Friday, September 07, 2007

Park Ranger vs. Cop: The John Stolpe Trial

It looks like its not just senators that are getting caught with their pants down in public. Long Beach police officer and Mayoral candidate John Stolpe was arrested in April 2006 by a park ranger for engaging in cruising activities and resisting arrest in Los Angeles' Griffith Park. Stolpe maintains he is innocent and the victim of mistaken identity and police brutality by a rogue park ranger.

Officer Stolpe's testimony proves to be quite entertaining as he explains what he was doing in the park with a half naked man and why he fled the scene when an unarmed park ranger attempted to arrest him (Jump to the bottom if you want to see the Ranger Gord's Condensed Version of Stolpe's Story).

Stolpe Trial: Day #1 & 2
Character witnesses speak in Stolpe trial (Press Telegram)
Police officer, deputy city prosecutor support defendant.
By Tracy Manzer, Staff writer

HOLLYWOOD - A string of character witnesses were called to testify about the integrity of two peace officers Tuesday: one a former Long Beach police officer charged with exposing himself at a park, the other a park ranger who allegedly caught the defendant in the act.

It marked the second day of trial, and the first day of the defense's case, for former Long Beach mayoral candidate and Police Cpl. John Stolpe, who has pleaded not guilty to a charge of public nudity and resisting arrest during an incident at Griffith Park in April 2006.

Deputy City Prosecutor Yong W. Sohn argued during his opening statements Friday that the 50-year-old defendant was found, with his pants down, with another man in a clearing at the park and that the former officer suffered scrapes and bruises when he fought capture.

Defense Attorney Robert Schwartz argued Friday that Stolpe was wrongly identified as a suspect by L.A. Park Ranger Douglas Kilpatrick, whom he said is quick-tempered and has a history of false accusations.

Stolpe, then an active-duty officer, saw two other men fondling each other near a hiking trail and he walked over to them to tell them what they were doing was wrong when the ranger came upon the scene, Schwartz argued. A scuffle and foot pursuit followed, prosecutors allege, and Stolpe was eventually arrested and charged.

Stolpe has maintained his innocence, arguing that he was the victim of an overzealous park ranger who misunderstood the situation and used excessive force to apprehend him.

Called to testify Tuesday on behalf of Stolpe and detail his 27 years on the force were a retired deputy city prosecutor and a retired police officer, both of whom worked for Long Beach.

John Fentis said he knew Stolpe well in a professional capacity - and worked for many years with Stolpe's wife, Deputy City Prosector Sandra Stolpe - and successfully prosecuted hundreds of environmental hazard cases stemming from trucks coming into and out of the Ports of Long Beach and L.A., thanks to Stolpe's professional demeanor and trustworthy character.

Former Officer Robert McDonnell, who retired in October after 26 years on the force, testified he and Stolpe became friends in junior high in Inglewood.

"I consider John like a brother," he said.

McDonnell said Stolpe was a model officer. Stolpe's honesty, integrity, intelligence and hard work saw him chosen for some of the top jobs and earned him several honors, McDonnell testified.

"Most of the time John had the ability to talk them into being handcuffed," McDonnell said, recalling that Stolpe never fired his service weapon in the line of duty.

Stolpe also had an uncanny ability for undercover police work, he said.

"You had to be a crook or someone like one," McDonnell said when describing undercover assignments. "John was one of the best officers I've seen do that type of work."

Also called to testify on behalf of the defense was John Cox, a 43-year-old who lives near Griffith Park. Cox spoke for more than an hour about his negative experiences with Kilpatrick, who stopped him on three different occasions on suspicion of public drinking.

During the first incident, in 2004, Cox said he and a group of friends were drinking at the park and were correctly cited by Kilpatrick.

But in two other run-ins with the ranger, in May 2005 and November 2005, he insisted Kilpatrick falsely accused him of having an open container of alcohol when he had not been drinking and had no alcohol or alcoholic beverages, seeming to bolster the defense's claims that Kilpatrick is not a credible witness.

During the second incident, Cox was handcuffed after he calmly protested the citation, he testified.

Within a few minutes, Kilpatrick let him out of the handcuffs and gave him another ticket once he stopped talking, he said.

In the third incident, Kilpatrick kept him in a holding cell at a nearby police station for about an hour before letting him go with another ticket, he testified.

Had it not been for a bad joke, Cox testified, Kilpatrick might not have cited him at all the third time. The ranger, he said, was preparing to walk away when Cox told him that he had joked to his buddy, "here comes that ranger from hell."

