LOS ANGELES -- Early on a Thursday morning in February, two men in suits rapped on the door of the South Los Angeles apartment that Gadseel Quinonez shares with his little brother.
The men were from the Los Angeles Police Department's Professional Standards Bureau -- the cops who police the cops. They wanted to know whether Quinonez, 29, or his brother belonged to any gangs. No, he told them. They asked whether they could take pictures of his tattoos. Sure, he said. He had nothing to hide.
Months later, three LAPD officers were charged with falsifying dozens of gang records, and the reason for the early morning visit became clear: Quinonez and his brother, Jose, had been falsely identified as members of MS-13, a street gang notorious for macabre killings, according to a complaint filed by county prosecutors.
Gadseel and Jose Quinonez are among dozens of people who county prosecutors say were falsely labeled as gang members or associates by Officers Braxton Shaw, Michael Coblentz and Nicolas Martinez. All three are with the LAPD's elite Metropolitan Division.
Although the Quinonez brothers, like other alleged victims in the case, are identified in the complaint only by their first names and last initial, they confirmed being interviewed by internal investigators from the LAPD and described two heavy-handed stops near where they live and work in South Los Angeles.
An LAPD spokesman would not confirm or deny the identities of any alleged victims, citing the department's continuing investigation. Nineteen more officers remain under investigation. A spokesman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office declined to comment.
In an interview, Shaw's attorney, Greg Yacoubian, pushed back on what he said was an unfair characterization of the policemen as "rogue officers." Shaw was doing nothing more than what was expected of him, Yacoubian said, which was to gather gang intelligence from dangerous parts of the city.
"He's innocent," Yacoubian said of Shaw. "Although these are complicated issues, I can say with a high level of confidence that when the dust settles, it will be clear he isn't culpable of any criminal liability."
In 2018, Gadseel Quinonez was leaving a recycling center on West 92nd and Main streets, where he has worked since 2010, when a squad car pulled him over, he recalled. His brother, 16 at the time, was in the car. Jose had come to Los Angeles five months earlier from Guatemala, where their mother, father and four other siblings still live.
One of the officers -- a white man, tall, burly and with a shaved head -- opened the passenger-side door, grabbed Jose's arm and wrenched him out of the car, Jose recalled. He and his brother were handcuffed and stood up against a fence while the officers searched Gadseel's black BMW, the brothers said in separate interviews. The officers asked questions in English and Jose struggled to understand what was being said, he recalled.