As the Los Angeles Daily News reported, “Former Los Angeles City Councilmember Greig Smith has worked part time for the Los Angeles Police Department as a reserve officer since 1992. He is currently assigned to the LAPD’s Cold Case Unit in Robbery-Homicide, and works on crimes that could potentially be solved through DNA evidence.”
This past July, the Daily News, as well as other media outlets in Los Angeles, including the Los Angeles Times and KTLA news, reported that Officer Smith had just solved, with his partner, a murder case from 2001. In December 2001, the owner of a popular bar in Boyle Heights (Hollenbeck Area) was murdered as he was closing his business for the night. Two suspects wearing ski masks walked in and stabbed him 104 times, carving a “W” into his back.
The victim was Alfredo Trevino, a Korean War veteran and a classic American success story: an immigrant who came to this country, worked jobs until he had the money to open a restaurant and then a bar, and built a life for his family.
After five years unsolved, the case went cold, as the Department defines it. In 2012, the file landed on Officer Smith’s desk, who by then was a case-carrying detective in the Cold Case Unit. Smith submitted a bloody latex glove for DNA testing. The testing was by then far more advanced than back in 2001. (It is twice as sensitive today, as Smith explained to The Rotator.) He also started to investigate the circumstances of the cold case: Why would someone want to murder Trevino, brutally stabbing him?
The DNA test came back with a match — one suspect who was serving prison time for robbery and had only five years left in his sentence. The “W” was determined to be for the White Fence gang, a Mexican-American gang dating back to the early 1900s in Boyle Heights. A bouncer at the bar had shot and killed a member of that gang, and the motive has since been attributed to retaliation. There was no complete match for the second suspect, nor any information to date on what is thought to be a third suspect, who acted as a lookout during the violent crime. On July 31, 2017, the DNA-identified suspect was sentenced to 22 additional years in prison, having reached a plea agreement with the County DA’s Office. “The suspect was very angry at me,” Smith mused. “He was apologetic to the victim’s family, but he just stared at me. Well, he was headed back to prison, and I was headed to a steak dinner!” Smith continues the investigation, with the goal of identifying the other two suspects.
The Los Angeles Times reported, “For years, Smith worked as a screener for cold case homicides, deciding which cases were worthy of further review. Then his boss offered him an unprecedented opportunity: If he went to detective school, he could join the elite Robbery-Homicide Division and become a cold case investigator.”
“Working these cases for 10 years can get into your soul,” Officer Smith says. He brings up a little-known fact about the Reserve Corps: Some full-time detectives, after retiring, have transitioned and become reserve officers in order to finish solving a case to get closure.
The Rotator first met Greig Smith when he was on the Los Angeles City Council. He was a leader in establishing a permanent reserve officer display at the Los Angeles Police Museum. This author remembers visiting the councilmember in his office. An old-time civil defense helmet and other LAPD memorabilia decorated the office, such as items from the World War II era when the LAPD needed civilians “to step up to the plate,” as Chief of Police Charlie Beck has said. In July 2011, Councilmember Smith termed out, and Mitchell Englander, his chief of staff and also a reserve officer, was elected.
Smith became a reserve officer in 1992 and worked Patrol in the Valley until then Chief of Police Willian Bratton decided a current councilmember working the streets on Patrol was not a good idea.
The LAPD press release on the cold case stated that “this case marks the first time that a reserve police officer has been the investigating officer for a murder case successfully adjudicated in court using DNA evidence.” A couple of the news reports misinterpreted the statement, writing that Smith was the first reserve officer to work as a detective or be a case-carrying detective. Officer Smith told The Rotator that there has been an effort to identify other case-carrying reserve officers. Editor’s note: If you know of a current or former reserve officer who has worked as a case-carrying detective in RHD or elsewhere, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
As this article was written, Officer Smith had three cases he was working on. Previously, there was another big case he helped solve: the murder of Councilmember Englander’s uncle, a cold case from 1994.
On November 12, 1994, Michael Englander was walking out of a store in Mission Hills at around 0200 hours. As Smith describes, three men approached, one of them shot Englander, and they then fled. Englander died of a single gunshot wound to the upper body. “No forensics, no DNA, no bullet found: It was through and through. No camera, but a witness at a gas station saw three male Hispanics fleeing.” The details on the case remain sealed, but the suspect who fired the shot(s) is currently serving five life terms in prison.
Councilmember Englander never asked for his friend’s help. In fact, the Englander family had no idea Smith was working the case until Smith revealed that the case had been solved.
Councilmember Englander told The Rotator: “Having known and worked with Greig for over 25 years, I’ve always been amazed at his passion and compassion to put others first. In fact, while he was working Cold Case, he took on a personal project, and never told me about it until it was closed. Greig solved my uncle’s cold case murder and then told me about it after the fact. That’s just who Greig is — beyond twice the citizen!”
To be a case-carrying detective in LAPD — that is, to take a case to court — officers need to attend a 40-hour detective school.