Prosecutors with the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office say former Long Beach Police Detective Yvonne Robinson, 50, is “the copy lady” who leaked confidential information.
On Monday, Robinson, a 13-year veteran with the police department, listened to recorded wiretap calls in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom as her criminal trial got underway. Robinson was arrested and charged in 2013 with conspiracy to obstruct justice. Police also arrested Prentice Jones, her relative by marriage, on the same charge. Robinson and jurors listened to Jones’ voice explain in another recorded call that his “inside connect” to the police department was keeping him updated on two ongoing investigations into the gang.
“No one was looking at her at all,” said Deputy District Attorney Arisa Mattson in her opening statements to the jury. “She was under the radar.”
Sometime in May 2012, Jones called Baby Insane Crip member Donovan Halcomb to say police knew the names of five gang members who were suspects in the 2009 murder of Frank Castro Jr., according to prosecutors. Police released composite sketches of the five suspects and asked for help identifying them, but detectives already knew the names of the men involved and wanted to jumpstart conversations about the murder on the wiretaps. The sketch images were taken from each of the defendant’s driver’s license photos, testified Detective Malcolm Evans with the Long Beach Police Department.
Shortly after the press release was published, Robinson called Jones and the two spoke for 10 minutes according to prosecutors.
In a recorded wiretap call, Jones told Halcomb that police wanted to see if any of the accomplices in the shooting would cooperate with police against the two shooters in the murder. That information was provided by Robinson and helped the street gang stay ahead of the department’s investigation, said Mattson.
“This is where the conspiracy begins,” Mattson told the jury.
Detectives said they stumbled on the leak.
“I couldn’t let that go. Alarm bells were ringing at the department,” Evans said from the witness stand.
To verify their suspicions, police released an internal report that named Jones and several other gang members who were involved in an assault on another gang member who was disciplined for cooperating with police. Detectives selectively included information about the assault in the report. Robinson, who worked in the juvenile investigation bureau, was asked to read the report, because she interviewed the man who was attacked in another case.
“We wanted to see if this false information would be put out to the gang,” said Evans.
Several days later, Robinson called Jones to say she needed to talk with him in person. Police do not know what the two talked about when they met at a home in North Long Beach, but just a few days later Jones called Halcomb to discuss details from the assault report.
Halcomb dismissed the information as rumors.
“This is for real though,” Jones said on the recorded wiretap call. “That’s my inside connect.”
Former gang member Ronald Kirkwood testified on Monday that Jones mentioned he had a “plug at the department” that fed him information. Jones didn’t know that Kirkwood began to cooperate with police as a witness in 2012 after detectives presented him with cellphone data that showed he was at the scene of the 2009 murder of Castro.
The prosecution says that Robinson also tried to have Jones removed from the department’s gang injunction database. Robinson’s attorney Case Barnett characterized Jones as a rapper who was trying to turn his life around and performed in the Long Beach community.
“This is a case about experience, perception and trust,” Barnett told the jury in his opening statement, about Robinson’s work in the community. “She lives in Long Beach. She has one perspective. The Long Beach Police Department has a different perspective. A different experience. They didn’t trust each other.”
That mistrust extended to police telling Robinson that she couldn’t visit certain businesses in her community, said Barnett.
And much of the information she’s accused of leaking was already known in the gang community, said Barnett.
Suspects in the murder investigation and the assault made little effort to hide the details of their activities. One suspect, who was beaten as part of the gang discipline, vented his experience on social media.
After Kirkwood turned witness for the police he posted it online.
“I said stupidly on social media what I did,” Kirkwood testified in court. “I was young; I lashed out. I didn’t hide it.”
“This is not a secret,” said Barnett. “This is on a Facebook.”