Man’s Death Sparks L.A. Police Probe

AP, Nov. 2, 2002
http://www.nytimes.com/

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles police department has launched an internal probe into possible mishandling of tips about faith healers after a man being treated for a rash went into convulsions and died.

Roberto Caceres, 54, died Monday after two faith healers allegedly injected him with an unknown substance. Reina Isabel Chavarria and her assistant, Margarita Montes, have been arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter and practicing medicine without a license.

The city’s new police chief, William Bratton, said Friday he recently learned that the department’s narcotics division had received tips about suspicious injections as far back as May 2001, but failed to investigate.

The tips continued over the past 18 months, he said.

“I’m concerned, very concerned, about how the tip was handled, and I have many questions,” said Bratton, who was publicly sworn in Monday. “We are going to try to convince the public of our sincere interest in determining what went wrong so that those mistakes are not made again.”

Chavarria, 48, and Montes, 28, were freed on $25,000 bail each. The coroner’s office is analyzing the substance they allegedly used.

The two women could each be sentenced to as many as nine years in prison if convicted. Police have asked other possible victims to come forward.

Two days after Caceres’ death, police received an anonymous call from a woman who said she had called investigators about the faith healers in the past, Bratton said.

Bratton, widely credited for reducing New York City crime during his time there as police commissioner, was picked last month to turn around L.A.’s police department, long plagued by scandal and low morale.

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