Boyle Heights Jogger Detained, Cited During Hunt for Suspect that Drove into Metro Tunnel

Officers held the East L.A. native for 45 minutes, threatened him with jail time, then cited him for an outstanding issue he thought he'd resolved years ago

A jogger finishes his last lap around Evergreen Cemetery while police and reporters alike speculate on his potential criminality. [Screengrab of ABC7 footage]
A jogger finishes his last lap around Evergreen Cemetery while police and reporters alike speculate on his potential criminality. [Screengrab of ABC7 footage]

On the scene of the pursuit that ended in a Metro tunnel in Boyle Heights last Tuesday, NBC4 reporter Robert Kovacik turns to look at the young jogger detained in the back of a squad car. He is reporting from across the street, he explains dramatically, because “Sheriff’s deputies made sure to keep NBC4 at a great distance back from this car.”

And while he says he still has no confirmation of what is going on, Kovacik reports that the “suspect” in question “seems to be giving a lot of lip service to the deputy in the driver’s seat and they’re doing quite a bit of talking.”

Robert Kovacik describes Isaiah as giving "lip service" to law enforcement. [Source: ]
Robert Kovacik describes the jogger as giving “lip service” to law enforcement. [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snZGrWZp03E]
The jogger, a life-long area resident, says he wasn’t offering anyone any “lip service.”

Having been detained and cuffed by officers at least 50 times while growing up in East L.A. despite never having done anything wrong, the jogger explains, he was more than prepared to navigate a tense situation with law enforcement in a respectful and disarming way.

But he had just detailed for officers how he was out doing the same three laps he had been running for the past 15 years around Evergreen Cemetery. He had just watched officers ignore the men on the corner who had seen him running there for years and who tried to vouch for him as he heard the words “detain him” crackle over the police radio (below).

Isaiah is engaged by law enforcement. The men on the corner attempted to vouch for him, but were not listened to. Screen grab: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snZGrWZp03E
The jogger is engaged by law enforcement upon finishing his run. The men on the corner attempted to vouch for him, but were ignored. Screen grab from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snZGrWZp03E

He had also just been surrounded by officers from three separate departments (LASD, LAPD, and Huntington Park) who all had their hands on their service weapons as he was searched and who he said treated him (with the exception of a lone Sheriff’s deputy) as if he were a major threat.

Despite having answered all their questions and offered up his ID number (he didn’t have his ID on him) to make their job as easy as possible, he spent 45-plus minutes in the back of a squad car, being interrogated and threatened with being taken to jail.

So, of course he was talking to the officer while in the back of the squad car: he just wanted to get home to his toddler son.

Isaiah speaks to a Sheriff's deputy as he sits in the back of a police unit.
The jogger speaks to a Sheriff’s deputy as he sits in the back of a police unit. Screen grab from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snZGrWZp03E

Then, to add insult to injury, police handed a him a citation before sending him on his way.

He had originally thought it was something related to interfering with police work, since no explanation was given – he was simply handed the ticket and asked to sign. He since figured out the citation was for an unrelated issue – one he had thought was resolved long ago when he had paid the requisite fines and gotten his paperwork in order. He’s still not sure how the issue remained unresolved or why it would have come up while officers were supposed to be searching for the pursuit suspect.

But that seems par for the course – little about the way he was treated made much sense.

Half the city, it seemed, watched breathlessly as the driver of a stolen vehicle, Rafael Lopez, and his female passenger led police on a wild pursuit on the evening of February 20.

Lopez drives westbound into the tunnel at Lorena and 1st Street in Boyle Heights. Screen grab from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snZGrWZp03E
Lopez drives westbound into the tunnel at Lorena and 1st Street in Boyle Heights. Screen grab from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snZGrWZp03E

What started out as a run-of-the-mill car chase got progressively hairier as Lopez sped from Huntington Park to East L.A. and then to Boyle Heights, jumping up on sidewalks, blindsiding a taxi at Lorena and Cesar Chavez, careening along on the train tracks, and ultimately darting straight into the Metro Gold Line tunnel at 1st and Lorena.

Jokes about the driver having played too much Grand Theft Auto racked up under the Facebook-streamed video feeds of the pursuit. That is, until reporters flying above the scene relayed news that officers feared one or both of the suspects had escaped through a hatch found open on the sidewalk.