"Within a couple of seconds he turned beet red and put the handcuffs on me," Cox testified.

At least one of the tickets was dismissed by a prosecutor after Cox appeared in court and explained the situation to the attorney, Cox testified.

During his cross-examination, Sohn asked Cox if he knew that drinking in public is grounds for arrest and that the ranger could have arrested him on every occasion.

The trio of defense witnesses followed a string of park rangers and police officers called by Sohn.

They, like Kilpatrick, testified that Stolpe at no time identified himself as a police officer once he was eventually found following a search of a steep canyon.

"He told me he was unemployed," Ranger Peter Steur testified Tuesday.

The other officers and rangers testified Tuesday they found Stolpe on the eastside of Zoo Drive, after breaking off into two directions to search the rough terrain.

About half a dozen officers and rangers, including Steur, responded to Kilpatrick's call for help. A police helicopter was also used.

They said they found no identification on Stolpe and did not learn he was an officer until later that evening while running his name during the booking process at the Parker Center Detention Center in downtown L.A.

Kilpatrick returned to testify Tuesday about a series of photos he took of Stolpe the afternoon of the arrest that showed scrapes and cuts on his knees, legs and elbow as well as pictures of the area, taken about a week after the incident.

The photos showed thick vegetation in spots. The brush was so thick, according to L.A. Public Safety Officer Victor Carrasco, that officers in the helicopter could not see Stolpe.

Carrasco said they eventually flushed Stolpe out of the brush with a ruse.

"My partner started to yell, `We're going to send in the dogs,"' Carrasco said.

Moments later Stolpe came out, he testified.

The trial continues today.

Stolpe Trial: Day #3
Stolpe says he fled ranger for survival (Press-Telegram)
Stolpe says he fled ranger for survival.
Ex-police officer denies sex acts, exposure in Griffith Park.
By Tracy Manzer, Staff writer

HOLLYWOOD - A former police officer on trial for exposing himself in public and resisting arrest described his flight from a park ranger as a fight for survival with a maniac.

Retired Cpl. John Stolpe was called as the final defense witness in his case Wednesday afternoon at Hollywood Superior Court and vehemently denied he was ever exposed or engaged in any sex acts while hiking in Griffith Park on April 6, 2006.

The former Long Beach mayoral candidate, who was arrested about five days before the 2006 election, also denied saying his "life was over" while running past Los Angeles Park Ranger Douglas Kilpatrick, which others have testified to in the trial.

But Stolpe did admit he lied to authorities when asked about the location of his car and when he told an officer that he was unemployed.

"I said I was dropped off," Stolpe testified. "I didn't want them rifling through (the car), they'd find my badge, they'd find my gun."

The 51-year-old was arrested for lewd conduct and resisting arrest by Kilpatrick.

Kilpatrick told the court he found Stolpe - with his pants down - and another man fondling themselves in a clearing in one of the park's canyons near Zoo Drive.

Kilpatrick said Stolpe ran past him after he ordered Stolpe and the other man to stop what they were doing and sit down. According to Kilpatrick, Stolpe brushed past him as he ran down a steep foot trail, lost his balance and fell.

Kilpatrick said he used pepper spray and his baton an in effort to stop Stolpe, but the defendant eventually fled into the brush and out of sight.

Stolpe was arrested after public safety officers, park rangers and the L.A. Police Department's helicopter unit searched the canyon, according to Kilpatrick and other authorities called to testify by Deputy City Attorney Yong W. Sohn.

Stolpe testified Wednesday that he had hiked through the canyon for about an hour and was on his way back to his car when he saw two men in an alcove in a clearing below him.

"Both of them were standing there with their penises out," Stolpe recalled.

After making a comment about taking it somewhere else, Stolpe testified, one of the men pulled up his pants, waved apologetically, then took off. The other man zipped up but stayed put, appearing irritated with the interruption, Stolpe said.

It was while he was "politely chastising" that man, Stolpe said, that he heard something in the brush and figured it was the first man coming back. It turned out to be the ranger, who was wearing a uniform but was not armed with a gun and did not identify himself, Stolpe testified.

"He says, `lewd conduct, head toward the street,"' Stolpe recalled.

Stolpe said the path, which he estimated to be about a foot wide and running up a steep hill, was too narrow for anyone to pass a person. He didn't mean to touch the ranger, but most likely did brush up against Kilpatrick, Stolpe testified.

