How an L.A. police misconduct case sparked push to loosen California wiretapping law

JUN 28, 2019 | 3:25 PM | SACRAMENTO

How an L.A. police misconduct case sparked push to loosen California wiretapping law
L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey is sponsoring legislation that would expand state wiretapping laws. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies heard a voice on a wiretap in 2009 that they believed was one of their own — a narcotics officer caught on the wrong side of the law.

For the next decade, the department would pursue a case against Det. Carlos Arellano through investigations, courts and civil service hearings. They had little luck. Arellano prevailed at nearly every turn, and the department exhausted its legal avenues last year when the state Supreme Court refused to review the case.

Now the matter has made its way to the state Legislature in a bill that has advanced quietly but could substantially expand how wiretaps are used in California.

The proposed law seems written with Arellano in mind, leaving some concerned that an effort to further the collection of evidence in police misconduct investigations could have broad privacy implications — diminishing protections against government surveillance.

“It greatly … expands the reach of wiretapping,” said Lee Tien, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which opposes the bill. “We don’t really understand what’s going on.”

The bill’s author, state Sen. Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana) defended the legislation. He said the state’s existing law includes enough privacy protections to ensure that wiretaps aren’t improperly used, but he supports wiretap evidence being available in civil service hearings. A former federal and military prosecutor, Umberg said he is backing the bill as a public safety measure.

It’s “a tool to investigate and prosecute those who do violate the law,” he said. “Peace officers, anybody.”

The proposal, Senate Bill 439, would allow law enforcement to use intercepted phone calls, emails, Facebook Messenger chats and other electronic communications to build cases for a wide swath of crimes that current state law deems ineligible for such surveillance. The broadened list of crimes includes felonies such as attempted kidnapping and rape of an unconscious person, as well as making criminal threats and firing a weapon from a car.

The bill wouldn’t change what crimes could receive a judge’s approval for a wiretap. But it would expand the kinds of prosecutions that could go forward with overheard evidence, if law enforcement happened to gather it during a legally approved wiretap.

State wiretapping laws, which largely follow federal rules, are meant to prevent undue invasions of privacy and keep law enforcement from using such surveillance to fish for crimes that aren’t deemed the most serious. Wiretap orders are reserved for crimes such as murder, drug and gang conspiracies and violent felonies. If law enforcement officials listening on a legal wiretap hear evidence of another crime — one that a judge wouldn’t sign a wiretap order for — they are often unable to use or share that information.

Sponsored by Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey, the bill also contains a narrow provision that applies only to law enforcement officers. It would make overheard evidence of any criminal conduct by a peace officer admissible in the administrative hearings used to discipline and fire officers.

Lacey, who has been criticized for being soft on police misconduct, citedArellano in a letter to the Legislature advocating for the measure. Her office declined an interview request about the legislation but offered a written statement on her behalf. The statement said that the bill’s purpose was “much broader” than the Arellano case but that it was “one example of a deficiency in the existing law in regards to law enforcement misconduct.”

The San Francisco public defender’s office, which opposes the measure, argued in a letter that obtaining a wiretap is “easy enough as is” — and more often than not doesn’t reveal criminal activity.

In 2018, there were 387 applications for wiretaps resulting in 465 arrests in California, mostly on gang and narcotics charges, according to the state attorney general’s office. The wiretaps resulted in 53 convictions, though some cases may be ongoing.

In Los Angeles, there were 181 wiretap applications resulting in 49 arrests and two convictions that year. In one case cited by the attorney general, L.A. County investigators used wiretaps to seize more than 165 kilograms of methamphetamine, 193 kilograms of cocaine, 33 kilograms of heroin and more than $3.42 million.

But law enforcement also used wiretaps to listen in on thousands of people who didn’t commit crimes, involving hundreds of thousands of calls and messages, said San Francisco Public Defender Manohar Raju in his letter. In one instance, an L.A. wiretap operation in a 2018 murder investigation intercepted more than 43,000 communications from 920 people, with 1% of the interceptions providing incriminating information, according to the state report.

In Arellano’s case, court records say he was heard on the wiretap discussing his involvement with an illegal marijuana grow, arranging for drug payments and offering advice to suspected drug dealers on how to avoid police. Arellano was identified on the wiretap by a voice comparison made by five Spanish-language linguists, according to court records, though Arellano’s lawyer, Elizabeth Gibbons, said it was never proven to be Arellano on tape, and he has maintained his innocence.

The Drug Enforcement Administration and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department asked a judge to allow the conversations to be used by internal investigators within the Sheriff’s Department. The judge granted the request, but criminal charges were never filed against Arellano because marijuana violations were beyond the scope of the serious crimes included under wiretap law.

The department fired Arellano in 2011 largely based on the wiretap.

Arellano fought the county, arguing that the intercepted conversations should not have been allowed in the civil service administrative hearing that led to his dismissal because that disclosure was beyond the scope of the judicial order that authorized their use by Sheriff’s Department investigators. A judge and a three-person panel of the appellate courtagreed, and Arellano was reinstated. The Sheriff’s Department declined to provide Arellano’s current status, referring the question to the California Public Records Act process, though he was on paid administrative leave for a time.

The appellate court in its decision in August suggested that state lawmakers needed to settle the question of whether such wiretap evidence should be admissible in administrative hearings.

But the proposed legislation’s carve-out on peace officers goes beyond a clarification, said Ed Obayashi, a legal advisor and trainer for law enforcement agencies. That’s because, he said, it allows wiretap evidence of any crime by peace officers to be used in administrative hearings — even if there are no criminal proceedings or if that evidence can’t be used in court.

Gibbons, Arellano’s lawyer and a specialist in representing law enforcement officers, said the bill may not be legal because it reduces the rights of officers below those of average citizens.

“They are reducing the constitutional rights of police officers and opening them up for … prosecution based on information that nobody else could be prosecuted for,” Gibbons said.

