Richmond police captain will appeal his firing in misconduct case

A Richmond police captain with more than two decades on the force was fired a day before Thanksgiving in connection with a misconduct investigation.

The termination of Capt. Mark Gagan on Nov. 22 reportedly came after Councilman Eduardo Martinez complained of a leaked police report that became the subject of an KGO-TV story questioning Martinez’s sobriety during a reported robbery.

The television report in November 2016 said that a Richmond Police Department report suggested Martinez “may have been under the influence of alcohol when he drove a city vehicle from the crime scene to a nearby hotel.”

Martinez, who was coming from a Chamber of Commerce event, said in the TV report that while he drank alcohol the night he was robbed, he “was not incoherent.”

The councilman said he lost his phone during the incident and drove a city car to the nearest place to call police. Martinez did not return calls from The Chronicle.

The department investigated the alleged leak of the police report to the television station. Gagan was accused of lying during questioning.

“I told the truth. I’ve told the truth in all the interviews, and I have not lied,” Gagan said Friday. “For me to be accused of that is devastating. I’m so sure that when this is reviewed by an objective body, it will be overturned.”

Gagan’s attorney, Paul Bird, would not comment on the investigation so as not to “jeopardize the appeals process,” but said he and Gagan “strongly deny” any allegations that led to Gagan’s firing.

“He’s a 23-year veteran. He loved his job,” Bird said. “We’re going to fight to get his job back.”

Bird said they will present their case to the city and appeal the termination decision.

Neither the city nor the Police Department would confirm the details or the origin of the investigation.

“The investigation is still open, and due to the nature of it being a personnel matter, we cannot discuss it,” Lt. Felix Tan, a department spokesman, wrote in an email.

The Chronicle obtained a copy of the city’s termination letter sent to Gagan on Nov. 22.

Gagan and his attorney met with Police Chief Allwyn Brown Nov. 7 to present Gagan’s side, according to the letter.

Brown “determined that the proposed termination of employment is appropriate,” the letter read.

The robbery reportedly tied to the misconduct investigation occurred Oct. 26, 2016. Police initially reported a “member of the Richmond City Council” met with officers shortly after 9:45 p.m. after he was robbed by someone with a pistol.

Officers later tracked down the suspect, whose name was not released. He was charged in connection with the incident five days later.

Jenna Lyons,, sfgate,com, “Richmond police captain will appeal his firing in misconduct case”, https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Richmond-police-captain-will-appeal-his-firing-in-12477671.php

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Desert Hot Springs police officer, under investigation over controversial video, no longer with department

Desert Hot Springs police officer under internal investigation after he was filmed in the midst of a controversial confrontation with a suspect — the video has since gone viral — is no longer employed with the department, officials said.

“All I can say is that officer no longer works for our department,” Desert Hot Springs police Deputy Chief Jim Hanson told The Desert Sun on Friday.

In the July 7 video, the officer can be heard repeatedly telling the suspect of a battery investigation: “Stop mad-dogging me! Stop mad-dogging me!” Desert Hot Springs police Chief Dale Mondary identified the suspect as Joshua Felix.

The officer—whose name has not been released due to the ongoing investigation — can be seen standing very close to the suspect claiming to be a victim of police harassment.

“You haven’t seen harassment yet,” the officer told the suspect.

The situation escalated further when the suspect called the officer a “retard,” which resulted in him being placed in handcuffs. He was released before a formal arrest was made after both sides of the battery case decided not to press charges.

A video of the altercation went viral after it was shared by the hyperpartisan website “Wake Up America,” and it quickly reached close to 900,000 views. Subsequently, the video triggered an internal investigation into the officer’s conduct.

“Contrary to what people are saying on social media, he has not committed a crime,” Mondary said about the officer. At which point, the department continued to investigate whether the officer violated its code of conduct, according to Mondary.

Even though these investigations are not entirely uncommon, the department still takes them very seriously, Mondary said.

“We don’t do them every day, but if we do them, it’s a big deal,” he said.

Alena Maschke, Palm Springs Desert Sun, July 9, 2018, “Desert Hot Springs police officer, under investigation over controversial video, no longer with department”, https://www.desertsun.com/story/news/local/desert-hot-springs/2018/07/09/dhs-police-officer-under-investigation-following-viral-video/770108002/

Diante Yarber: Police kill black father with barrage of bullets in Walmart parking lot

The killing of the 26-year-old, who is believed to have been unarmed, is being called a brutal case of excessive police force

Diante Yarber was driving his cousin and friends to a local Walmart when he was shot and killed by police on 5 April.
Diante Yarber was driving his cousin and friends to a local Walmart when he was shot and killed by police on 5 April. Photograph: Courtesy Brittany Chandler
A photo of Diante Yarber provided by the mother of his 19-month-old daughter. Photograph: Courtesy Brittany Chandler

Lee Merritt, an attorney for the family, said Yarber, who was known by the nickname “Butchie”, was not armed and that the car posed no danger to officers when they began spraying him with bullets.

“They saw a car full of black people sitting in front of a Walmart, and they decided that was suspicious,” said Merritt. “They just began pouring bullets … It’s irresponsible. It’s dangerous. It’s mind-boggling, the use of force.”

A police spokeswoman said “involved officers” were on “paid administrative leave”, but declined to disclose the number of bullets shot and officers who fired. Police labeled the incident an “assault” on an officer, but Dale Galipo, an attorney representing the 23-year-old woman hit in the car, said the investigation so far has revealed Yarber was unarmed and that officers were not in the path of the vehicle, which means they should never have discharged their weapons, let alone fire a barrage of bullets.

Galipo said his client was struck by at least two shots and suffered “serious injuries”, adding, “She’s still in a state of shock.”

Yarber was also driving his cousin’s car at the time, which was never reported stolen, said Aleta Yarber, Diante’s aunt, who said she has since retrieved the car and that it did not appear it had rammed into police vehicles. Police did not respond to inquiries about the claims that Yarber was a car theft suspect.

Aleta’s son was in the car at the time of the shooting, but the bullets missed him. In the weeks since, “He has not been able to say much of anything,” she said. “It was very traumatizing.”

Merritt said he believed Yarber was trying to shield others in the car from bullets when he was hit, adding that the 23-year-old woman in the back was initially placed in a police car and treated like a suspect before officers got her medical attention.

