Crime & Justice

2 West Covina Police employees under investigation for comedy video

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Screenshot from "Save Miranda" comedy video
"Save Miranda" video

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Two non-sworn West Covina Police Department employees are under investigation over a spoof that went viral on the Internet because city patrol cars and uniforms appear in the video, according to City Manager Andrew Pasmant.

The West Covina city manager told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune the employees created a video that showed the two portraying gun-wielding officers playing a joke on a motorist, then driving off firing their weapons into the air. The video is titled "Save Miranda" and depicts five officers drawing guns on a motorist and asking him to tell them the location of a girl who's been kidnapped.

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Pasmant said, after learning about the YouTube video in September, they launched an internal investigation. The city also asked the production company to remove the video from the Internet. They did — but then apparently put it back on. The Tribune said the video was featured on comic Will Ferrell's website, "Funny Or Die," though it has been removed from that site.

The 2-minute, 7-second video has gotten nearly a million views on YouTube since it was first posted on June 20.

The West Covina City Council plans to discuss it at next Tuesday’s meeting.

West Covina's City Hall is closed on Fridays and holidays. Police Chief Frank Wills and Mayor Pro Tem Mike Touhey did not immediately reply to emailed messages.

"There is no West Covina Police Officer's Association member involved in that video," union president Travis Tibbetts said Friday. He declined any further comment.

Touhey told KCAL-TV he believed officers from other agencies were involved. "I believe other cities, school districts and potential state agencies will be involved in this in the end," he said., based in Venice, produced the video. It was written and produced by Patrick Scott, produced by Nikos Bellas and starred six men, including actor and improviser Rick Steadman of Los Angeles.

"This is America, and truth will always prevail. Unless of course, lies make a better sound bite," was the company response to an email.

"It was just a comedy short," said Steadman who played the driver in the video.

He said it was his understanding some of the other actors in the video were police officers but he wasn't involved in casting.

He said the video was filmed in 2010 and finished in about four hours. "We had a really good crew and the director knew exactly what he wanted."

As for the weapons, which were pointed at Steadman through most of the video, "they were not real guns. They were prop guns. Patrick showed me each of the guns to show me they were dummies," he said.

"The gunshots were added post-production," he added.

As for the controversy, he said he understands if city officials are talking about use of resources, but he doesn't believe the council is qualified to judge comedy.

"The film is just funny. It's not a statement about the actual behavior of police officers," Steadman said.

He said the people he worked with "were all great guys and I hope that nothing bad happens to them."

"Taxpayer funded property was used in that video without our approval or authorization," Touhey told the Tribune. "We wouldn't approve such an asinine use or joke."

Councilman-elect Fred Sykes learned about the video when contacted by a Tribune reporter Thursday, he said. He won't be sworn in until Dec. 6, but said he was outraged.

"These are tough times nationwide. To expend wear and tear with the use of equipment is wrong. This is a waste, an inappropriate use of our resources. We need to stretch every penny. We can't afford this," said Sykes, who was a deputy sheriff for 33 years.

He was also concerned about the use of guns in the video. He said he couldn't tell if real guns and live ammo were used, but "it appeared to be and that's a bad message."

The video shows five uniformed men getting out of two squad cars, ordering a driver out of his car and yelling repeatedly, "Where's the little girl, where is she?"

When the motorist appears to sob, one of the uniformed men says, "There's the little girl." They laugh, high-five and drive off, weaving across the road and appearing to shoot out the windows of the cruisers.

Bachman said they are checking to see if the video was filmed in the city without a permit.

Touhey asked if the actors could be prosecuted for impersonating police officers.

"I'm just offended all the way around at the scumbugs who would do something like this," Touhey said. "I don't care whether it's a worker or not, I'm going after everyone involved in this."

This story incorporates information from the Associated Press.