The bill has cleared the Senate and will next be heard July 9 by the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

 

 

JUN 28, 2019, https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-wiretapping-california-cops-20190626-story.html

 

 

Advertisements

Court upholds broad release of police misconduct records in California

A new law granting public access to police misconduct records and investigations of officers’ use of force applies to all records that existed when the law took effect this year no matter when they were created, a state appeals court has ruled in a decision with immediate statewide impact.Police unions in numerous localities, including Contra Costa County and five of its cities in the current case, sued to block release of records created before 2019. The unions, which had opposed the disclosure law in the Legislature, contend the law was not drafted to apply to earlier records.

Superior Court judges around the state have generally disagreed with the unions. But in the first decision with broad impact, the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco late Friday published an earlier two-page order in the Contra Costa case making all existing records available to the public.

While the police unions had argued that applying the law to pre-2019 records would make it impermissably retroactive, the court said it was applying the law to events that happened after it took effect — requests by members of the public for documents a police agency already possessed.

Making officers’ records public also doesn’t impose any new penalties or other legal consequences for the officers’ previous acts, the court said, but “changes only the public’s right to access peace officer records.”

By issuing the ruling, Presiding Justice Stuart Pollak and Justices Alison Tucher and Tracie Brown upheld a decision by Superior Court Judge Charles Treat. As the first published appellate decision on the issue, it is binding on trial courts statewide unless another appeals court publishes a contrary ruling or the state Supreme Court intervenes. Police groups in other counties have asked the state’s high court to take up their case, but the court has refused.

“For the first time in a long time, the Legislature has decided it’s really important for public trust in law enforcement and the administration of justice in this state for people to be able to obtain records of serious incidents of police misconduct,” Tenaya Rodewald, a lawyer arguing for release of the records, said Monday. The American Civil Liberties Union and the California First Amendment Coalition also participated, along with several news organizations. The Chronicle has filed public records requests under the new law.

Michael Rains, the police unions’ lawyer, said the ruling reflected courts that “I don’t think … give one hoot about the rights of police officers,” including the right to keep their personnel records confidential. He said he would not appeal the Contra Costa case, since the records would already have been released, but the issue is still pending in appellate courts elsewhere in the state.

For decades, California has had some of the nation’s most stringent confidentiality standards for police personnel records. The new law, SB1421 by Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, allows members of the public to obtain records of police disciplinary agencies that found officers had committed sexual assault or engaged in dishonest conduct at work, and of all investigations of an officer’s use of a firearm or of some type of deadly force.

Records cannot be disclosed if they would identify a confidential witness or informant, endanger an officer or interfere with a criminal investigation.

Rodewald said police organizations around the state have filed about 18 lawsuits challenging disclosure of records created before 2019. She said many police agencies, including those covered by the Contra Costa ruling, have begun releasing their records. And in a separate ruling Friday, a judge ordered the San Francisco Police Department to make its records public.

 

“Court upholds broad release of police misconduct records in California”, https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Court-upholds-broad-release-of-police-misconduct-13733312.php?psid=1R145

Bay Area cop facing dismissal for sexual misconduct at golf course was called “Creepy Joe”

Officer denies allegations by multiple women of sexual misconduct, claiming he was the victim of a “witch hunt”

Three police officers in Fairfeld were found to have committed sexual misconduct, newly released records show
PUBLISHED:  | UPDATED: 

On the streets people called him officer, but out at the local golf links the female workers called him “Creepy Joe.”

Again and again, women who worked at the Paradise Valley Golf Course told investigators that Fairfield Police Officer Joe Griego harassed them, public records show. He grabbed one woman by the breast and asked her if her “boobs” were real. Another worker, who was nine months pregnant, said she overheard Griego saying falsely that he was her baby’s father. He also told his golfing partners, who included current and former officers and Fairfield City Councilman Chuck Timm, that “he wanted to get a piece of her,” according to detailed documents released by the Fairfield Police department Wednesday under Senate Bill 1421, the state’s new police accountability law.

Timm did not return a phone call Thursday.

Women also said Griego made lewd comments, slapped them on the behind and squeezed one of them on the shoulder so hard it hurt while telling he wanted to give her the “biggest tip of her life,” according to the documents.

The women told investigators that they dubbed Griego “creepy Joe.”

In addition to two separate investigations of Griego, the department also released records of two other findings of sexual misconduct by two other officers.

Facing termination in 2015 after an investigation of the women’s allegations, Griego left the department before he was disciplined. He’d already been suspended for a month without pay earlier that year after another woman who was taking a parenting class he was teaching for the department complained that he told her that even though she was divorced she could “still have lust.” The woman told investigators he tried to hug and kiss her, advances she resisted.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Griego called the investigations into his actions “witch hunts” motivated by complaints he made years earlier against the department  for allegedly violating his privacy rights. Yet he also said, “I played some sort of role in this,” but denied touching the women and making lewd comments.

“I was buried under these allegations,” he said. “I was a target.”

Fairfield Police Chief Randy Fenn did not immediately respond to a message Thursday afternoon.

Female employees said they learned how to “deal with” Griego, and at least one changed her work schedule to avoid contact with him, records show. Another woman refused to cooperate with investigators.

An expert in police sexual misconduct said many women are afraid to report officers’ behavior.

“Most of the instances of police sexual misconduct and police sexual violence that occur on duty are never complained about by the victims,” Bowling Green University Criminology Professor Phil Stinson said. “You know the police subculture, as I call it, is a closed-door society,” he said. “It’s an us vs. them mentality. It’s a boys club.”

In two others cases, through, women came forward with complaints against Fairfield officers.

In one, Detective Zachary Sandoval was suspended without pay for a day in 2015 for an unwelcome sexual advance he made on a Starbucks barista. The woman complained about an inappropriate encounter in August 2014 with the plainclothes officer, who was a regular at the coffee shop.The two had exchanged cell phone numbers, and Sandoval offered via text message to let her charge her phone in his car. Then Sandoval “asked her if he could give her a kiss,” the documents say.