Ruby Hawkins, Yarber’s sister, said local police often harassed her brother and that the officers should face criminal charges for killing him. “They are the biggest criminals. They are bullies with badges … I don’t know how you can fear for your life with a person that is moving away from you.”

Diante with Brittany Chandler and their daughter Leilani.
Diante with Brittany Chandler and their daughter Leilani. Photograph: Courtesy Brittany Chandler

Hawkins, 40, said her brother had a job working at a warehouse and that she saw him the night before he was killed. “You see this all the time, but you never in a million years think you’ll be the one crying about a loved one killed at the hands of police.”

Training and policy dictates that police should not fire at moving vehicles, said Galipo, noting that these kinds of killings are avoidable and particularly dangerous. Last year, undercover police in Hayward, California, attempted to shoot a driver they were trying to arrest and instead killed a 16-year-old girl sitting in the passenger seat.

“It still doesn’t even feel real. I wish I could just wake up and it would be a dream,” said Chandler, adding it was difficult to imagine her daughter growing up without Yarber. Police probably targeted him because he was black, added Chandler, who is white: “They would’ve never drawn their guns on me.”

Samantha Robledo, who has a seven-year-old daughter with Yarber, said she felt like police were trying to manufacture reasons to attack his character and justify the killing.

“He would always make you smile, no matter what,” she added. “You couldn’t be angry around him. He was so loving and friendly, and that’s what we’re going to miss the most.”

Robledo said she has tried her best to help their daughter cope since his death. When they talk about her father now, the girl, Naliyah, says, “He’s my angel now.”

Anatomy of a Los Angeles Police Shooting: A Black Teenager, a Missing Gun, Protests, Grief

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Left, Anthony Weber’s memorial at the apartment complex where he was killed by the police. Right, a flower memorial for Anthony’s funeral.CreditKayla Reefer for The New York Times

By Tim Arango

LOS ANGELES — John Weber was rummaging through old boxes the other day, looking for memories, when he found a bunch of old baseball and flag football trophies. He has kept other things, too, like a neatly pressed R.O.T.C. uniform, a reminder that he once hoped to steer his son, Anthony, to the Army and away from the streets.

“It’s all I’ve got left,” he said.

On Super Bowl Sunday, after rooting for the Patriots against the Eagles, Anthony Weber left a friend’s apartment to go for dinner with his girlfriend at The Kickin’ Crab, her favorite restaurant.

Around the same time, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department received a 911 call. A black man with a gun was threatening a motorist.

Soon, Anthony — a mixed race 16-year-old, was dead in a darkened courtyard of a run-down apartment complex, with no gun anywhere around.

Nearly two months later, with questions still unanswered, the spot is a makeshift memorial of candles, balloons, flowers, photographs, and placards from rallies. “Jail killer cops!” reads one. “No gun = no alibi = murder,” reads another.

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Left, flowers in the family home. Right, Demetra Johnson, Anthony Weber’s mother.CreditKayla Reefer for The New York Times

Long before police shootings and protests in Ferguson, Mo., or Sacramento focused America’s attention on how the police treat black men, Los Angeles was a byword for police brutality and racism. Years of effort after the 1991 beating of Rodney King, the riots that followed and, later, the Rampart police corruption scandal, have succeeded in changing the culture of policing in the city to a great extent. There is less overt racism, many people in Los Angeles say, and police forces have been reshaped to better reflect the city’s diversity.

Yet to Anthony Weber’s family, to the Black Lives Matter activists drawn to the case, and to many residents of South Los Angeles, an area still rife with crime and poverty, his death and its aftermath are signs of how much more needs to change on their streets, and how the police can be too quick to use deadly force against black men.

“We are light-years from where we were, and light-years from where we need to be,” said Connie Rice, a civil rights lawyer who began suing the Los Angeles Police Department in the 1990s, and lately has worked with the department on new approaches to policing.

The neighborhood is not the South Los Angeles of the 1980s and 1990s, when gang wars and the crack epidemic were devastating many lives. Crime has fallen drastically, as it has in many big cities across America. There were more than 1,000 murders in a single year in the city of Los Angeles in the 1990s, but the rate today is fewer than 300 a year.

Even so, gangs are still ubiquitous, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has said that Anthony was involved with them, an allegation that has outraged activists.

“First they kill our bodies, then they kill our characters,” said Melina Abdullah, a professor at California State University, Los Angeles, and a Black Lives Matter organizer.

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Left, a few of Anthony’s baseball and basketball trophies. Right, a baseball in the trunk of a car Anthony had been working on with his father.CreditKayla Reefer for The New York Times

Anthony’s father said, “In South Central, everyone is associated with gangs — it’s just a part of being able to walk to school.” He said Anthony “associated” with neighborhood gang members but was “not a criminal gang member.”

By Mr. Weber’s own account, Anthony struggled. But his past, Mr. Weber said, was irrelevant to his killing.

Anthony’s mother, Demetra Johnson, said that her son “smoked and had a baby at 16,” but she maintained that “he was not a thug or killer, like they are trying to portray.”

She said she had always counseled her son, whom everyone called A.J., that on the streets, he would be regarded with suspicion by the police, especially if he was hanging out with a group of friends.

The sheriff’s department said that the deputies involved in the case believed Anthony had a gun, and that he had refused to obey an order to halt and had run away. When the deputies chased him, according to the department’s statement, Anthony “turned toward the deputies, and that was when a deputy-involved shooting occurred.”

No gun was found at the scene. The department said it must have been lost in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, possibly taken by a bystander.

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Left, John Weber, Anthony Weber’s father, in front of his market in South Los Angeles. Right, an SS El Camino that Anthony and his father had worked on together.CreditKayla Reefer for The New York Times

“As you can imagine, until you are at one of these scenes, you don’t have an appreciation for just how chaotic they get, how dangerous potentially,” Sheriff Jim McDonnell told KPCC, a public radio station, about the deputies’ failure to find a gun. “You don’t know which additional threats are in the environment, either,” the sheriff said.

But witnesses and the family’s lawyer, Gregory A. Yates, say the deputies secured the scene immediately, and that no one else had any chance to get close and grab a dropped gun.

Activists and members of Anthony Weber’s family say they have no doubt where things will end up: exoneration for the deputies, the details fading from public memory, and eventually, perhaps after years, a quiet payout to the family from the county.