Area residents who were tuned in watched with growing concern as the choppers zoomed in on a man jogging north on Lorena towards Cesar Chavez (below) and ABC7’s J.T. Alpaugh mused on whether he was really a jogger or someone who was “playing off like he’s jogging” by ditching his jeans and black hoodie with white detailing for shorts, running shoes, a leg compression sleeve, a plain black shirt, and headphones.

They scoffed at speculation that the jogger was the suspect – he was obviously just someone exercising on the Evergreen jogging path, as so many in the neighborhood did, they explained.

Their input clearly went unheeded.

As the jogger pulled his arm away when the officer tried to put hands on him, Alpaugh exclaimed excitedly, “Oh, oh, he seems like he’s getting a little what they call ‘froggy’ – not going with the program!”

The jogger was not getting “froggy.”

He was trying to be heard.

There was no cause to cuff him for jogging.

He’d been running around Evergreen Cemetery while the chase was still making its way through East L.A.

Everyone knew him.

He lived down the block.

This was his home.

His son was waiting for him.

Watching his friend shake his head and try to reason with the cop in real time, Erik Sarni, well-known in the community for his chronicling of area sports events, chimed in on Facebook to vouch for the jogger, typing, “That’s my homie!”

Isaiah's detention continues, even though the suspect was pulled from the tunnel within 15 minutes of Isaiah's detention.
The interrogation continues, even though Rafael Lopez, the suspected driver, was pulled from the tunnel within 15 minutes of the jogger’s detention. Screen grab from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snZGrWZp03E

That he would not be listened to was not surprising to the jogger.

Actually, he said, he was surprised it had taken officers so long to cuff him. Usually when they stopped him, it was the first thing they did – even before they asked any questions.

And, he said, he understood that they had to check folks because of the unusual circumstances.

But their unwarranted aggression with him had left him shaken.

They knew he was unarmed – they had searched him. His confusion must have made clear that he was wholly unaware of what had gone on around him. And he was being as accommodating and as agreeable as he possibly could be.

There was no need for the prolonged intimidation. Or the interrogation that dragged on long after they pulled Lopez – the actual driver of the truck – from the tunnel (Lopez was found within 10 to 15 minutes of the jogger being detained).

And there was absolutely no call for law enforcement to use the stop as an opportunity to see if the detention could be justified in some other way.

It was the worst experience he had ever had with law enforcement, the jogger said.

To some degree you get used to it growing up in East L.A., he shrugged. And because there were a couple of kids on his block that ran drugs on their bikes, he said, the cops seemed to be ramping up their efforts to stop anyone and everyone on a bike in his neighborhood these days, too.

But it doesn’t make anybody safer or make the streets more accessible, he suggested. Instead, it makes law enforcement’s job harder by sowing more distrust and ill will within communities. And with gentrification squeezing the community from all sides, harassment only made the streets feel that much more unwelcoming to long-time residents.

“They look at us as criminals,” he said. “But we’re families. We’re men. We’re women. We’re sons and daughters. We’re human.”

*The jogger has preferred that his name not be used. Efforts were made to contact LASD regarding the decision to detain, interrogate, and cite the jogger. No response has been received as of this publication.

  • Great work getting this interview and telling this man’s story. I jog around my neighborhood all of the time and have never once feared being accosted or arrested. I’m pretty sure that would be true even if someone crashed a car into the Expo Line.

  • Nancy Johnson

    Anecdotes, hearsay and making everything about race. I listened to the reporter while they showed the guy getting cuffed and the reporter said it could be the suspect or a jogger, that the suspect may have shed clothes and that they should look at the shoes. The reporter gave no indication that anyone knew this was not the suspect. Moreover, the police didn’t know this guy was a jogger, that he jogged here for 15 years or that he wasn’t the suspect. In fact, the author here didn’t know this either until she interviewed him.

    If we strip out the bias and prejudice of the author, the objective story is: There was a high speed pursuit that ended in a similar location as an individual who was jogging. The police thought this individual may have been the suspect so they detained him. He didn’t have an ID so they detained him longer to determine his identity. Upon determining his identity he had an outstanding legal issue (a warrant?) so the police cited and release him.

    Once you strip out all of the information that was unknown to the police at the time they detained him and write the story objectively, it is actually a non-story. In fact, I bet that if the guy had an ID and no “outstanding legal issues” he probably would have been let go in less than 10 minutes.

  • Nancy Johnson

    How many police chases involving a white suspect who fled into an underground location causing the police to lose sight of the suspect have ended on the same block in which you were jogging in Mar Vista? Zero. Maybe that’s why you have never once feared being accosted or arrested jogging in Mar Vista.