As Stolpe moved down the steep path, he was forced to pick up speed but planned to slow down, he testified.

When he passed Kilpatrick, he said, the ranger shoved him from behind, causing him to fall down.

Stolpe said the ranger pushed him down three times, knocking him into ditches, kicked him while he was down, pepper-sprayed him twice and struck him with a collapsible baton on the elbow, side and back.

The defendant's voice grew louder as he recalled the incident and soundly criticized Kilpatrick's actions. At one point, Stolpe used a white handkerchief to wipe sweat off his brow.

Stolpe frequently referred to photographs that showed the area where the incident occurred and were taken a couple of days after his arrest with the help of his wife, who works in the Long Beach City Prosecutor's office, and his nephew, a harbor patrol sergeant assigned to the Port of Long Beach.

Stolpe compared the brish to a "South American jungle" and insisted there was no way Kilpatrick could have seen what he claimed in such dense foliage.

Stolpe also told the jury his injuries could only have been caused by being struck by a baton and shoved to the ground, not by falling.

Stolpe said he and Kilpatrick eventually ended up at the bottom of a ravine, where "the beating" stopped.

His eyes were blurry from the pepper spray and he was disoriented from having the wind knocked out of him, Stolpe said. Not knowing what to expect next, he testified, he decided to make a run up the hillside in the hope that other officers called in for backup would find him and he would be safe from Kilpatrick.

He said it was survival instinct that got him stumbling up the hillside and insisted anyone in his situation would have done the same.

"I went up this mountainside to get away from this maniac," Stolpe said, his voice booming.

He said it felt like an eternity before he heard the helicopter and saw some other men in uniforms with guns, which he assumed to be police officers.

"I'm coming out now because there's going to be more witnesses to the arrest and I'm not going (to get another) beating," Stolpe said.

Defense Attorney Robert Schwartz called several witnesses over the past two days to testify on Stolpe's character as well as Kilpatrick's, seeking to establish the defendant as a respected police officer known for his integrity, while the park ranger is hot-tempered and has a history of false accusations.

Fellow officers testifying on Stolpe's behalf were questioned at length about use of force and apprehension tactics, but all stopped short of saying Kilpatrick erred that day.

Stolpe was the only one to directly criticize Kilpatrick's technique, for not identifying himself and for not using certain restraints.

During the prosecutor's cross-examination of one defense witnesses, Sohn asked a Long Beach police officer what he would do if that officer were faced with a suspect that was his height, but 50 to 70 pounds heavier, and the officer had no gun and no working radio because of the park's deep canyons - the same situation Kilpatrick faced on Aug. 6.

"It just depends on the situation," said Officer William Swain, who worked with Stolpe.

Swain testified Stolpe was extremely honest in his work and loved serving the public. He said he thought if Stolpe could have become a council member or mayor, he would have preferred that to police work.

The prosecutor will resume cross-examination today.
Stolpe Trial: Day #4
Defendant in exposure case asked why he didn't say he was a police officer.
By Tracy Manzer, Staff writer

HOLLYWOOD - A former Long Beach police officer charged with exposing himself in public with another man and resisting arrest in Griffith Park was grilled extensively by a prosecutor Thursday.

The one question Assistant City Attorney Yong Sohn kept returning to was why did retired Officer and defendant John Stolpe, 51, never tell a Los Angeles city park ranger that Stolpe was a police officer, and not the suspect, as he claimed in his defense.

"Did you tell him you were a cop at that point?" Sohn asked Stolpe in his cross-examination at the Hollywood Superior Courthouse.

"No," Stolpe shot back. "What good does that do?"

The prosecution, and the arresting park ranger, contend the retired LBPD corporal was caught, with his pants down, with another man and they were masturbating in a clearing on April 6, 2006.

Ranger Douglas Kilpatrick testified that he ordered the two men to stop and sit down, but that Stolpe ran past the ranger, pushing him aside. He said the Long Beach mayoral candidate, who was arrested about five days before Election Day, tried to flee down a steep and rocky path and lost his balance.

Kilpatrick told the court he used his baton once, hitting Stolpe in the arm, and pepper-sprayed him, but Kilpatrick said Stolpe continued to flee and hid in some brush. Stolpe was found after a search.

Stolpe has vigorously denied those allegations, saying he came across two men who were exposed and engaged in a sex act.