In Los Angeles, law enforcement officers are rarely held criminally accountable for shootings. The last time a police officer in the city faced criminal charges for a shooting while on duty was in 2000; the shooting was not fatal and the officer pleaded no contest.

The 2014 shooting of Ezell Ford, an unarmed black man, by the Los Angeles Police Department, galvanized the local chapter of Black Lives Matter, but the officers were not charged. Mr. Ford’s family sued the city and received a $1.5 million settlement last year.

An officer involved in another controversial police shooting was cleared this month. The district attorney’s office declined to bring charges against the officer for killing an unarmed homeless man in the Venice neighborhood, even though the police department’s own investigation determined that the shooting was not justified and recommended criminal charges. The city reached a $4 million settlement with the victim’s family. Both the officer and victim were black.

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Left, the basketball hoop in the alley where Anthony would practice. Right, Stephanie, Anthony’s girlfriend, holding their daughter, Violet.CreditKayla Reefer for The New York Times

The Venice case is emblematic of the broader frustrations of the Black Lives Matter movement over a lack of progress, despite national attention to the problem. “We’re absolutely frustrated,” Ms. Abdullah said. “I’m in a state of rage.”

Fatal shootings by police officers in the United States have held steady at roughly 1,000 a year over the last three years, according to a tally kept by The Washington Post. But there is no standardized federal database to track police shootings, despite repeated calls after the shooting in Ferguson to create such a system.

The latest incident to stir racial tensions and protests happened in Sacramento, where police officers shot and killed a young black man in his backyard who they thought was waving a gun. It turned out to be a cellphone.

Activists in Los Angeles say police shootings are still distressingly numerous. Last year, officers were involved in 78 shootings in Los Angeles County, down slightly from previous years, according to the Los Angeles district attorney. In New York, by comparison, there were 23 police shootings last year, the lowest total on record.

According to an investigation by KPCC, the public radio station, which pieced together data from a variety of sources, the number of shootings by law enforcement officers in Los Angeles County has remained roughly stable for the last 18 years. In the period from 2010 to 2014, the station found, 24 percent of the fatalities in those shootings were black, though black residents make up just 8 percent of the population.

Changes in police policy have built up “just enough fabric of trust to weather the shooting of a resident without a riot,” Ms. Rice said.

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Left, a resident of the apartment complex where Anthony was killed placed his hand over the bible at his memorial site. Right, a photograph in the living room of the family home, of Anthony with his grandmother.CreditKayla Reefer for The New York Times

Anthony Weber’s death may not fit neatly into the familiar narrative of racially tinged police violence — of a white cop shooting a black man — but his case does fit the narrative of modern Los Angeles. Areas like South Los Angeles that were once predominantly African-American — and were the epicenter of uprisings against police abuses in 1965 and 1992 — have become increasingly Latino, and increasingly diverse. Anthony had a white father, a black mother and a Latino girlfriend.

Law enforcement in Los Angeles has also become more diverse: White males are now in the minority in both the police and the sheriff’s department, and Latino and black officers are represented on the force in proportions roughly mirroring the population at large.

But greater diversity has not ended longstanding police biases against black men, according to the shooting data as well as the perceptions of activists. “They shot him because he’s black!” was chanted by protesters at the first rally after Anthony Weber was killed.

“The last cop who put a boot in Rodney King’s face was black,” said Steven A. Lerman, a lawyer who represented Mr. King. “It doesn’t seem to be white versus black, but blue versus take-your-pick.”

The sheriff’s department has not disclosed the race or identity of the deputy who shot Anthony.

Sitting in the Weber family’s living room on a recent afternoon, surrounded by photographs of Anthony, were four generations of women. Mattie Johnson, Anthony’s grandmother, moved to Los Angeles in 1964 — a year before the Watts riots — hoping to escape the cruelties of segregation and racism in Birmingham, Ala. She recalled Ku Klux Klan marches and a church bombing there that killed four young black girls.

The women all considered Anthony’s death to be of a piece with the long arc of America’s history of racism.

If things had been different, Anthony Weber might have been the one behind the pulpit at the funeral the other day in South Los Angeles. He loved the music of the church, and he sure loved the spotlight.

“He was just a natural charmer,” said his mother, Demetra. “He wanted attention. Which could make him difficult, too. Trust me, I gave him attention. But he always wanted more.”

At his funeral, a former teacher called him her “wonder boy,” who worked hard to reach age 16. His sister spoke about the unfairness that “he never got the chance to be a man.”

Mixed with the grief and the music of R. Kelly and the O’Jays at the service, there were hints of anger, too.

“We’re having trouble finding out what happened to him,” his father said. “They’re not being transparent.”

Rodney Hilson, speaking from long experience as a pastor in South Los Angeles, said simply, “I’m tired of this.”

 

Tim Arango, “Anatomy of a Los Angeles Police Shooting: A Black Teenager, a Missing Gun, Protests, Grief”, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/30/us/los-angeles-police-shooting-anthony-weber.html

Sacramento Police Pump 20 rounds into Unarmed Stephon Clark while in his own Backyard

Sequita Thompson, grandmother of Stephon Clark, surrounded by family members as they prayed on Monday afternoon. Mr. Clark was fatally shot by the Sacramento police on Sunday.CreditJosé Luis Villegas/The Sacramento Bee

By Christine Hauser

The police in Sacramento, searching for someone reported to have been breaking windows, fatally shot a young black man in his backyard over the weekend after he walked toward them carrying what they believed was a gun.

When they examined his body, however, the only object they found was a cellphone.

That was the account that the Sacramento Police Department offered on Tuesday in an update to their investigation into the shooting by officers of the unarmed man, 22-year-old Stephon Clark, on Sunday.

Mr. Clark’s relatives, whom he lived with in the South Sacramento neighborhood, could not immediately be reached on Wednesday. But one of them told The Sacramento Bee that family members often entered the home through the garage, after knocking on the back window because the doorbell was broken.

“The only thing that I heard was pow, pow, pow, pow, and I got to the ground,” said Sequita Thompson, Mr. Clark’s grandmother, adding, “I opened that curtain and he was dead.”

