but it could be a legitimate call,” said the detective, adding that the caller had “stated that his mother is dead in the house and that he is armed with an AR-15”.
The dispatcher sent the units to the address with reference to a “direct danger hit”.
“Melina Abdullah. Known for hitting, ”said the dispatcher.
The LAPD maintains “Hazardous Hazards” files at addresses that require special instructions for responding officers. These locations include the homes of celebrities, but also film locations, consulates, faith centers, and other high risk locations.
On the inconsistency between the original police statement that the caller said Abdullah had overdosed on pills and the detective’s comments that the caller was sad to be armed with an AR-15, Spell said the initial remarks “on the best information that was available at the time. “
Abdullah said the changing nature of history and the lack of a record of the alleged gossip made her completely question the police account.
“To me it just sounds like it was completely made up,” she said.
A week after the incident, on September 29th, officials arrived at Abdullah’s home again, this time when she was away. Abdullah said her neighbors sent her another video of officers with guns drawn.
Police said at the time they had received an 911 call from a caller who falsely claimed that Abdullah was held hostage. They said they had to take the call seriously, responded to logs, and left when it was clear that there was no such threat.
Again, the Times filed a public record request for the 911 recording.
On Friday, the LAPD denied the Times’ request, citing an exception for “investigation records.” A supervisor in the department’s records division said it had been determined that releasing the tape would undermine the investigation into identifying the person responsible.
Abdullah said the decision contradicted a decision made last year to publish an emergency call recording in August 2020 and reaffirmed her belief that the LAPD has some responsibility for the repeated effects of the calls on her and her family.
“If we don’t even have an audio recording of the latter two,” she said, “it makes her even more complicit.”
The LAPD has stated that its investigation into the original swatting incident revealed that the caller used popular technology to conceal their identity and location, and that investigators have not yet identified a suspect.
Abdullah’s case is not the only one in which activists recently accused the LAPD of lacking transparency with their critics. Activists have also criticized the department for refusing to release body camera footage from the arrest of prominent LAPD critic William Gude late last month on suspicion of a criminal threat.
The LAPD denied a request for public recordings for this video from the Times, and LAPD chief Michel Moore said he would not, in his sole discretion, override that denial and publish the footage. Like Abdullah, Gude has claimed to retaliate against him for his activism.