Stolpe said he told the men to stop and one man ran, but the other stayed. It was while he was chastising that man, he testified, that Kilpatrick came upon them and wrongly identified Stolpe as the other culprit.

Stolpe said he didn't lose his balance and didn't run, but was shoved and knocked down by an overzealous Kilpatrick. He said the ranger pushed him three times, knocking him down steep embankments face first. The ranger also struck Stolpe three times with his baton, stomped him with his boot while he was down and pepper-sprayed him twice, Stolpe testified.

The prosecutor repeatedly asked Stolpe if he heard the ranger giving him orders to stay where he was. Stolpe said no.

The former officer, who retired after his arrest, said he was so disoriented that he had no idea what was going on.

Authorities, including Kilpatrick, testified Stolpe never told them he was an officer or that he had caught the real perpetrators. One officer testified that Stolpe told him he was unemployed.

Stolpe admitted Wednesday he told the officer he was unemployed.

Stolpe also testified that he told the officers and rangers that he didn't have a car at the park.

When Sohn asked Stolpe why he lied about the car, he defendant bristled.

"I didn't lie about it, I just didn't want them to know about the car."

Sohn then questioned Stolpe why, if he feared for his life - as he had previously testified - would he care about the car.

"Your concern is your job was over, your concern is your life is over," Sohn insisted.

"No, no," Stolpe said.

Sohn then referred to the mayor's race and that Stolpe was also worried about his political career.

"My race for mayor was done way before I got arrested, pal," Stolpe snapped.

It was one of several heated exchanges between the attorney and defendant Thursday.

The combative tone was set almost immediately when Sohn began by asking Stolpe about his testimony from Wednesday, when he described seeing the two men.

"You saw the penises, or is it penii?" the prosecutor asked Stolpe, who glared at Sohn before Sohn finished with, "You said you saw their penises ..."

The prosecutor also asked Stolpe if had seen a lot of such behavior as a police officer.

"I've seen people having sex ... in public ... in the city of Long Beach and throughout Los Angeles County," he said, adding that it is not terribly uncommon.

Sohn wasn't the only one to dig into a witness Thursday.

Robert Schwartz, Stolpe's attorney, ripped into Kilpatrick after the prosecutor brought the ranger back as a rebuttal witness.

Sohn asked Kilpatrick to talk about two men called by the defense as character witnesses.

Both testified that they had come across Kilpatrick several times over the years at the park and said he falsely accused them of misdemeanor crimes such as drinking in public and riding a bicycle in an unauthorized zone.

Each of the men was cited several times by Kilpatrick and both were arrested on at least one occasion. They both painted him as quick to anger and said he used unneccesary force with them.

Kilpatrick testified that both men had become belligerent when he approached them, prompting him to use physical force, including handcuffs, and pulling one man off his bike.

At one point, Schwartz had Kilpatrick recall a moment with one of the men where the ranger said the man had dumped a cup that left a puddle on the ground. The ranger testified that he remembered the liquid was a purple color and thought it was either wine or a mixed drink.

On the citation, Kilpatrick wrote the cup had contained beer.

"Does beer look purple to you?" Schwartz demanded.

"No," Kilpatrick said, adding that he had written the ticket three years ago and "obviously, I was wrong."

Sohn also asked to play a tape recording of part of Stolpe's arrest taken by Kilpatrick.

The prosecutor wanted to play the tape so the jury could hear Stolpe saying the only thing that hurt after the ordeal were his knees.

Both sides will return today for closing arguments.

Ranger Gord's Condensed Version of Stolpe's Story
While Stolpe was out on a hike he saw two men masturbating. Stolpe told the men that they shouldn't be masturbating in public and one man zipped up and left. The other man zipped up listened to Stolpe lecture him on proper behavior when out in public. Suddenly, some guy wearing a uniform with a badge and carrying a radio, baton, and pepper spray jumped out of the dense brush and said "lewd conduct, head toward the street." After noticing that he was not wearing a gun, Stolpe decided that this man was not a police officer. Stolpe figured that it would be pointless to tell this uniform man that he is a police officer who had just stopped some men from masterbating in public. Stolpe started walking down the trail towards the uniform man, but the trail was so steep Stolpe was unable to controll his speed and accidently ran past him. The crazed uniform man then pushed Stolpe to the ground and pepper sprayed him. Stolpe, scared for his life, tried to get up and run away, but the crazed uniform man pushed him down again, hit him with a police baton, and sprayed more pepper spray. Stolpe tried to get up again, but uniform man knocked him to the ground, hit him with the baton and then stomped on him. After all this, Stolpes somehow escaped from the uniform man by running up a hill and hiding in the brush. After a long time, Stolpe heard a helicopter and the sounds of people searching the park. Stolpes may have thought that the masterbater had called the police to report that a crazed uniform man was attacking hikers in the park. Stolpes noticed that some of the searchers were wearing guns. At this point, Stolpes may have realized that these people were police officers, just like they have back at Stolpes job in Long Beach. At some point Stolpes must have decided that the uniform man was some sort of police officer that was trying to arrest him for some unknown reason. Stolpes announced, "I'm coming out now because there's going to be more witnesses to the arrest and I'm not going (to get another) beating." Stolpes then came out and surrendered to the people dressed like police officers. Stolpes may not have been completely convinced that these were real police, because he decides he should not reveal that he is a police officer and that he has a car parked in the park. Perhaps he thought that if they found out he was a police officer that had a car, then they could steal his gun and badge and then they could give it to the uniform man so that he would look like a police officer.