Mr. Clark’s brother, Stevante, told The Bee that Mr. Clark, who has two children, ages 1 and 3, had been living at the house for about a month, after being released from county jail.

“They’re asking, ‘Where’s Daddy, where’s Daddy?’” said Salena Manni, the mother of Mr. Clark’s children, according to the newspaper. “He was a part of our family. He was our rock.”

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Stephon ClarkCreditRenee C. Byer/The Sacramento Bee

The police said that footage from the law enforcement officers’ body cameras and video from a sheriff’s helicopter would be released to the public within 30 days.

On Sunday, at 9:18 p.m., officers from the Sacramento Police Department arrived at a house on 29th Street, investigating reports that someone was breaking the windows of vehicles, a separate, earlier police statement said on Monday. The person who called the police said the suspect was wearing a black hoodie and dark pants and was “hiding in a backyard.”

Officers in a Sheriff’s Department helicopter overhead informed the police that they saw someone matching that description and helped to direct the police to him, saying he had just “picked up a toolbar and broke a window to a residence.” He was then seen running to the front of a house, the statement said.

When officers arrived at the house, they say, the man ran toward the back and they pursued. Then, “the suspect turned and advanced towards the officers while holding an object which was extended in front of him,” the police statement said. “The officers believed the suspect was pointing a firearm at them.”

“Fearing for their safety, the officers fired their duty weapons striking the suspect multiple times,” the statement said. Two officers fired 10 rounds each, the police told reporters, according to a report by KCRA.

It did not say whether they had previously been disciplined.

Mr. Clark, who the local news media said had two children, was pronounced dead at the scene, the police said. Investigators found a cellphone near his body but no firearms, they said.

The officers who fired their weapons have been with the department for two and four years and also had several years of experience in other departments. They were placed on paid administrative leave while the shooting is investigated by district and city attorneys and the Office of Public Safety Accountability, the police said.

 

Christine Hauser, “Sacramento Man Fatally Shot by the Police in His Backyard”, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/21/us/stephon-clark-police-shooting.html

Police shot a pregnant California teen – but with no video, the case dried up

As smartphone videos sparked a national debate about police brutality, Elena Mondragon’s death went largely unnoticed

Elena Mondragon, 16, was shot and killed by police after leaving a swimming pool with friends. She was unarmed.
Elena Mondragon, 16, was shot and killed by police after leaving a swimming pool with friends. She was unarmed. Photograph: Courtesy of family

The undercover officers were dressed in plain clothes and armed with AR-15 rifles when they ambushed the car of teenagers. As the car’s driver attempted to speed away – he later said he thought they were being robbed – two of the policemen fired at the vehicle, missing the driver and striking Elena Mondragon, a 16-year-old girl in the passenger seat, killing her.

The killing of Mondragon – who was pregnant and unarmed – was as shocking and tragic as many of the fatal police shootings that have sparked viral hashtags, national protests and widespread media coverage in recent years. But her death in March last year in Hayward, California, barely made headlines outside local news.

That’s largely because no one recorded the incident on a smartphone. Likewise, none of the officers present turned on the body cameras they were wearing. As a result, law enforcement’s narrative – that the shooting was necessary as they tried to arrest the driver – has largely prevailed. The policemen were cleared and sent back to work.

The case offers a window into how families alleging police brutality struggle to get justice or mainstream support without video evidence, even when many facts of the killing are undisputed and disturbing.

“When there’s no video, that’s a battle for us,” said Melissa Nold, an Oakland attorney whose civil rights law office filed a federal lawsuit against police on Wednesday on behalf of Mondragon’s family. “People just tend to believe what is reported by the police. The public just takes it at face value, and it just sort of disappears.”

Police said officers were attempting to arrest a 19-year-old named Rico Tiger, who was wanted for several armed robberies and was driving the vehicle, which had been reported stolen. A group of officers had been surveilling the teenagers and had planned to arrest Tiger by blocking his car before they drove off, prosecutors said. But the plan failed, and Tiger drove off before police confronted him.

They tried to stop and arrest Tiger, and Sgt Jeremy Miskella and Detective Joel Hernandez of the Fremont police department eventually fired at the vehicle as it accelerated away.

“This is standard procedure. You do not shoot into a moving car,” said John Burris, an attorney for the family, speaking to a row of local television cameras in a small office conference room. About two dozen relatives sat by his side, many sobbing and holding each other, wearing shirts that said “Ebbie”, Mondragon’s nickname.

“It is unconscionable,” said Burris. “What has happened here is a cover-up for that botched police work.”

Although it is widely accepted that officers should not fire into fleeing vehicles, the officers claimed to investigators that they feared the car could kill one of them. The local prosecutor accepted this argument and ruled that the killing of Mondragon, who was not a suspect in the police investigation, was justified.

The Alameda county district attorney’s office has charged Tiger in the murder of the 16-year-old girl – despite the fact that he told investigators he was driving away because he “got scared” and thought the undercover officers were trying to rob them. He said he would have stopped and complied had he known that they were officers. (The officers said they had announced that they were police while pointing their rifles at Tiger.)

The exact sequence of events and commands will forever remain unknown, since the officers chose not to turn on their cameras, even though they had been preparing for the arrest prior to the confrontation.

But even without video, Mondragon’s grieving relatives said it should be obvious that police made a series of egregious errors.

“We’re not getting the justice we deserve,” said Christina Flores, Mondragon’s aunt. “She was taken from us. It was so preventable. It never should have happened.”

A protest in El Cajon, California, following the fatal police shooting of Alfred Olango, an unarmed black man, in 2016.
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A protest in El Cajon, California, following the fatal police shooting of Alfred Olango, an unarmed black man, in 2016. Photograph: David McNew/Getty Images

The family’s press conference took place just two miles from the Fruitvale station where an unarmed young black man named Oscar Grant was killed by an officer in 2009. It was one of the first in a wave of high-profile killings of black men by US police that was caught on a cellphone camera, sparking major protests. Many well-known cases of police killings since then have received international attention only after footage went viral, including Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

Elena Mondragon’s name never trended widely on social media. Her family said they were grateful for the support they’ve received, but her uncle, Miguel Minjares, said he didn’t understand why the killing of a young girl did not get as much coverage as other stories.

“It’s surprising it hasn’t gotten more attention,” he told the Guardian, as his family gathered to head to a vigil for the first anniversary of Mondragon’s death.