“I was like, ‘I’m married.’ And he said, ‘I’m married, too.’ So I just gave him this really disgusted face and I just left the car,” the woman said, according to a transcript of her interview with investigators. But Sandoval told investigators he couldn’t remember if he asked the woman to kiss him.

“That is a rather large thing not to remember,” an investigator said.

Fairfield also released hundreds of pages on Darryl L. Webb, a former patrol cop who was fired after posting ‘revenge porn’ images and video on the internet of him and his ex-girlfriend.

Police searched his phone and found videos of him exposing himself in a patrol car, according to the records. Webb pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor in 2016, and was given community service, avoiding a possible sentence of one year in jail.

 

Here are the stories about police misconduct uncovered so far by a new media partnership

By BEN POSTON and MAYA LAU

Here are the stories about police misconduct uncovered so far by a new media partnership
The California Reporting Project has filed requests with more than 600 law enforcement agencies and so far received records of hundreds of incidents in which officers used significant or deadly force, were found to have been dishonest or committed sexual misconduct. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Some police officers were disciplined for illegal sexual activity or dishonesty and evaded criminal prosecution. Others used deadly force but details of their actions have long remained out of the public’s view.

The California Reporting Project — a partnership of 33 newsrooms across the state — launched Tuesday in an effort to combine resources to review internal police records that became public under a new transparency law that took effect this year.

The Los Angeles Times is part of the collaborative, which has filed requests with more than 600 law enforcement agencies and so far received records of hundreds of incidents in which officers used significant or deadly force, were found to have been dishonest or committed sexual misconduct. Other members of the collaborative include KPCC, the Orange County RegisterKQED, the San Jose Mercury News, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and other media outlets.

The documents reviewed by the collaborative provide a window into how California police departments evaluate misconduct, shootings and other force by their officers — issues that have fueled criticism that law enforcement agencies aren’t open enough with the people they serve.

Here’s some of the stories that have relied on records released under the new transparency law:

  • The Times detailed an investigation into a South Pasadena police officer who was fired after he admitted fleeing the scene of an off-duty crash. Cpl. Ryan Bernal had been drinking with colleagues at an after-work gathering before he crashed into a pole, which struck and damaged a home, according to internal records. Hours later, he accompanied his mother as she falsely told sheriff’s officials that she had been behind the wheel, the records show.
  • San Francisco-based KQED and the Bay Area News Group reported that a Rio Vista police officer entered a home in 2017 and immediately put a man in a chokehold for 20 seconds, which was captured in body camera images. That officer was fired. The radio station also found that two officers in Watsonville in Santa Cruz County had been fired in recent years for repeatedly having sex with civilians while on duty.
  • The San Diego Union-Tribune found a San Diego County sheriff’s lieutenant had embezzled more than $100,000 in donations from her church, according to an internal affairs investigation. She agreed to pay back the missing funds and was not prosecuted. She retired from the department in 2013. The newspaper also reported about a Chula Vista police officer who was fired last year for having sex while on duty and in uniform in a public area.
  • Last week, The Times published details from the first records released by the Los Angeles Police Department, which included officers fired in connection with allegations of sexual assault and of making false statements under oath.

The disclosure of the records marks a stark departure for California. For years, the state had the nation’s strictest laws on disclosing police personnel records, due in large part to the lobbying efforts of powerful law enforcement unions that wanted to keep the files confidential. All internal disciplinary records were confidential.

That changed last year with the passage of Senate Bill 1421, which allows for the release of records of shootings by officers, severe uses of force and confirmed cases of sexual assault and lying by officers.

 

BEN POSTON and MAYA LAU, MAR 19, 2019, LATimes, “Here are the stories about police misconduct uncovered so far by a new media partnership”, https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-police-files-roundup-20190319-story.html


 

In California, the fight over a secret list of criminal cops

 

ON JANUARY 8, A LIST OF 12,000 NAMES arrived in the inboxes of Robert Lewis and Jason Paladino, reporters with the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. The reporters had filed public records requests with the state’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training in 2018 for the names of California law enforcement officers and applicants for police jobs who have been convicted of a crime in the past 10 years.

There were many stories in it — the list included current and former officers with serious felonies on their records — but Lewis, Paladino, and their editors weren’t sure what the story was. Three weeks later, when the journalists received a letter from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office, telling them to destroy the records and claiming that possessing them was a criminal offense, they knew what the story would be. The headline, as it ran February 26 in both the East Bay Times and the website for the public radio station KQED: “California keeps a secret list of criminal cops, but says you can’t have it.”

“In some ways, the story is that letter—the fact that the attorney general doesn’t want these records out there,” Paladino says.

Paladino and Lewis are still working with the data, checking names to make sure they’ve identified the right people and looking up individual cases in county courthouses. Thousands of the names on the list don’t belong to police officers, but Paladino and Lewis matched about 3,500 names on the list to officers in state personnel databases, and 2,250 of them have been active within the past five years.

RELATED: The ‘really dangerous’ precedent for reclaiming public records

The letter from Becerra’s office isn’t slowing them down, though they say it is distressing. “I’m very hopeful that this is just sort of an idle threat,” says Lewis, who works for Investigative Studios, a nonprofit production company affiliated with the university program. “I’ve been a reporter for more than 15 years, and I’ve never had anything like this happen on a story.”

The letter, from Deputy Attorney General Michelle Mitchell, makes two core claims. The first is that the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training released the records “inadvertently,” and their release should be effectively undone by the UC Berkeley team destroying the records. (The Golden State’s supreme court ruled in 2016 to protect reclamation of inadvertently released materials; such claims remain rare outside of California.) The records never should have been released, the letter claims, because they were drawn from a confidential law enforcement database of criminal records. Second, Mitchell’s letter warns Lewis and Paladino, “you are hereby on notice that the unauthorized receipt or possession” of the records is a misdemeanor (emphasis in the original letter).

I hold the attorney general’s office in high regard … but I do not know how this letter got out of the AG’s office.