It seems like perfectly logical story to me.

Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion.


Anonymous said...

Doug Kilpatrick aka "Uniform man"
has a very long history of extreme abuse of park visitors. He Really enjoys his job, to much apparently.

Popular LA Times Columnist Steve Lopez documented a short list of the abuse of park visitors received from this public servant.
See LA TIMES Column "The Robo Ranger of Griffith Park" published Aug. 31 2001.
Nine Citizen complaints in less than 3 years! Sheesh! Makes the meanest baddest cops envious.

Ranger Gord said...

Read my latest post The Robo Ranger of Griffith Park.

Anonymous said...

Griffith Park and Elysian and any city park is open season for lewd coduct Ranger Kilpatrick has no credibilty ,after this if he tries to arrest you...all you have to do is in open court ask to have his personnel record as far as lewd conduct arrests and complaints admitted in city attorney wants to go to court with that.You'll walk he'll never get another lewd conduct.

Ranger Gord said...

I am sure the cruisers will appreciate your free legal advice. Just remember, you get what you pay for.

Just because a case is lost in court, doesn't mean that a law enforcement officer has lost credibility. Cases are lost all of the time. Let's see if Stolpe tries to sue Kilpatrick for false arrest. My guess is that even Stolpe is smart enough to realize that such a case will never clear the civil bar of "more likely than not".


I don't understand why Park Ranger Douglas Kilpatrick remains with Griffith Park, but I have issued a complaint with his superior and notified Steve Lopez at the LA Times, who is on it.

This out of control wanna-be-cop should be removed immediately in the best interest of public safety and to stave off lawsuits against the city.

I too was victim as well of his overzealous, crazed, over aggressiveness, false accusations and violations of my civil rights protections.

Yep, although I never resisted his 'arrest' and posed no threat, was victim of his brutality, have no police record whatsoever, he was hyped up with his pepper stray and batton threats and scrared the life out me.

Ranger Douglas Kilpatrick NEVER properly identified himself as a peace officer with me either and jumped to apprehend me from nowhere.

And this crazed Park Ranger is petitioning the park for the right to now carry guns? Yogi...Boo for your lives along with the rest of Los Angeles!


Anonymous said...

I suspect Kilpatrick is a gay-basher, based on many I know who've run into him and based on the LA Times investigations. Doug Kilpatrick seems to relish his over aggressiveness, especially with this vulnerable group.

I would be curious to see how many of the Citizen complaints, those arrested and/or cited are gay individuals or those Kilpatrick suspected to be?

Could homophobia account for his overzealous, over aggressive, unexplainable behavior? There does seem to be a pattern...

silverfox said...

I am a 65 year old woman, detained by Ranger Kilpatrick, for "loitering". I was out of Griffith Park 5 min before curfew, when this crazy person shone his light in my eyes and put me up against a fence ( spitting in my face with crazy venom for several minutes) until it was indeed after curfew...then he arrested me.

This was dismissed with the aid of a LA public defender who was frankly tired of "Roboranger's" excesses....but I am still traumatized. How can the L.A. Park system continue to employ a degenerate wannabe superhero...who is so crazed as to be busting Little Old Ladies???

Oh..My...God... Does Los Angeles really want to issue guns to maniacs? If so, send him up to Kings Canyon...let him play John Wayne with actual bad people.

If I had the $$$ I would be suing the County for this...and trust me, someone will. PLEASE get rid of this insane person.