Earlier, he told reporters that the family wanted to use the platform they were given to fight for police reforms, and wanted to remind the public that they were still suffering as much as they were the day she died.

“We are sitting here broken-hearted. We will never be the same,” he said.

The prosecutor’s office declined to comment. A Fremont police spokeswoman, Geneva Bosques, said the officers “were found to be within policy” and have “returned to full duty in their same positions”.

The department, she added, has made no policy changes since Mondragon’s death.

I appreciate there not being a paywall: it is more democratic for the media to be available for all and not a commodity to be purchased by a few. I’m happy to make a contribution so others with less means still have access to information. Thomasine, Sweden

Sam Levin, , “Police shot a pregnant California teen – but with no video, the case dried up”, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/mar/15/elena-mondragon-police-shooting-california-no-video

The California law that keeps police misconduct secret

Figuring out which cops lie is the biggest challenge for a defense lawyer, says Charles Anderson, a former public defender who now lectures at UCLA.
Figuring out which cops lie is the biggest challenge for a defense lawyer, says Charles Anderson, a former public defender who now lectures at UCLA.

Photo by greg lilly via Flickr Creative Commons

Sometime next year, the California Supreme Court will decide whether Los Angeles Sheriff Jim McDonnell can hand over to the district attorney the names of about 300 deputies who engaged in misconduct that raises questions about their credibility.

That’s important for District Attorney Jackie Lacey to know. Sheriff’s deputies bring thousands of criminal cases to her office for prosecution every year. If any have lied in the past on police reports or used excessive force, she may want to probe the deputies role in the case.

Lacey is also obligated under a 1963 United States Supreme Court decision known as Brady to notify the opposing defense attorney of any evidence that might point to the defendant’s innocence. That includes identifying officers involved in the case who have lied in the past.

But California also has something called a “Pitchess process” that some say runs counter to what’s known as Brady obligations.

Pitchess is at the heart of the case before the state’s high court, where the Association of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputies (ALADS) is fighting to stop the sheriff from taking the unprecedented move of simply giving the DA the list.

ALADS argues police agencies can almost never release personnel files or any portion of them. Together with police unions around the state, ALADS over the years has successfully lobbied for the most restrictive police records laws in the nation.

The origins of Pitchess

Some quick history: Peter Pitchess was an L.A. County Sheriff himself, starting in 1958 and serving for nearly a quarter century. But unlike McDonnell, he sought to quash a defendant’s effort to reveal misconduct by a group of deputies. The deputies had arrested the defendent on charges he assaulted them.

A judge ordered Pitchess to produce a portion of the deputies’ personnel records. The sheriff refused and appealed to the state supreme court. Pitchess lost and was forced to turn over the records.

Through that 1974 court case and rules set up later by the state legislature, the Pitchess process was born. It’s designed to balance the rights of defendants to find out if the officer who arrested them has engaged in misconduct in the past with the privacy rights of the officer with regard to their personnel file.

But many criminal defense attorneys say Pitchess has instead become another barrier to transparency, a law enforcement wall beyond which nobody is permitted.

“Finding out when police are lying is probably the most difficult thing about being a defense lawyer,” said Charles Anderson, who was a public defender for eight years before landing at UCLA teaching criminal trial advocacy.

Here’s how Pitchess works:

  • First, an attorney needs to get a tip from his client or a police officer or a city attorney or prosecutor that an officer may have a history of misconduct. The attorney must then file a notice that he intends to file a Pitchess motion 16 court days and five extra calendar days in advance of filing it. The attorney must show “good cause” for getting the information.
  • The judge reviews the officer’s file and determines if anything in it is relevant to the criminal case. For example, is the defendant charged with assaulting the officer and the officer has a history of excessive force?
  • But defense attorneys are not immediately entitled to any discipline or complaint associated with the officer. Instead, the judge will only give them the name, number and address of the person who filed the complaint against the officer. They often are hard to track down and reluctant to testify against the officer in a case they have nothing to do with.

“I can count on one hand – and I don’t need any fingers – the number of times I’ve gotten useful information that made a difference in the outcome,” said Andy Bouvier-Brown, a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles.  He blames the Pitchess process and wonders if some police departments don’t hide discipline records.

Pitchess produces other barriers. Misconduct more than five years old generally cannot be used against the officer and defense attorneys cannot share information about problem officers.

ALADS declined to comment for this story.

Retired Superior Court Judge Richard Neidorf, a former deputy district attorney and police officer, thinks cops need that kind of protection from frivolous claims of misconduct.

But he also acknowledges that defense attorneys in particular face huge hurdles to raise even legitimate questions about a cops credibility. But he’s unsure of how to rectify that without infringing on police officers’ privacy.

“That’s the way the system is,” Neidorf told KPCC. “The system is not always fair.”

He notes it doesn’t necessarily make sense for prosecutors to have to rely on police departments to identify their own officers who’ve committed misconduct.

Lacey walks fine line

While the DA’s prosecutors often fight any defense effort to impeach an officer, Lacey this year also broadened the type of conduct that can land a cop on her list of officers with credibility problems.

She won’t say how many are on the list, but says the number runs into the hundreds. The list was started by former DA Steve Cooley about ten years ago.

The DA’s list also now includes a section for police who have been accused of wrongdoing but investigators cleared the officer or decided there wasn’t enough evidence to determine guilt or innocence.

Lacey’s effort to strengthen how she handles “Brady” material in part was motivated by a 2015 law that bolsters a judge’s ability to remove a prosecutor who withholds evidence. The judge could also eject the DA’s office entirely from a case.

When the Los Angeles Times got ahold of an old list of deputies with credibility problems and published an article earlier this month, Lacey said her office didn’t even know about some of the 22 deputies named in it.

“It was good to have that information because we’re trying cases relying on sheriff’s deputies,” she told KPCC.

But she still lacks access to sheriff and police lists of problem cops they employ. In fact, she said she doesn’t know how many police departments even have such lists.

After the publication of the sheriff’s names, s0me defense attorneys immediately reviewed old cases to see if any of the deputies were involved in sending their clients to prison. But an appeal arguing the DA failed to disclose the deputy’s past misconduct would face an uphill battle, said defense attorney Robert Schwartz.

