Strong Arm of the Law

Hollywood's Police Officer of the Year has been accused of sexual battery, manslaughter, and brutality

The argument was the product of a language barrier. On the afternoon of April 20, 1998, Gary Turpin, a lanky, 40-year-old Georgia native standing six-foot-five and weighing 150 pounds, waited outside his girlfriend's apartment at 2200 S. Ocean Dr. in Hollywood. He was seated in his 1978 Ford Econoline van when he heard a horn blaring, then the rapid-fire cadence of an angry man speaking Spanish.

It was 42-year-old Renzo Villanueva. He'd come home for lunch and found his parking spot occupied. Again. This time, he was pissed. Turpin, known for a quick temper throughout his troubled youth, thought he was the target of Villanueva's angry words. He confronted the man.

Allegations of police misconduct have dogged the Hollywood Police Department for more than a decade.
Allegations of police misconduct have dogged the Hollywood Police Department for more than a decade.
Pete Salvo, at far left, and other Hollywood police officers demonstrated against former Chief Rick Stone in September 1998.
Pete Salvo, at far left, and other Hollywood police officers demonstrated against former Chief Rick Stone in September 1998.

"I don't think you want to do this to me," Turpin said.

"Hey, nothing is with you," Villanueva remembered saying, trying to communicate with his limited English. "Somebody is parking in my space."

Turpin didn't seem to understand. He was still angry. He jumped back in his van, started the engine, then backed it into Villanueva's car, making a small dent. The man ran to the manager's apartment. Turpin followed.

Minutes later, Hollywood police pulled into the parking lot. First on the scene was Officer Marc Amendola. Turpin sat behind the wheel of his van, an angry look on his face. "He started making statements about how he was going to fuck me up and kick my fucking ass," Amendola remembered.

Backup arrived. Amendola saw Turpin rummaging through the center console of his van. He suspected the Georgian was drunk or on drugs. "For my protection, I had taken my gun out and pointed it at him and ordered him several more times to get out of the van," Amendola recalled.

Turpin finally exited, continuing to threaten the officers. Two other cops positioned themselves behind the gangly subject. "[Turpin] stepped directly toward me, while my gun was still out, and told me that I could go ahead and shoot him, that he didn't care, that I could go ahead and kill him," Amendola recalled.

The other two officers jumped on Turpin, pinning him to the ground. He cried in pain. "I've got a broken arm, you sons of bitches," an onlooker remembered Turpin saying. "I'll kick your asses one by one."

Amendola escorted Turpin to the police station, where Officer Pete Salvo waited to process a detainee, James Ledford, who was involved in a separate incident. Amendola sat Turpin down on a bench next to Ledford. Both arrestees were handcuffed.

"The guy was screaming and yelling, making threats at people in the area," Salvo said in a statement, referring to Turpin. Then Turpin turned his aggression toward Ledford.

"There was no provocation," Salvo remembered. "He didn't provoke [Turpin] whatsoever at all. He was just sitting there, minding his own business, answering questions that I was asking him."

Amendola and Salvo escorted Turpin to a holding cell. According to their statements following the incident, both officers claimed to have been struck by a sense of altruism. "I was going to take his handcuffs off of him so he would be more comfortable," Amendola said.

But as Amendola released Turpin, the tall man allegedly threw a punch at Salvo, landing a glancing blow. Both officers said they responded with necessary force. "I punched him, and we were fighting with him on the ground in the cell," Amendola explained.

"I fell to the ground with him and injured my elbow," Salvo later claimed.

Turpin suffered a broken forearm and abrasions to his face. He was later exonerated at trial. A jury found him not guilty of all charges, including two for battery on a law enforcement officer.

On August 18, 1998, Turpin filed a complaint with IA, alleging that Hollywood police officers used unnecessary force to detain him and that he was beaten while in police custody. After filing the complaint, Turpin later alleged in court, an unarmed police officer threatened him in the police station parking lot and told him he had a "big mouth and better learn to keep it shut."

He didn't. Instead, he asked the court to award damages. The City of Hollywood settled out of court for $42,500. "They brought my client to a cell and took off his handcuffs simply as an excuse to give him a beating," says Turpin's attorney, Sanford Topkin.

None of the officers involved received a reprimand for the incident. "The fact that they did not place any of these officers on suspension or do anything to them for the action that they took," Turpin said, "would seem to me that they were condoning [police violence]."

Lawsuits and complaints about excessive use of force have never affected Salvo's career. Office politics, however, is another matter.

Salvo's activity in the Police Benevolent Association and the Hollywood Police Pension Fund often put him at odds with Lt. Jeffrey Marano, a gray-haired, muscular, wide-bellied 48-year-old who controls so-called details, off-duty security work that can amount to significant extra income for officers. Salvo long resented his superior for that control.

"[Marano] wanted every detail," Salvo said in a statement last year. "He wanted every single detail there was." Marano used the details to consolidate power in the Police Department, Salvo alleged. "[Marano] would always take action or do something, you know, to try to get you to be on his side or to eliminate you from being a threat against his opinion," Salvo said.

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