A Long Beach police officer was allowed to stay on the job for months after detectives in his own department identified him as someone who may have been sharing pictures of children being sexually abused.
The officer also learned of the investigation early on in the process, giving him an opportunity to erase data on his phone before detectives searched it, according to court records obtained by the Long Beach Post.
The Long Beach Police Department says it’s now looking into why it took more than eight months for detectives to arrest Anthony Mark Brown after they received a tip about the illegal images and quickly zeroed in on the 26-year veteran of the LBPD as a possible suspect.
The investigation that eventually led to Brown’s arrest started in May last year. By July, detectives were suspicious enough of Brown that they searched his phone, but he was allowed to remain on the job—most recently stationed at Long Beach Airport—until his on-duty arrest Feb. 10.
In a statement, LBPD Chief Robert Luna said he was “very concerned” about the timeframes in the case and that he’d ordered a review of what happened.
“As Chief of Police, I recognize the impact that these types of cases have on community trust, and I am committed to ensuring all potential allegations of misconduct are fully investigated and employees are held accountable for their actions,” he said.
Brown, 56, is accused of using a social media network called MeWe to share pictures and videos showing the sexual abuse of children, according to court records. Detectives estimated some of the victims were as young as 7.
A search warrant filed in Long Beach Superior Court details the department’s investigation into Brown, which started with a tip from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, a nationwide nonprofit that frequently alerts law enforcement to cases of minors being abused.
The center told police about a MeWe account sharing sexually explicit images of children, and on May 15, the LBPD picked up the case because it was connected to an IP address based in the Long Beach area, the warrant shows.
Investigators quickly linked the MeWe account to Brown’s name and cell phone number, but LBPD officials said the detective assigned to the case did not realize Brown was a police officer.
On May 27, the detective called Brown “in accordance with the investigative practices that were in place at that time,” and told him about the tip, according to the department.
Police didn’t provide specifics about those practices or details about how they may have changed since.
“When the detective made the initial phone outreach to Brown, she was unaware that he was a Long Beach Police Officer and at no time during the call did Brown identify himself as an employee of LBPD,” the department said in a statement. “The detective did not learn of Brown’s status as a police officer until later that day when she conducted additional follow-up after the call.”
The detective also discovered that whoever was using Brown’s MeWe account had shared images of sexual abuse with another MeWe user in Georgia, according to the warrant.
There were also chats between the two users where the person using Brown’s account described sexually abusing a young relative, according to the warrant.
The user of Brown’s account identified as a female during the chat and talked about a “hubby,” detectives said.
Police no longer consider Brown’s wife a suspect in the case, and she’s now cooperating with the investigation, police said, but back in July, the chats and images found on MeWe prompted detectives to search both her cell phone and her husband’s.
Police asked for access to the phones and Brown agreed on July 30, according to the warrant.
When investigators analyzed Brown’s phone, they found no data on it prior to May 28—the day after the detective’s original call to Brown informing him of the tip.
“This is commonly found in two scenarios, either the phone was purchased and first set up on that date, or the owner performed a factory reset of the phone deleting all material on that date,” the detective wrote in the warrant.
Police did not find any more images of sexual abuse on the phones, according to the warrant, which does not describe detectives uncovering any further evidence after the July 30 search.
Officers arrested Brown on Feb. 10, and the department suspended him without pay the same day.
Brown is free on $20,000 bail. He did not respond to emails and voicemails from the Post this week.
Detectives are now working to wrap up their investigation after seizing electronics from Brown’s home. They’re also deciding whether to submit their case to state or federal prosecutors to pursue charges, according to LBPD Administrator Karen Owens.
As part of its review of the investigation, the department will look into whether any “areas for improvement exist, specifically in cases involving electronic evidence,” Owens said in an email. “In addition, our administrative investigation will reveal what factors, if any, impacted the timeline and subsequent arrest of the suspect on this case.”