For one thing, most of the misconduct happened longer than five years ago – the cutoff to introduce it in court proceedings. Plus, judges are always reluctant to revisit cases in which there was a plea deal or trial and the one appeal the state guarantees you by providing a free lawyer.

“I believe there is going to be some institutional resistance to that,” said Schwartz.

Does Pitchess work?

Lacey would not answer the most obvious question: does the Pitchess process of identifying lying cops work in California?

“That’s an interesting question, that’s an interesting question,” Lacey said.

It’s worth noting Lacey’s office has to work with cops every day and her own 200 plus investigators are members of the deputy’s union. She’s balancing the demands of a lot of constituencies.

As for the sheriff’s case before the state supreme court – the one that will determine whether she get the secret list of deputies who may have credibility problems – Lacey walks a fine line again. She has refused to file an Amicus brief backing the sheriff but says she certainly supports the effort.

“If the court rules against the sheriff – which it may very well given the state’s laws favoring police officers – the DA should lobby the legislature for changes,” said attorney Peter Eliasberg of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

“Police and a lot of prosecutors may think Pitchess is working fine, but it’s not,” he said.

, scpr.org, “The California law that keeps police misconduct secret”, https://www.scpr.org/news/2017/12/27/79302/california-s-pitchess-laws-keep-police-misconduct/

Police Seen Breaking Man’s Leg, Slamming Head Into Pavement In Newly Released Arrest Video

PASADENA (CBSLA) — Body cam and bystander footage of a chaotic arrest in Pasadena has riled civil rights groups like the NAACP, who called the officers’ actions “reprehensible” and “inhumane.”

Pasadena Releases Police Video of Violent Arrest During Which Suspect’s Leg was Broken from Pasadena Now on Vimeo.

Six body cam and patrol car videos released Friday by the City of Pasadena show two unnamed police officers attempting to subdue Christopher Ballew at an Altadena gas station on November 9. According to police, they stopped Ballew after they witnessed the 21-year-old commit “multiple traffic violations,” Pasadena Now reported.

The incident took a violent turn, police say, when Ballew allegedly refused to comply and attempted to grab a baton from one of the officers.

Additional video recorded by a bystander shows one officer hitting Ballew in the right leg repeatedly while he was face-down on the ground. The other officer can be seen punching Ballew several times before slamming his head into the pavement.

Ballew was ultimately taken to the hospital and arrested on $50,000 bail for “assault on a peace officer as well as several unspecified misdemeanors,” the paper reported.

Ballew told Pasadena Now he suffered a broken leg as a result of the incident.

For their part, Pasadena officials say the officers’ actions were within department policy, though the incident is still under review.

City of Pasadena Spokesman William Boyer told CBS2 News Ballew was initially stopped because the car he was driving was missing a front license plate and its windows were illegally tinted.

“Currently, the whole incident is under review, so there is no timeline for how long that will take. There is no conclusion right now,” Boyer said.

Pasadena City Manager Steve Mermell said “while the City is not obligated or required to release such the recordings, […] I believe doing so is in the best interest of the City and that of the public,” the paper reported.

The L.A. district attorney’s office said last week it would not prosecute Ballew on any charges stemming from the altercation.

Ballew’s family said he was not speaking to reporters when CBS2 reached out for comment Friday.

 

, “Police Seen Breaking Man’s Leg, Slamming Head Into Pavement In Newly Released Arrest Video”, https://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2017/12/15/police-seen-breaking-mans-leg-slamming-head-into-pavement-in-newly-released-arrest-video/#.WjbK1QUbroJ.twitter

Santa Clara Settles Police Misconduct Lawsuit For $6.7M

BREAKING: The settlement with Harmon Burfine — injured when officers came to her residence to arrest her daughter — was reached Thursday.

By NorCal Patch, News Partner | | Updated
https://cdn20.patchcdn.com/users/22880691/20170929/124843/styles/T800x600/public/processed_images/legal_justice_symbol_scales_of_justice-1506703266-553.jpg

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CA — The city of Santa Clara has settled a lawsuit alleging that its police department entered a home without a warrant and broke a woman’s ankle while detaining her under questionable circumstances in 2016 for $6.7 million.

Sgt. Gregory Hill and officers Mitchell Barry, Mark Shimada, Peter Stephens and Greg Deger were all named defendants in the suit, which claims that officers kicked down the door of Danielle Harmon Burfine’s home after she refused to let them in without a warrant on April 12, 2016, according to attorneys Michael Haddad and Julia Sherwin.

They were there to arrest Harmon Burfine’s 15-year-old daughter on suspicion of arson in connection with a fire that caused an evacuation and $350,000 in damage at a Santa Clara high school roughly a week earlier on April 4.

After forcing entry into the plaintiff’s home, officers grabbed her and swung her to the ground, smashing her ankle up against a stone wall. She suffered a fracture, and the injury may be permanently disabling, according to her attorneys.

After multiple surgeries Harmon Burfine developed a condition called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, in which the chronic pain in her injured leg has spread to other limbs.

City attorney Brian Doyle said in a statement that while there was “significant disagreement about the extent of the injury” they do not dispute the claim that Harmon Burfine suffered a broken ankle when police entered her home without a warrant.

“The City’s insurer determined that the most prudent course of action was to pay an amount that would result in a settlement,” Doyle said.

But as a result of the settlement, evidence disputing the injury claim will never be presented at trial, according to the city.

Santa Clara police Chief Michael Sellers called that disappointing in the city’s statement.

“I fully support the police officers who acted in good faith to arrest this arsonist wanted on felony charges,” Sellers said.

During a news conference in Oakland Thursday afternoon, Harmon Burfine’s attorneys called Sellers out for that support.

“When he makes a statement like that he’s sending a message to all of the officers in his department that they should keep breaking the law, they should keep breaking into peoples homes without a warrant and they should keep breaking the bones of innocent women,” Sherwin said.

Sherwin also urged the people of Santa Clara to ask Sellers “what’s wrong with him.”

Sherwin and Haddad said that one of the most troubling aspects of this incident is that it occurred shortly after the City of Santa Clara reached a $500,000 settlement in a similar case filed on behalf of one of their other clients, in which police officers entered the home of two federal agents without a warrant.

“We had hoped that would begin to fix the problem with that department with warrants,” Haddad said. “It didn’t.”

