The Los Angeles police officer who didn’t turn in a knife reportedly found at a property once owned by O.J. Simpson did something worse than break the law when he decided to keep it as a souvenir. He violated the trust between the public and those sworn to uphold the laws that protect them.
Los Angeles police officials Friday wouldn’t name the officer who held on to the buck knife, or even when or how exactly it was discovered at Simpson’s former estate. The former football star was acquitted of stabbing to death his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman in 1995. The murder weapon has never been found.
What the officials would say is that the officer, now retired, was working a film shoot across the street from the property and was either off-duty or already retired when a construction worker gave him the knife. This was a good-faith effort by a citizen who uncovered possible evidence in a crime that has never been solved and handed over to someone representing the Los Angeles Police Department (the department allows retired and off-duty police officers to wear their uniforms while moonlighting on film shoots). If you are wearing the uniform, you have an obligation to act accordingly.
LAPD spokesman Capt. Andy Neiman told reporters Friday morning that the officer’s excuse was that he thought the case was closed. It’s not, though it’s true that O.J. Simpson can’t be tried again for the murders. Even it if were, that would be no excuse. The search for truth in heinous crimes is never over.
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Police are testing the knife now, and it may well turn out to have nothing to do with the crime. It might not have even been O.J. Simpson’s knife. That doesn’t mitigate the transgression. It’s clear that the officer knew the knife held some significance. You don’t plan to frame an inanimate object unless it has value.
Fortunately, his fellow officer who turned him in knew that the knife might be important and that, even years later, he had a duty to turn it in.
Mariel Garza is a member of the Los Angeles Times editorial board.