Lewis and Paladino, and their editors and attorneys, dispute both claims. The commission’s release of the records was clearly intentional, they say, pointing to a month of back-and-forth between the reporters and the commission about what records to gather and how long they would take to produce. The reporters made their requests on December 6; at no point, they say, did anyone at the commission suggest the records should be exempt from disclosure. The spreadsheet itself is composed of information that is public, available in federal and state court filings.

The threat of criminal liability for possession of the records appears unfounded in California law. Mitchell’s letter cites a state law that says it is a misdemeanor for an unauthorized person to buy, receive, or possess records or information from the state criminal records database. However, that law has an exemption for anyone covered by the state’s media shield law, including reporters, editors, and anyone “connected with or employed by” a news organization.

ICYMI: A reporter asked for 20 years of lottery winner data. After analyzing the records, he noticed something unusual.

“Given the plain language of the statute, there is no way they can credibly threaten prosecution,” James Wheaton, the founder and senior counsel of the First Amendment Project, says.

“I hold the attorney general’s office in high regard … but I do not know how this letter got out of the AG’s office,” Wheaton, who since this story’s publication has been retained by Paladino, says. “I hate to say it, but it’s a bullying tactic: send a shot across the bow, throw around words like ‘misdemeanor,’ and see if you can scare somebody.”

The attorney general’s office did not make anyone available for an interview. Instead, it provided a statement repeating its position as outlined in the letter. The Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training did not reply to an interview request.

This isn’t Becerra’s only tangle with the media over records of police misconduct. He’s being sued by the First Amendment Coalition for his refusal to turn over records from internal investigations of alleged law enforcement misconduct. Such records have historically been kept secret in California, even from prosecutors and defense attorneys, making it one of the worst statesfor public access to law enforcement records.

A new law that went into effect January 1 changes some of that, requiring the release of records in cases of officer shootings or other major uses of force, as well as proven sexual assaults and dishonesty on the job.

Police unions claim the law should only apply to records created after January 1. Trial courts in the state have come down on both sides, but most courts in the state’s large counties have ruled in favor of releasing the records. Becerra has said in court filings that the law should apply to older records, but his office still refuses to turn over its own pre-2019 files.

“The attorney general has been really disappointing,” John Temple, the director of the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, says. “I don’t know the AG, and I’m not trying to cast any aspersions on his character, but I’d say as a leader, when it comes to the public’s right to know, he’s been disappointing at best and terrible at worst.”

 

“In California, the fight over a secret list of criminal cops”, Tony Biasotti, MARCH 4, 2019, https://www.cjr.org/united_states_project/berkeley-becerra-police-records.php

When Kamala Harris Turned a Blind Eye to Police Brutality

When Kamala Harris Turned a Blind Eye to Police Brutality

“They just started shooting everyone,” a woman sobs. “They shot at little kids too.” The video, from a July 21, 2012 report by CBS News affiliate KCAL, shows Anaheim police firing bean bag shotguns into a crowd of men, women, and young children that had gathered earlier in the day after one of the officers shot and killed an unarmed Latino man from the neighborhood during a chase. At one point, a police dog rushes into the fray.

At the time, Kamala Harris—now a favorite in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary—was California’s Attorney general. Despite public outcry and growing unrest, her office did not conduct an independent investigation into the events of that Sunday nor into the events that followed.

It all began shortly before 4 p.m. Two Anaheim police officers, on patrol in the heavily hispanic neighborhood around the 700 block of North Anna Drive, received an anonymous tip that men were loitering in a nearby alley. They arrived on the scene to find 25-year-old Manuel Angel Diaz leaning into a car window. Suspecting a drug deal, the officers ordered everyone to stop what they were doing. Diaz took off running. Officer Nick Bennallack briefly gave chase before drawing his gun and fatally shooting the fleeing man as he turned to look behind him—once in the buttock and once in the back of the head. Bennallack would later testify in court that he saw Diaz throw an object he thought was a weapon, but only a cell phone was found nearby. As Diaz lay dying, the officers reportedly cuffed him and called for backup. They did not immediatelyadminister first aid. Diaz was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

Cell phone footage shows officers standing around Diaz’s body

The shooting took place in the courtyard of an apartment complex and it wasn’t long before a crowd of angry residents began to gather at the scene. A confrontation ensued, resulting in more violence. Protesters allegedly threw rocks and bottles at police and set a dumpster on fire. Police responded with pepper spray and non-lethal rounds.

The footage is difficult to watch. Screaming and sobbing can be heard as officers coolly aim their weapons into the crowd. A series of loud pops ring out as they fire. A police dog attacks a mother with her baby and bites a boy before an officer rushes over to control the animal. Police would later say that the dog’s involvement was accidental and that it had escaped an unmanned cruiser.

Local press reported that officers had offered to buy cell phone videos of what had transpired from bystanders.

The next day, protests continued and Anaheim police officers killed another man, Joel Acevedo, during a foot chase. He too was shot in the back of the head. Acevedo’s death marked the year’s fifth police killing and the sixth police shooting.

That same day, Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait held a press conference at police department headquarters and called on Harris’ office to conduct an investigation. “Transparency is essential,” he said, promising that “whatever the truth is, we will own it.” Angry protesters swarmed the lobby.

For a moment it did look like an independent investigation by the AG was imminent. A report from the New York Times on July 25 claimed Harris’ office was indeed looking into the matter. However, there is evidence directly contradicting this claim—Paste contacted the Times, and an assistant in the Standards Department wrote the following: “We make every effort to correct errors when they are brought to our attention in a reasonable period of time. After that, I’m afraid, we do not alter them.” A follow-up email requesting any evidence for the claim went unanswered. On the same day as the Times story, Reuters reported that the Orange County District Attorney’s office was conducting the investigation into the shootings, and the Anaheim city council had voted to ask the U.S. Attorney and FBI to launch a probe, the findings of which would be reviewed by the AG’s office.