During a statement made at Thursday’s news conference Harmon Burfine, who earned an associate degree in criminal science and was in the process of applying to work as an officer for the San Jose Police Department when she was injured, started out by thanking good cops all across the country.

She also said this could not have been about taking her daughter into custody because she had already made arrangements to surrender the child into police custody the following morning at 8 a.m.

This is about rights, Harmon Burfine said.

“Those can’t be taken away,” she said.

“I have a message, mostly for Chief Sellers, but also for the officers who entered my home without a warrant: You need to think back to that oath, the one you swore to uphold,” Harmon Burfine said.

Haddad and Sherwin had released video of the incident in question from an officer’s bodyworn camera. They told reporters at Thursday’s news conference they’d been forced to take the video down at the insistence of the Santa Clara Police Department – but the video has already been reposted by other accounts on social media.

In the video Harmon Burfine can be heard screaming at length, crying, repeatedly informing officers that her leg had been broken and begging officers to summon medical assistance. At one point she informed officers that she was about to vomit, and subsequently did.

The officers who forced entry into Burfine’s home waited roughly seven minutes before calling medical personnel to the scene. While she was screaming in pain, one of them also threatened her with arrest if she didn’t “calm down.”

 

NorCal Patch, News Partner | , “Santa Clara Settles Police Misconduct Lawsuit For $6.7M”, https://patch.com/california/cupertino/santa-clara-settles-police-misconduct-lawsuit-6-7m

The Force Takes an Inside Look at Police Misconduct in Oakland

Courtesy of ITVS / Cinetic Media

“We didn’t plan it, by the way,” director Peter Nicks jokes by phone about the major plot twist that goes down roughly halfway through his new documentary, The Force. “If you think it’s too abrupt, that’s what really happened.”

The Force is a cleverly titled film about the police force, its use of force, and the mysterious forces that sway us to toward impulsive and sometimes monumentally dumb decisions. More specifically, it’s the story of the Oakland Police Department during a particularly heady period in the institution’s long, troubled history of misconduct toward the community it exists to serve (in conversation, Nicks traces that conflict back to the ’60s, when the Black Panthers rose up in opposition to the predominantly white Bay Area police, whom they saw as “occupiers, rather than protectors”).

In 2003, in the wake of a major civil rights lawsuit against veteran officers who were running a campaign of vigilante injustice, the Oakland Police Department came under federal supervision. Ten years later, when the film opens, the OPD has made little headway toward reclaiming its independence. A new chief of police, Sean Whent, has just been brought on in hopes that he can finally usher through the necessary reforms. The film tracks Whent’s very promising progress as he attempts to root out a culture of toxicity and instill one of respect and accountability. (“We give you tremendous authority and a gun,” he tells a classful of outgoing police academy trainees. “It’s not unreasonable for people to expect you to explain why you do the things you do.”)

Nicks sits in on the occasional community meeting, but mostly this is a story told from inside the ranks of law enforcement. His crew receives remarkable access to all corners of the police force. “The city and the department itself, I think they just recognized the health of transparency at this moment when we had so many questions about relationships between community and police,” he surmises. His cameras capture cadets undergoing gas-mask training, confronting the ethical implications of grisly body-cam footage, and sitting in on lectures about the history of racist policing in America. Nicks rides along with rookie cops as they put their training to the test, navigating complex altercations on the street, attempting to keep the peace during a heated Black Lives Matter protest (in Oakland the uprising over Michael Brown’s 2014 shooting went on longer than it did in Ferguson, Missouri), and, more often than not, diligently trying to follow procedure.

For about an hour The Force unfolds as a somewhat dutiful ode: to the grueling, sometimes impossible challenge of being a police officer of conscience, a self-fashioned good guy, at a moment when communities of color are rightfully wary—and sometimes outright hostile—toward law enforcement; to the tough but fair leadership of Chief Whent, whose thoughtful, incremental reform efforts seem to be paying off. But then the shit hits the fan. Zero officer-involved shootings in nearly two years—a feat that sent Whent on a nationwide publicity tour—turns suddenly into four in two months, all involving black suspects. And the big twist: Several OPD officers are fingered in a sex trafficking operation involving an underage prostitute. Chief Whent steps down amid rumors that he’d participated in a cover-up, fearing that the scandal’s taint would undermine his department’s ability to wiggle out from under federal control. The OPD goes back to square one, and there it remains, 14 years in, still under the supervision of Washington.

The sudden turn is useful. Is Whent a good cop or a bad cop? Can he be both? What happens when police reform happens alongside police misconduct? Nicks has made a film that strains to see both sides and hopes to offer a template to viewers in how to do so more generally in often murky matters of law enforcement. For some, that would be a tall order at any point in the past few years; it’s even taller given the current climate. As The Force hits theaters, St. Louis roils in protest over the latest acquittal of a white former police officer in the shooting of a black man; the dust hasn’t yet settled from the violence in Charlottesville; and President Trump’s equivocating response to those events still rings in our ears. “One of the things we learned in the making of this project,” says Nicks, “is that there’s a lot of emotion that really makes it difficult for people to look at the nuance of this story. People tend to get pushed into camps: The all-lives-matter, blue-lives-matter, people-don’t-understand-that-cops-are-trying-to-protect-them [side]. Or the Black Lives Matter side, where people are like: Cops are murdering our young black men; every shooting is unjust. It’s a very difficult environment in which to step and try to speak to the complexity of this issue. But that’s fundamentally what we tried to do.”

Nicks, who won the top documentary-directing honors at the Sundance Film Festival for his efforts, spoke more with me about the difficulty of making The Force and the harrowing personal experiences that came to bear on this film.

Before the prostitution scandal hit the Oakland Police Department, were you surprised by what you observed there?

You know, we stepped into the project understanding the history of the community. I was stepping in as an African-American filmmaker with a huge responsibility on my shoulders to reflect the truth of what was happening. I approach my work with what I call an aggressive open-mindedness. I understand there’s so much emotion around the film: How people feel about the police really has to do with their personal experience, the narratives they’ve heard. What we found immediately was a surprisingly progressive department. It had been forced to reform because of that mandate. It didn’t come from altruistic reasons. It wasn’t like the OPD woke up one morning and said: Let’s reform. But in that federally mandated process came a number of positive changes.

