On March 5, 2014, the day after Long Beach homicide detectives conducted a shoddy search of the victim’s residence, the victim’s family visited the house. The victim’s husband showed the family the recreation room where he claimed the “accident” had happened. He enacted how it might have occurred. Looking at the room, and considering the husband’s description of events, it was immediately clear to the family that the husband’s story strained credulity.
For example, the husband claimed that the victim had hit her head on a wooden cabinet and was knocked unconscious. And yet, somehow her head had landed on the floor several feet away from the cabinet — at a spot that he had marked with a white, ceramic candle holder. The husband claimed that he had heard a loud crash, “like wood being hit.” Therefore, he knew that the victim’s head must have hit the cabinet. On the night of March 5, after everyone else had left the room, the victim’s father struck the wooden cabinet with his hand as hard as he could, and no one noticed the sound.
More than one dozen dumbbells were clearly visible in the recreation room. The family could not help but notice that the hexagonal edges of the dumbbells matched what they had been told by hospital staff about the victim’s scalp laceration. The laceration was deep, and shaped like an upside-down or backward letter “L.” The family immediately suspected that the wound had been made by one of the dumbbells. The victim’s sister saw what appeared to be dried fluid on the edge of one dumbbell. She recorded a short video of it.
On March 10, 2014, after the victim’s vital organs had been harvested for transplant, the victim’s sister contacted the LBPD to inquire about the status of the investigation. At the front window at police headquarters, she was told that the LBPD had no record of any calls to the victim’s address. The sister left a message for someone from homicide to call her.
Later that day, Homicide Detective Todd Johnson called and explained that the home-surveillance video corroborated the husband’s story, and there would be no further investigation. The victim’s sister argued with the detective, claiming that he had ignored evidence, such as the dumbbells. The detective dismissed the sister’s concerns.
On March 11, 2014, the victim’s sister filed a complaint about Detective Johnson with the Long Beach Citizen Police Complaint Commission (CPCC.) In her complaint, she specifically cited the dumbbells as likely bludgeons that had been ignored by the detective.
On March 13, 2014, the medical examiner performed an autopsy on the victim. Homicide Detectives Johnson and Roger Zottneck were present for the autopsy. That afternoon, Detective Johnson wrote a second search warrant seeking to return to the victim’s residence. Johnson wrote: “Detectives request to go back to [the victim’s] residence and conduct another search to see if they can find any item in the workout room that caused the kind of injury that [the victim] sustained to the back of her head.”
Scientific Services tested for blood in the room, but reported that no evidence items were collected. The detectives, unable to find any “item” in the workout room — despite the presence of at least 16 dumbbells that can be seen in police photos — apparently abandoned their search for evidence.
The husband’s garage was full of “items,” too, including golf clubs and construction tools. Why did the detectives assume that, ten days after the incident, any “item” used as a bludgeon would be in the yoga room, and only in the yoga room?
If the detectives had searched the house looking for additional “items” to test for blood, they might have found the dumbbell that can be seen on the floor across from the kitchen hutch in LBPD photo img_00028.
It seemed to the victim’s family that the detectives were more interested in ignoring evidence than acknowledging it.
Next: Unreliable witness
This site contains media derived from public records, such as photos and reports created by the Long Beach Police Department. It also contains media derived from home-surveillance recordings seized by the LBPD, and released to a member of the public. Once information is released to a member of the public, it becomes a public record and cannot be withheld from the public or the news media (Black Panther Party v. Kehoe ). Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Todd Johnson LBPD police corruption misconduct Long Beach California Dana Jones