Five days later, on July 30, activists delivered a petition to Harris’ office with roughly 18,000 digital signatures, demanding that she conduct an independent investigation. A representative for her office told KABC that Harris intended to wait for the Orange County DA’s office to conclude its investigation before deciding whether or not to look into the matter. Nothing came of it. A public information assistant with the Attorney General’s office told Paste that there was no record of press releases related to any such investigation surrounding the Diaz killing. A subsequent formal public records request yielded nothing when the AG’s office took an extension and then missed their own deadline. Harris’ campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Ultimately, the Orange County DA would clear the officers of any wrongdoing, no charges would be filed, and nobody was fired. Even after that, Harris chose not to start an independent investigation. Officer Bennallack is, to this day, on the force. However, in 2017, a federal jury found that he had used excessive force and awarded Diaz’s family $200,000 in damages.

The incidents left a lasting scar on the city. To rebuild public trust, the Anaheim Police Department implemented a series of reforms including the creation of the Chief’s Neighborhood Advisory Council with representatives from 22 neighborhoods across the city who meet with the police chief and command staff monthly, a Homeless Outreach Team and Psychological Emergency Response Team (PERT), which has two mental health clinicians on staff. The Department also expanded its community policing teams and youth services detail.

“The Anaheim Police Department has worked really hard on building trust with the community following the events of 2012,” spokesperson Sergeant Daron Wyatt told Paste over email.

Harris’ inaction in these matters could be written off as not wanting to interfere with an ongoing investigation by the Orange County DA’s office, but it’s important to note that she didn’t act even after that investigation concluded (and prompted another public outcry). Nor was this refusal an isolated incident; indeed, it was a feature of her time as AG. Although she did oversee the creation and implementation of an implicit bias and procedural justice training program for California law enforcement officers, she notably opposed legislation that would have required her office to independently investigate police shootings like the ones in Anaheim. She also spoke out against another proposal to mandate officer body cameras. “I as a general matter believe that we should invest in the ability of law enforcement leaders in specific regions and with their departments to use … discretion to figure out what technology they are going to adopt based on needs that they have and resources that they have,” she explained.

For her campaign, Harris has leaned into her law enforcement background, characterizing herself as a “progressive prosecutor.” But that record has proven problematic for some Democrats as more has come to light—particularly involving her truancy crackdown and her decision not to prosecute OneWest, the bank Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin owned during the financial crisis. Harris’ failure to investigate the high profile acts of police violence in Anaheim is another troubling example of how her pursuit of justice apparently had limits.

 

Walker Bragman, February 28, 2019, “When Kamala Harris Turned a Blind Eye to Police Brutality”, https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2019/02/they-shot-at-little-kids-too-when-kamala-harris-tu.html

One of six officers who fired at Willie McCoy had killed unarmed man in 2018

Vallejo officer Ryan McMahon, among officers in shooting at Taco Bell, faces lawsuit in earlier killing

Willie McCoy was shot at a Taco Bell after officers woke him up inside his car.
 Willie McCoy was shot at a Taco Bell after officers woke him up inside his car. Photograph: Courtesy David Harrison

One of the six California police officers who fired a barrage of bullets at Willie McCoy at a Vallejo Taco Bell had previously shot and killed an unarmed man and is the subject of an ongoing excessive force lawsuit. A second officer had been sued by the family of a Vallejo teenager in a police brutality case.

The Vallejo officer Ryan McMahon and five other policemen fired at McCoy, a 20-year-old aspiring rapper, after officers woke him up inside his car at a fast-food drive through earlier this month. McCoy died at the scene.

The McCoy family’s attorney, who recently viewed the young man’s body, said he was hit by what appeared to be roughly 25 shots, including in his face, throat, chest, ear and arms. His loved ones have called the death an “execution by a firing squad” and have accused police of racial profiling.

The department released the names of the six officers on Wednesday night in response to a Bay Area News Group records request. They were Ryan McMahon, Collin Eaton, Bryan Glick, Jordon Patzer, Anthony Romero-Cano and Mark Thompson.

Officer McMahon, who has been on the force for more than seven yearsshot an unarmed black father of two just last year. On 13 February 2018, McMahon stopped Ronnell Foster, 32, who was riding his bike in downtown Vallejo. Foster fled toward an alley, prompting McMahon to chase after him and strike him over the head with a flashlight, according to a federal complaint. McMahon eventually shot Foster several times in the back and the back of his head.

The department claimed McMahon fired the fatal shots after Foster took the officer’s flashlight and raised it in a threatening manner, but an eyewitness disputed that account. The complaint noted there was no evidence that the officer was injured in any way, and when he called in the shooting to dispatch, his only statement was that Foster had fled from him.

It is unclear why McMahon followed or stopped Foster in the first place.

Foster left behind two children, now ages six and 14.

A troubled history

The police department in Vallejo, 30 miles north-east of San Francisco, has a troubled history of excessive force claims and controversial killings. McMahon is not the first officer in the department to be implicated in multiple shootings. One officer killed three men in a five-month period – and was subsequently promoted.

“Over and over and over, we have these cases in Vallejo, and we never have any discipline or re-training,” said Melissa Nold, a civil rights attorney who is representing McCoy’s family. “That is why people keep dying … It’s pretty disturbing.”

Nold’s law firm also represents the relatives of Foster, whose civil lawsuit against McMahon and the city of Vallejo continues.

“It’s rare for any police officer to use deadly force in the course of their career,” said Adante Pointer, an attorney for Foster’s family, noting that it was particularly rare for police to kill multiple people. “It is alarming … that he would be placed in a position where he can harm and kill citizens again while there is still ongoing litigation about the lawfulness of his use of force.”

Despite a continuing stream of deaths, Vallejo officials did not seem interested in trying to reduce the use of deadly force, said Nold: “How are you training officers if they are repeatedly taking lives?” The attorney said McCoy’s body was one of the most disturbing examples of police brutality and gun violence she had ever seen in her career.

Officer Thompson was sued in 2013 by the family of Anton Barrett and his teenage son. Barrett was unarmed when he was was shot by Vallejo police the year before. Thompson was not involved in the shooting, but was accused of directing his police dog to repeatedly “maul” Barrett’s 19-year-old son after the teen was handcuffed, according to the complaint. The officer was also accused of threatening to kill the son and calling him the n-word. The teenager ended up in the the hospital with bites to his face and legs.

