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Gruesome Murder Attempt Highlights Differing Views on Crime Reports

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Editor's note: This article was updated at 1:45 p.m. to include comments from the Santa Monica Police Department.

By Jorge Casuso

July 6, 2021 -- A burglar from San Francisco was arrested before dawn Wednesday after roaming through an occupied Santa Monica home.

Shortly after midnight Friday, a Los Angeles felon and his partner in crime were arrested Downtown after police found drugs, a loaded gun and a Halloween-type mask in their car.

About an hour later some eight blocks away, a homeless man from Texas was arrested for carjacking a couple and trying to sexually assault the woman and murder the man.

These were among five crimes committed in Santa Monica over the past two weeks that made news headlines, and they come on the heals of eight firearms arrests between May 1 and June 1 ("Santa Monica Police Make Two More Gun Arrests," June 2, 2021).

In each case, police officials issued press releases they hope will inform the public and highlight the work of Santa Monica's force during nationwide calls for defunding law enforcement.

"The press releases have been fairly consistent," said Lt. Rudy Flores, the Police Department spokesman. "There was a lot of talk about defunding the police and what are you doing or not doing.

"I'm trying to keep the city informed and let them know there is a lot of great police work being done," Flores said.

Jones of the Bay

This week, Councilmember Phil Brock criticized the media handling of the gruesome crime that took place near the exit of a Santa Monica Place parking structure in the early morning hours of Friday.

It wasn't until the story broke on social media and was carried by the local CBS station that SMPD, pressed by calls for information, issued a press release early Sunday afternoon ("Texas Man Arrested for Carjacking, Attempted Murder," July 6, 2021).

Brock weighed in on the crime on the local CBS and Fox newscasts.

"Friday morning hit me especially hard," Brock told The Lookout Tuesday. "I've parked in that structure and walked with a girl late at night.

"As much as I think it's a terrible story, the public deserves to know what is happening in the community," Brock said. "I want the good and the bad to be released with full transparency.

"The City wants to keep these things under wraps because it could hurt tourism," the Councilmember said. "They want the company line to come out."

Flores strongly rebuffed the notion that police delayed the release or tried to keep the incident under wraps.

Making the information public requires critical timing because it can influence an investigation and whether the DA presses charges, Flores said.

"We don't release a lot of press releases until we file with the District Attorney's office," Flores said. "The information that goes out has to be verifiable," he said.

"Some (incidents) are so convoluted that piecing so much information together sometimes takes hours if not days."

That was the case with the incident Friday, which involved an attempted sexual assault in Parking Structure 8, a carjacking, an attempted murder outside the exit and a crash into a Pier barrier, Flores said.

In addition to the complexity of the case, the suspect "was taken into custody immediately" and did not pose "an imminent danger to the community," he said.

As usual with a significant crime, the Department informed City executives, including the Mayor and City Council, in a confidential memo sent around 10 a.m. Friday, according to officials.

In this case, Flores said, "some of the information was leaked and not all of it was accurate."

Janet McLaughlin, who broke the news on her Santa Monica Now crime blog, declined to reveal how she learned about the story but said she pierced the report together using seven inside sources.

"I'm a social crusader that wants to get the word out that parking structures are not safe in the early morning," McLaughlin said.

At around 9:30 p.m. Saturday, she posted her report with a warning: "This is a dark, dangerous, and disturbing story," she wrote. "But I feel that residents, as well as tourists, need to know the truth."

McLaughlin's account -- posted more than 16 hours before police issued their press release -- provides a detailed account of the crime and portrays the condition of the victim as far more serious than the "stable condition" police reported.

According to McLaughlin, the transient "ran over the boyfriend, back and forth, several times," resulting in "severe injuries, including a fractured skull, broken ribs, and detached ear. At this moment he is fighting for his life," she wrote.

McLaughlin subsequently reported that the victim had died, then said she deleted the update.

The differing accounts of the incident reflect conflicting perceptions of crime in Santa Monica that continue to persist.

According to Flores, reports of serious crimes so far this year have dropped to below 2018 and 2019 levels, before the coronavirus shutdown led to a 5.5 percent decrease ("Crime Dips During COVID-19 Shutdown, Calls for Service Plummet," February 19, 2021).

Many of the most serious crimes are being committed by persons who don't live in the area, Flores said. There also seem to be more guns involved, with many of the firearms obtained illegally.

Brock believes the statistical drop in crime doesn't reflect the general perception that crime is on the rise. Four of the seven Councilmembers, he said, reported having property stolen this year.

"I believe we're not doing enough to keep the residents safe," said Brock, who headed a successful revolt at the polls last November on vows to crack down on crime.

"We're making a big show of press releases, but most residents of our city are not seeing the police on the street as much as they should," Brock said.

"I'm concerned about the residents feeling safe. I don't believe they feel that."

Flores said that he, too, cares deeply about the the public's safety and strives too make sure "the community knows what's going on in our city."

"I don't leave work and drive an hour home," he said. "I drive a few minutes. This is my community. I really care about it. "

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