The family of a Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer killed during a training exercise is suing the police department for wrongful death after news that the officer was investigating at least one of the officers involved in his death for sexual assault. Houston Tipping, 32, died during a Los Angeles Police Academy bicycle training exercise in May. While the training was meant to be a bicycle training, it somehow turned into a “grappling exercise” that led to Tipping’s death.
A county medical examiner ruled Tipping's death an accident, noting that suspicious injuries revealed in the autopsy were sustained during attempts to save his life. But Tipping’s family believes he was targeted for taking the incident report of a 2021 sexual assault committed by colleagues, including one officer who was allegedly involved in the exercise leading to his death.
"I'm certainly alleging that at least one officer engaged in an abuse of force in order to try and scare or harm Officer Tipping in order to prevent him from investigating a claim of rape," the family’s lawyer, Bradley Gage, said at a Monday press conference.
At the press conference, Gage shared that Tipping was not only looking for another job prior to his death, but also investigating an incident involving at least four officers who committed an act of sexual assault in the Los Angeles area.
"In July 2021, four police officers were involved in the sexual assault of a woman in the Los Angeles area," Gage said. "A report was taken by officer Tipping, and I've seen that report. And … the female victim claimed that she was raped by four different people, all LAPD officers."
He continued: “She knew the names of some of those officers because they were in uniform and they had their name tags on … That name of one of those officers with the name tag seems to correlate with one of the officers that was at the bicycle training.”
In response to questions from a reporter, Gage said he thinks "murder is what occurred."
While the LAPD maintains that the incident was an accident, the family believes it was “intentional,” and has consistently spoken against the claims the department has made.
Although medical records indicated Tipping was "possibly dropped" on his head, department officials claimed that he was not beaten or hit on the head during the training incident.
"Officer Tipping did not sustain any laceration to the head" and "was also not struck or beaten during this training session," Police Chief Michel Moore told the LAPD Board of Police Commissioners in June. "He did grapple with another officer, and both fell to the ground, resulting in a catastrophic injury to his spinal cord."
Gage disputed the claims in July, and showed reporters MRI scans revealing that Tipping had staples in his head due to the injuries he sustained leading up to his death. He also referred to declarations from a nurse and a paramedic that said Tipping had suffered spinal cord injuries, a collapsed lung, broken ribs, and liver damage consistent with being fatally beaten.
“When you look at all these horrific injuries, the truth is something went seriously wrong here,” Gage said. “I cannot fathom anything other than a severe beating.”
Like other incidents where officers have been accused of killing someone, the department conveniently claims no video footage of the incident is available, despite trainings often being recorded.
"LAPD claims there was no video taken this day," Gage said. "We don't believe that's accurate.”
The updates in Tiplling’s case are related to a damages claim made against the LAPD by Shirley Huffman, Tipping’s mother. Gage first filed the claim in June, alleging that Tipping died after being repeatedly hit in the head, causing bleeding and multiple fatal neck fractures.
During his press conference Monday, Gage noted that newly found evidence pointed to the possibility that Tipping may have been killed because his investigation into the sexual assault came during a time of whistleblowing and reports about alleged “shadow-gangs” within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. “Shadow-gangs” refers to groups within local law enforcement that cover up officers’ crimes.
According to ABC News, during the time Gage and LAPD officials were disputing the circumstances that led to Tipping’s death in July, LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s former chief of staff publicly admitted he’d once belonged to the alleged “Grim Reaper” deputy gang within the county sheriff’s department.
But that’s not all. According to a report by The Los Angeles Times , the LAPD has a history of failing to discipline officers for sex crimes, in addition to concealing these crimes from the public. If Gage’s allegations can be connected to this history, Tipping’s death may open an even bigger investigation into how law enforcement officials not only abuse their power but commit heinous crimes that get swept under the rug.
You can watch the entire press conference here.