The city denied the allegations and the case was eventually settled. Thompson was never criminally charged.

Vallejo police did not respond to a request for comment, and McMahon and Thompson could not immediately be reached.

‘We are being slaughtered in the streets’

The 9 February killing of McCoy has sparked national outrage, and a witness video, filmed from a distance, revealed that after the group of officers riddled him with lethal shots, they shouted a series of commands at him.

Police have alleged that McCoy had a handgun in his lap and had “moved his hands downward” when he was wakened. The department has not released body-camera footage.

Taco Bell had called 911 to report a man who appeared to be unconscious.

David Harrison, one of McCoy’s cousins who helped raise him, said Thursday he was not surprised to hear that one of the officers who shot his loved one had previously killed a man.

“It’s not shocking to me, because these guys are trained to do that,” Harrison, 48, told the Guardian. “We are just helpless. We are like sheep being led off to slaughter, and we are being slaughtered in the streets.”

Harrison said he wished McMahon had faced accountability after the first killing, but noted that his cousin would probably still be dead, given the involvement of five other officers.

“It’s a bigger problem than just that one officer,” he said. “This has just been going on for so long … It’s not just Willie. I want people to know that this could also be your child.”

 

Sam Levin, “One of six officers who fired at Willie McCoy had killed unarmed man in 2018”, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/feb/21/willie-mccoy-police-shooting-taco-bell

It’s time for Xavier Becerra to show some courage on police misconduct disclosure

By THE TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD

It's time for Xavier Becerra to show some courage on police misconduct disclosure
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra sits for an interview in Sacramento, Calif. on Oct. 10, 2018. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra is setting a bad example for this state’s guardians of public safety. He’s got some 500 law enforcement officers working for him in several state Department of Justice agencies, and they are covered by a new law that lifts the veil of secrecy on police behavior by requiring the release of certain personnel records. He ought to quickly comply with requests for those documents, and he ought to make it clear that he believes the hundreds of police and sheriff’s departments around the state ought to be doing the same thing.

Instead, he has failed to respond to records requests. He explains that he’s waiting for courts to decide whether the new law — SB 1421 — really means what it says, or if it instead applies only to records of police misconduct or shootings that occurred after the law took effect this year.

Of course the law means what it says. There is nothing in the language that limits its application. When police secrecy laws were adopted in the 1970s, they covered up records past and present. Likewise, the bill to once again grant public access to records related to officer use of force, sexual assault or dishonesty applies to all law enforcement files.

Los Angeles officials have been hot and cold on police disclosure.


Share quote & link 

After losing in the Legislature last year, police unions are making a last-ditch attempt to thwart the law by arguing that it somehow doesn’t apply to records of previous years’ incidents. They have gotten a few judges in Los Angeles and other places around the state to halt disclosure while they consider the question. Meanwhile, other judges in other parts of the state have properly rejected the argument. That means the law applies or doesn’t apply depending on where in the state the records are being held. That’s an untenable situation that requires some leadership from the state’s top lawyer.

Keep in mind that none of those lawsuits seeking to block release apply directly to Becerra’s department. But he isn’t releasing anything anyway, until the other lawsuits are resolved.

That’s absurd. Lawsuits are filed all the time over the proper interpretation of the Public Records Act and other disclosure laws. If state and local agencies didn’t comply with any request while litigation was pending, police unions and others who want to block disclosure would have an easy time of it. They wouldn’t have to win their lawsuits; they would just have to file them over and over again.

In addition to conducting its own law enforcement operations, Becerra’s office also investigates local police agencies, and in so doing it obtains records from city police officers and county sheriff’s deputies that are subject to the disclosure law. Becerra isn’t releasing those either. He is being challenged in court on that point by the First Amendment Coalition, just as The Times and other news organizations are pressing for disclosure from other law enforcement agencies.

Californians should expect better from their attorney general. He is the state’s lawyer and the public’s advocate, and should put his position and his office’s legal acumen to work on behalf of transparency, as required by the law, and not secrecy, as preferred by police unions.

It’s the unions, of course, that make things complicated. They are big players in state and local politics, and they expect elected officials to toe their line on issues of importance to them.

Los Angeles officials have been hot and cold on police disclosure. More than a decade ago, when a more expansive bill came before the Legislature, then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief William Bratton spoke out in favor of it.

This time around, LAPD Chief Michel Moore argued that the law ought to apply only to new incidents and new records because doing otherwise would create a bureaucratic headache. It may or may not, but inconvenience is no excuse for noncompliance.

Now, however, Moore finds himself a defendant in a suit by the Los Angeles Police Protective League to block disclosure. City Atty. Mike Feuer has filed papers on behalf of the city arguing for disclosure.

The Assn. of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs filed a suit blocking release of sheriff’s records from before Jan. 1. It’s time for the Board of Supervisors to weigh in on behalf of the public, and of disclosure.

And it’s time for Becerra, the state’s preeminent law officer, to show some leadership on the issue.

THE TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD, FEB 15, 2019, “It’s time for Xavier Becerra to show some courage on police misconduct disclosure”, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-sb-1421-police-20190215-story.html

Six California officers shot man as he woke in his car

13 February 2019

Willie McCoy pictured with another music artist and his cousinImage copyrightDAVID HARRISON/FACEBOOK
Image captionWillie McCoy (right) in an image shared by his cousin David Harrison (centre)

California police have said a 20-year-old black man who was shot and killed in his car by six officers last week had reached for a gun first.

But Willie McCoy’s family has pushed back, saying the aspiring rapper was not a threat to the officers as he was just waking up.

Vallejo police had been called for a wellness check when a driver was spotted slumped over in his vehicle.

The man was pronounced dead at the scene on 9 February.

“Any loss of life is a tragedy,” police chief Andrew Bidou said in an updated report of the incident on Tuesday.