  • Stvr

    I get it. It happened on a street so that makes it pertinent to this blog right? I think I’m understanding the link but forgive me it’s not obvious to a dummy like me

  • First, if we are to believe the jogger, this is not the first time he’s been detained. Second, while there have not been any incidents that meet the very specific criteria you outlined; I have certainly been running in areas where a police action of some sort occurred.

  • One ongoing theme in Streetsblog L.A. is how different people experience the streets and their communities in different ways. Too often decision makers, even good, progressive ones, that are blind to these experiences and differences make well-meaning mistakes. By telling different stories, we help close those blind spots. There are plenty of other reasons, but I think that’s the one that might make the most sense to your POV.

  • If one watches the video of the chase along with a nearly synchronized recording of the scanner radio traffic, one can interpret that there was a whole bunch of unnecessary confusion amongst law enforcement over what kind of tunnel it was, what was in the tunnel and what access points there were. It would seem that Metro may want to lead more familiarization tours for LEOs of their facilities?

    It is also clear that any communication regarding the halting of train operations we muddled.

    The best resource I can find that has both is the “Smoke N’ Scan” account on YouTube. Ignoring the recreational-/medical- inhaling activities presented in the video, the moments to study begins 19 minutes and 45 seconds in.

    https://youtu.be/JrcX5IIqzQY?t=19m45s

    When cops are confused, they like the rest of us, tend to panic.

  • Even if there was a second outstanding suspect, who is allegedly still outstanding?

    http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-east-la-pursuit-20180220-story.html

  • Vooch

    You need to read the first volume of The Gulag.

    might illuminate things for you

  • Vooch

    since when are Americans guilty until proven innocent ?

  • Nancy Johnson

    The burden of proof only comes into play once you are charged with a crime. In order to stop you and identify you, they only need reasonable suspicion that you are involved in a crime (the next level would be a “search” which requires probable cause). Given that the suspect fled and the police lost sight of him, and this individual was jogging alone in the same specific area, that is reasonable suspicion (the news reporter actually articulates the facts support reasonable suspicion).

    They identified the individual at which time they discovered he had an “outstanding legal issue” so they cited him (this is intentionally vague in the story) and released him.

  • Nancy Johnson

    I do believe the jogger. Since he had an “outstanding legal issue” it is very clear he has had run-ins with the law in the past, and been accused of committing infractions or crimes (this is intentionally vague in the story above).

    And I fail to see your point by analogizing the story to yourself in a different set of facts. The key facts here are that the suspect fled and the police lost sight of him which caused them to have reasonable suspicion that this other individual may have been their guy. Yes, if you ignore the most important facts that justify the officers actions, then the officers were not justified.

  • Nancy Johnson

    The Gulag Archipelago? There are a few books also called Gulag. I’m a history buff so down to read anything interesting.

  • Vooch

    Yes – Gulag Archipelago First Volume. Rather dense and worth reading a couple of times.

  • Lauren Bertrand

    “Having been detained and cuffed by officers at least 50 times while growing up in East L.A. despite never having done anything wrong, the jogger explains, he was more than prepared to navigate a tense situation with law enforcement in a respectful and disarming way.”

    Sheesh, if I had been detained at least 50 times, it would take every bit of effort for me to navigate a situation in a respectful way with law enforcement. And since this guy has never done anything wrong by his own admission, it’s even more egregious. I mean, 50 detentions but never done anything wrong–who am I to doubt him?

  • Earl D.

    The Unites States that that jogger lives in is an authoritarian police state. We all know that if you’re poor, to say nothing about being black, Hispanic or undocumented, the justice system can grind you into dust and being as obsequious as possible is a necessary survival skill. The fact that authorities can casually engage in this kind of behavior in a major California city as a matter of routine procedure is stomach-turning. It’s absolutely corrosive to the basic preconditions of a just civil society.

  • Lauren Bertrand

    Yes, of course. How could I have missed out on that part.

  • Hugh Shepard

    Why do the police even embark on a dangerous high-speed car chase if it’s just for a stolen truck in the first place? Is a stolen truck really that important to warrant putting the lives of other people in danger?

  • Hugh Shepard

    Also, why should the police stop a random jogger? Do they get rewards for stopping more people? Is that what they’re told to do? Or do they just enjoy harrassing people? Cuz the latter would seem unlikely.

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