Did you have personal associations with the police you had to shed to maintain an open mind?

I attribute my approach to storytelling to the DNA of who I am as a person. I’m mixed race. I’m lighter-skinned. My birth mother was white; my birth father was black. I was adopted by a black family because my birth mother’s family threatened to disown her if she kept me. So she made the difficult decision in 1968 to give me up for adoption. And I was adopted by an African-American family and grew up in the black church, went to Howard University. But I also went to private school and knew a lot of wealthy white kids. Then when I was in college I got in trouble. This was at the height of the war on drugs. I got arrested and served a year in federal prison on a drug charge. I had a serious drug problem. That led me to be exposed to a whole other world. For me, ironically, the police and law enforcement really played a role in saving my life, because when I was arrested in ’89, I was really heading down a road that could have resulted in death. The way I was treated by the cops who arrested me was respectful. I never had experiences like you hear, of being thrown on the hood of a car, being profiled, being stopped and searched. But I heard the stories. My dad went to school with Martin Luther King. He’s from the South. He would tell me stories about how the police treated him and his family. I was able to carry both of these [points of view] into making this film. This was a time when everybody was being flattened into two-dimensional narratives. On both sides: cops, protestors. I wanted to break that open into its full three dimensions.

The tone of the first half of the film suggests you really believed Chief Whent was making a good-faith effort at reform.

The way that we presented the chief in the film is how we believed him to be: an earnest reformer. He was handpicked by the federal monitor to bring the department over the finish line. They were very close to satisfying the final requirements for this federal oversight, which had been going on for 12 or 13 years when we started. There’s a lot of evidence that they were making progress. Officer-involved shootings were way down. When we started they had gone a whole year with none. That’s really remarkable for a city like Oakland. They were the first to implement department-wide body-worn cameras, which is now becoming a national model. They had brought in Jennifer Eberhardt from Stanford to study implicit bias. They were doing procedural justice training. These were all really remarkable progressive reforms.

Then this prostitution scandal emerges and the revelation that Chief Whent participated in a cover-up. What are we to make of the moment early on when he tells a classroom full of police academy cadets: “We don’t have a blue wall of silence here”? It seems in retrospect deeply disingenuous.

It’s very difficult to communicate what the blue wall of silence really is. It’s not just a bunch of cops deciding we’re going to lie all the time. It really encapsulates the idea of the distrust between community and police, that police are out there risking their lives, trying to protect the community, trying to deal with violent crime, and they are seen as villains. So they retreat, they circle the wagons, they protect their own.

With Whent, it’s interesting. You could say in the moment he was being honest. In his mind he was trying to root out this culture of dishonesty, bring transparency to this department. But when he was faced with the decision to shine a light on this scandal that occurred just as they were able to sign the paperwork to lift the federal oversight, he blinked and went the other way. That was his ultimate sin. It’s a tragedy of Shakespearean proportion.

There’s some extra resonance to the fact that this film centers around protests over Ferguson and is being released at a moment when St. Louis is rising up again over the acquittal of a white police officer in the shooting of a black man. What are the takeaways from The Force for other cities, other police departments?

At a moment when the Justice Department and Jeff Sessions want to scale it back, our film really ends as a very clear argument for continued federal oversight. If it were not for federal oversight, the scandal at the OPD would never have come to light. Finding new models for community safety—what does that look like? These civilian police commissions are starting to pop up, and the one that was voted in in Oakland in November has the most authority of any civilian commission in the history of the city.

It’s not just about reform. We need mechanisms and accountability at the local level. And, of course, in the broader justice system, that’s something we’re struggling with, as well. How is our justice system equipped to handle officers who go above the law? The law gives them wide latitude to use force. And that’s a very difficult framework of which to hold officers accountable. So these are big questions that are going to take multiple steps to address. Our film articulates a couple of them. It also asks them to understand that there are cops trying to do the right thing; that there are leaders within our police departments trying to reform. This is not just a lost cause.

You just signed on next to direct a scripted film called The Fence, about police brutality and a cover-up in Boston. Is this a subject that you’re really obsessed with?

Well, part of it is that I’m from Boston, and this particular story intersects with my family’s story, and my personal story, in kind of coincidental and profound ways. This story carries all the complexity that I love, that can be at times really hard to articulate in a documentary, because you’re limited to the pieces you have. We’ve seen a lot of scripted series and films starting to emerge that are exploring some of these questions. It really speaks to what we have not yet reconciled as a nation. In America in this supposedly postracial environment after Obama, we find ourselves in a state where the urgency around this seems to be increasing. I think in history we’re going to look back and see this as a moment similar to the ’60s. This is a young country, and people forget that we’re still trying to define our values. The only way we can do that is by telling our stories.

Is there anything particularly important that I haven’t touched on?

Being a black filmmaker, trying to reconcile whose story am I telling, has been a profound experience. This has been the most difficult professional project I’ve encountered. It’s been both satisfying and incredibly challenging to face some of the pain and damage that has been done to the psyche of many in this country. I really believe it’s on both sides: It’s the people who carry the weight of oppression, and it’s also from the cops’ point of view. They see and are exposed to the failures of all our social systems. This film is the second in a trilogy looking at public institutions in one American city. Cops are dealing every day with the failures of our health-care system, of our education system. They confront mental illness at rates that are shocking. The rate of suicide in our police departments is incredibly high. They are exposed to so much darkness every day. Very few people understand what it is like to be a cop. At the same time, they are woven into the fabric of this nation, what America is. We have to reconcile that. We have to understand it better. Fundamentally that’s what we were trying to do with this film, trying to reframe how people see themselves and the world around them with regards to this issue.

When you say it’s been incredibly difficult as a black filmmaker, do you mean that you’ve had pushback from the black community?

It’s been a mix. Black Lives Matter is not monolithic. Cops are not all the same. People have different shades of feeling about this. It can be difficult in different environments to articulate or hold the complex truths that are in this film. That was part of the deal, stepping into this thing. The Waiting Room, my prior film, everybody loved me and the film. It was about doctors and nurses and patients all working in a broken system and trying to heal. This is a film about people who people believe are broken. Any effort to humanize them is seen as illegitimate. But what I like to say is humanizing somebody doesn’t necessarily mean making them look good. It means unpacking them in their full three dimensions.

This interview has been condensed and edited.