The police report does not name Mr McCoy as the driver, citing the ongoing investigation, but local media identified him after speaking with family members.

Vallejo is a city near San Francisco that has been the site of several alleged cases of police brutality against black residents.

What do Vallejo police say?

According to the police department, officers received a call from employees at a Taco Bell fast food restaurant on Saturday night, requesting a check-up on a driver in the parking lot.

When they arrived on scene, they saw Mr McCoy unresponsive in his vehicle with a semi-automatic handgun on his lap. More officers were called while Mr McCoy slept.

Police had planned on opening the car door and retrieving the weapon before engaging Mr McCoy, but were unable to do so as the doors were locked.

Mr McCoy then woke up and looked at the officers, who commanded him to keep his hands visible. Police then say he did not comply and “quickly moved his hands downward for the firearm”.

“Fearing for their safety, six officers fired their duty weapons at the driver,” the news release stated. Multiple rounds were fired in a span of four seconds.

“Officers continued to yell commands at the driver and ultimately reached through the broken glass of the driver’s window to unlock the vehicle.”

Police attempted medical assistance but the driver died at the scene. An official post-mortem examination is still under way.

A preliminary investigation found that the gun had been reported stolen in Oregon.

The officers have not been named and have been placed on administrative leave for the duration of the investigation.

Photo of Willie McCoy and his cousin David HarrisonImage copyrightDAVID HARRISON/FACEBOOK
Image captionWillie McCoy (left) and his cousin David Harrison

What does the family say?

Mr McCoy’s family has disputed this police account.

During a vigil on Sunday, Mr McCoy’s older brother Mark said police had surprised Mr McCoy and fired too quickly.

“My little brother was just shot for no reason,” he said, according to CBS News.

“If I wake you up… if I knock on your front door and, ‘Bang bang bang!’ you’re going to jump off the bed,” he said. “Why wouldn’t you be safe while you wake him up and then [say] ‘Driver, exit the car’?”

David Harrison, Mr McCoy’s cousin, told the Los Angeles Times on Monday that Mr McCoy was raised by relatives after his parents passed away when he was a child.

He said his cousin had finished up a session in a recording studio before he drove to the Taco Bell.

In an emotional Facebook video, Mr Harrison pleaded with other young people to listen to their parents and keep away from cops.

“I want no other parents, no other kid’s parents, to go through this ever again,” Mr Harrison said. “They can’t just keep killing us in the street like this. My little cousin was asleep in the car.”

Mr McCoy’s family has hired civil rights attorney John Burris – who recently took on a case where a homeless man sleeping in Oakland was killed by police – to represent them, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

13 February 2019, bbc, “Six California officers shot man as he woke in his car”, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47229247

California Has a High Rate of Police Shootings. Could a New Open-Records Law Change That?

Valerie Rivera protested the death of her son Eric, who was shot by police officers while holding a toy gun in Los Angeles last year.CreditCreditDavid Mcnew/Getty Images

By Tim Arango, Feb. 12, 2019

LOS ANGELES — After her son, Eric, was killed by the police in Los Angeles two years ago when officers mistook a water pistol he was holding for a real gun, Valerie Rivera channeled her grief into activism. She joined Black Lives Matter and lobbied the State Legislature to open to the public California’s records on police shootings, which have long been hidden.

She wanted, she recently wrote in a court filing, to “understand what really happened, and to advocate for change so that officers do not kill civilians, and are held accountable when they do, so that other families do not have to suffer as mine has.”

Her efforts paid off. Under a new state law, Ms. Rivera and other members of the public can now request to see the investigative records, prying open for the first time California’s strict secrecy laws regarding police shootings and serious misconduct by officers.

But, just as activists and state lawmakers have sought to bring decades-old investigative records to light, police unions have tried to jam the door shut. While police departments have said they would comply, police unions up and down the state, including in Los Angeles, have filed lawsuits challenging the law, arguing that it shouldn’t be applied retroactively. The union lawsuits have succeeded in some jurisdictions in getting temporary stays from the court.

The debate has opened up old wounds in a state that has been plagued by a high rate of killings by police officers, and it has showed how contentious and complex criminal justice reform can be, even after reform measures are passed.

California may be one of the most liberal states in the nation — its politics have shifted substantially in recent decades amid sweeping demographic changes — but paradoxes abound, especially when it comes to police matters and criminal justice. The state has the largest death row in the country, and voters, in a ballot measure, have demanded that the state speed up executions.

It also has one of the highest rates of police shootings in the country. Though there is no central database to track police shootings nationally, an analysis of data from 2013 to 2017 by Mapping Police Violence, an advocacy group that maintains a database of police killings, ranked the Bakersfield Police Department as the fifth deadliest in the country.

Now, at least on paper, California has gone from one of the most secretive states on police shootings to one of the most open. New York, by contrast, strictly limits the amount of information on police shootings that is made public.

Some other states, including Alabama, Georgia and Florida, are more transparent than California, according to research by the American Civil Liberties Union. These states allow open access to a broad range of police files, including disciplinary records of individual officers, and not just those concerned with police shootings.

Other states are more limited. In places like Texas, Kentucky and Utah, police disciplinary records are available only after the department has determined that an officer violated policies, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

In California, many people are hoping that the new records release law — which applies to videos, investigative reports and disciplinary records of officers involved in shootings — will help stop more killings and provide some comfort for victims’ families.

Police officers at the scene in 2009 where Oscar Grant was killed by an officer on a train platform in Oakland. Making public the files of images and written records of police shootings is important because “it’s part of the healing process,” said Cephus Johnson, Mr. Grant’s uncle.CreditLos Angeles County Superior Court, via Associated Press
Police officers at the scene in 2009 where Oscar Grant was killed by an officer on a train platform in Oakland. Making public the files of images and written records of police shootings is important because “it’s part of the healing process,” said Cephus Johnson, Mr. Grant’s uncle.CreditLos Angeles County Superior Court, via Associated Press

“It’s part of the healing process,” said Cephus Johnson, the uncle of Oscar Grant, who was killed by police on a train platform in 2009 in Oakland. He said he is seeking the records in his nephew’s case, which led to wide-scale protests and, later, a Hollywood movie, so that he can see the disciplinary records of the officers involved.

“This is ultimately about healing,” he added.

Still, police unions have argued that the law should be applied only to shootings that take place after it was enacted. They say that making all past records public would overwhelm the police with work.

And in a letter to State Senator Nancy Skinner, the author of the law, the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, Michel Moore, wrotethat if the law were retroactive, “the workload on the men and women of the L.A.P.D. could prove to be well beyond any reasonable expectation given the sheer volume of personnel complaints and uses of force maintained in antiquated or archaic formats.”

In addition to officer-involved shootings, the law covers records related to allegations of sexual misconduct and instances of lying by police officers. Unions have argued that it is unfair to now make public disciplinary records from the past, when officers were guaranteed confidentiality.

“Here’s the deal,” said Jacob Kalinski, a lawyer whose firm is representing many police unions in California that are challenging the law. “When you have employment decisions that you are making, that are based on one sort of set of circumstances, the idea is, if you change the circumstances, you’re going to be in a position where you might have made different decisions.”

Mr. Kalinski added, “We think this is unfair from a labor perspective.”

Even as the union lawsuits proceed, some departments have complied with records requests, revealing instances of alleged sexual misconduct by officers that in the past were not publicly reported.

In one case, a police officer in the Bay Area was fired last year for allegedly offering to help a woman who had been charged with D.U.I. in exchange for sex. In another, records revealed that two officers in Watsonville, in the Central Coast, had been fired for having sex with civilians while on duty.

Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man, was shot and killed last year by police officers in Sacramento who mistook his cellphone for a gun. The case touched off days of protests in California’s capital and captured the attention of the nation, becoming another touchpoint in the country’s emotional reckoning with issues of police of race.

“For us, my brother is gone,” said Stevante Clark, Stephon’s older brother. “Knowing anything new isn’t going to bring him back.”

Still, he said, the law is important to him, “to prevent this from happening again — the cops have been lying since Day 1.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, an activist in Los Angeles, was outraged when he learned that the city of Inglewood had begun destroying old records ahead of the law taking effect, which was first reported by The Los Angeles Times. “The records tell a story,” Mr. Hutchinson said.

He said the new law underscored the distance between California’s image as a liberal bastion and the reality in the state when it comes to police issues.

“Why did California feel the need to pass a law like this in the first place?” Mr. Hutchinson said. “Why was secrecy in police records such a big deal for so long in California? Why, in such a liberal place?”

A still image captured from police aerial video footage shows Stephon Clark, right, as he was shot by two police officers in Sacramento. Some Californians hope that the new records release law could help stop more killings and provide some comfort for victims’ families.CreditSacramento Police Department, via Reuters
A still image captured from police aerial video footage shows Stephon Clark, right, as he was shot by two police officers in Sacramento. Some Californians hope that the new records release law could help stop more killings and provide some comfort for victims’ families.CreditSacramento Police Department, via Reuters

Inglewood has faced scrutiny for a number of police shootings, including a series in 2008, and Mr. Hutchinson has worked with families to try to get answers about them.

(The mayor of Inglewood, James T. Butts Jr., did not respond to a request for comment for this article. He told The Los Angeles Times that the destruction of the records was routine, and unrelated to the new law.)

One of the people killed in Inglewood in 2008 was Kevin Wicks, an African-American postal worker. Police officers responded to a domestic disturbance at his home, and found Mr. Wicks with a gun. The officer who shot and killed him had been involved in another shooting just two months before.

Mr. Wick’s mother, Donna Hernandez, said she is worried that the records related to the shooting of her son may have already been destroyed. “I can’t get any concrete answers,” she said.

In Long Beach, the police department had been purging internal-affairs records before the law went into effect, raising concerns that the department was trying to skirt the law. But the department said the purging was unrelated to the law, and that the city had retained police records, and all records for current employees, for the last 17 years.

Erik Herzog, a commander in the Long Beach department, said the new law posed problems.

“Our union is concerned about it,” he said. “I’m concerned about it. You are talking about thousands and thousands and thousands of pages of documents that will take us years to comply with. And we don’t have years to comply with that. So that means I have to reallocate where I’m taking people, from other jobs, from the street or from detectives, and get them to start working on these cases.”

Peter Bibring, a senior staff attorney for the civil liberties union in Los Angeles who focuses on police matters, said the intent of the law was to apply to all records in the possession of police departments, not just for those generated after the law went into effect on Jan. 1.

Several news outlets in California have come together to file lawsuits in a bid to protect the law in the face of opposition from the unions. The A.C.L.U., meanwhile, has intervened in the police-union lawsuits, and has been working with families to obtain records.

“They want to find out more as part of the healing process, and in some cases they also want to uncover something that will lead to accountability, or some change in the system,” Mr. Bibring said. “So many of the families that have loved ones killed by the police end up working hard to make sure that there’s justice for their loved one and that other families don’t have to go through what they went through.”

California has some of the strictest laws protecting officers from being held accountable for shootings in criminal court. According to the A.C.L.U., between 2005 and 2016, there were almost 1,200 police-involved killings in California, and in only two cases were the killings determined to be unjustified.

 

The police records law is one piece of a broader effort to being more accountability to the police in California.

Activists have also been pushing to loosen the standards to make it easier for criminal charges to be filed against officers for shootings; lawmakers in Sacramento are expected to take up a new bill with that purpose. The current legal standard to justify shootings by officers requires only that they be deemed “objectively reasonable.”

“California’s law was written in 1872, and hasn’t been amended since,” Mr. Bibring said. “It was a law literally written from when this place was the wild Wild West.”

Tim Arango, Feb. 12, 2019 NYTimes, “California Has a High Rate of Police Shootings. Could a New Open-Records Law Change That?”, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/12/us/california-police-records.html