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.


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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

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20 Shots in Sacramento: Stephon Clark Killing Reignites a Furor

Hundreds of people filled Sacramento City Hall to protest the killing of Stephon Clark, who was shot by police officers who mistook his cellphone for a gun.CreditCreditMax Whittaker for The New York Times

By Jose A. Del Real, March 28, 2018

 

SACRAMENTO — Two police officers, 10 minutes, 20 bullets. Another young black man dead, this time in his grandmother’s backyard in California’s capital.

In the 10 days since Stephon Clark, 22, was fatally shot by officers investigating a vandalism complaint in his south Sacramento neighborhood, protesters have stormed City Hall and taken to the streets in anger. In a city that is mostly white and Latino, the killing, they say, is a sign of a police force that treats black residents with disdain and unfairly targets their neighborhoods.

Questions about excessive force hover over the case. A police helicopter was sent to a routine call. Officers fired 20 times at Mr. Clark. The police have also been accused of not giving Mr. Clark, who was unarmed, enough time to put his hands up and of waiting too long to call for medical help.

Adding to the scrutiny is the fact that the police muted their body cameras in the minutes after the shooting and can be seen on camera talking animatedly while Mr. Clark lay dead on the ground.

Stevante Clark, the brother of Stephon Clark, at the Sacramento district attorney’s office on Wednesday. Stephon was shot by officers responding to a vandalism call.CreditMax Whittaker for The New York Times
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Stevante Clark, the brother of Stephon Clark, at the Sacramento district attorney’s office on Wednesday. Stephon was shot by officers responding to a vandalism call.CreditMax Whittaker for The New York Times

The shooting has reignited the kind of protests against police killings that spread over the past several years in cities like Ferguson, Mo.; Baton Rouge, La.; and Milwaukee. Last week, protesters here shut down traffic on Interstate 5 and blocked the doors to a Sacramento Kings basketball game.

“Everybody knows that we’re getting killed regularly out here; that’s the buildup to this,” said Tanya Faison, who founded the local chapter of Black Lives Matter.

The mood was decidedly hopeful in August, when Daniel Hahn took over the Police Department as the first black police chief. Mr. Hahn defended his department in an interview on Wednesday and said that every officer had undergone training to discourage race-based discrimination, as well as de-escalation training. Though he said he could not discuss the case, he acknowledged: “Race permeates everything we do in our country. To think anything else would be naïve.”

Mr. Hahn said he had asked Xavier Becerra, the California attorney general, for help with the case. Mr. Becerra announced on Tuesday that the state’s Justice Department would join the investigation.

Local clergy and community members linked hands after a City Council meeting on Tuesday.CreditMax Whittaker for The New York Times
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Local clergy and community members linked hands after a City Council meeting on Tuesday.CreditMax Whittaker for The New York Times

The case began with a report of property damage. On the evening of March 18, two officers from the Sacramento Police Department were dispatched to investigate a complaint that someone was breaking vehicle windows.

A helicopter from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department was also hovering over the scene looking for a potential suspect when it identified a man with a crowbar heading toward a nearby house.

A few minutes after responding to the call, with the apparent guidance from the sheriff’s helicopter, the city police officers spotted Mr. Clark, who they said ran from them. They followed him into the backyard and ordered him to show his hands, police video shows. Seconds later, in the dark, one officer shouted, “gun, gun, gun, gun!” and they shot 20 times at Mr. Clark. The officers believed Mr. Clark had a weapon and opened fire “fearing for their lives,” according to a police statement.

The entire encounter lasted roughly 10 minutes. The officers looked for a gun but all they found was a cellphone.

2:20How Stephon Clark Was Killed by Police in His Backyard
Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old unarmed man, was shot by the police in his grandmother’s backyard in Sacramento on March 18. Police body camera and helicopter footage shows details of what happened.CreditCreditSacramento Police Department

Minutes later more officers arrived and the team handcuffed Mr. Clark, who lay mortally wounded.

As other officers arrived, the two involved in the shooting muted the audio feeds to their body cameras. One of the officers was black and the other was white. They are both on paid leave, Mr. Hahn said.

Timothy Davis, president of the Sacramento Police Officers Association, called the event a tragedy and voiced his support for the officers involved. “No police officer ever wants to have to take a life,” Mr. Davis said. “Our officers are out there serving this community, leaving their family behind to serve this community.”

It remains unclear if the decision to mute the cameras went against official protocol, but the act alone has prompted intense suspicion. The Clark family’s lawyer, Benjamin Crump, said that the move “reeks of impropriety” and that the Police Department was trying to cover something up. Mr. Crump represented the families of Trayvon Martin, who was shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012, and Michael Brown, killed by the police in Ferguson two years later.

Mr. Hahn said that the department could not explain why the officers muted their cameras, but that the officers’s actions were under investigation. The department had been considering banning muting cameras outright before Mr. Clark was shot, he said.

Black Lives Upended by Policing: The Raw Videos Sparking Outrage

This is a collection of the viral footage that has prompted a national conversation about race and policing.

“In their training they are told a couple different instances when they can mute their body cameras. The bigger ongoing question that we are already looking into and revising our policy is: Are those reasons acceptable?” Mr. Hahn said. “Should we continue to allow people to mute those cameras for those reasons?”

Dozens attended the wake for Mr. Clark on Wednesday and hundreds are expected to attend his funeral on Thursday, including activists from outside the city and from the Black Lives Matters movement, including the Rev. Al Sharpton. More vigils and protests are planned in cities across the country in the coming days.

Anger over Mr. Clark’s death has not let up in the days since the shooting. For four hours on Tuesday night hundreds of residents gathered at a Sacramento City Council meeting to complain that Mr. Clark’s death was just the latest in a long list of injustices against the black residents.

Late last year, a young black man was punched by a county police officer repeatedly during a jaywalking stop. Video of the attack attracted widespread attention on social media and the county later settled a lawsuit in response.

On Tuesday, speakers cried as they described the poverty and increasing income inequality between wealthy parts of Sacramento and its poorer neighborhoods.

Just beyond the council chamber’s doors, angry protesters took over City Hall’s main lobby and in one instance skirmished with police officers. “You shoot us down, we shut you down!” they chanted. Later, they blocked entry to another Sacramento Kings game.

Ms. Faison said the body-camera video of Mr. Clark’s death, which the police released in the days after the shooting, painted a damning portrait of the police.

“That’s just disgusting, honestly. That video. I don’t even know. I feel like they started shooting before they even looked at him. It looked like they were coming around the corner shooting and he was walking toward them to see what the noise was,” she said. “Why would you fly a helicopter for someone breaking into cars?”

Mayor Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, who has received the brunt of the criticism and led the council meeting, said in an interview Wednesday that he was sympathetic to the complaints and that people of color in Sacramento have genuine grievances about the police.

“Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, which will be based on the current laws and the current policies and the current training, what happened here, the outcome, was plain wrong,” he said. “A 22-year-old man should not have died in this way.”

Jose A. Del Real, March 28, 2018, NYTimes, 20 Shots in Sacramento: Stephon Clark Killing Reignites a Furor”, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/28/us/sacramento-stephon-clark.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

Salinas PD investigating alleged police brutality in April arrest posted to YouTube

Joe Szydlowski and Chelcey Adami, Salinas Californian,  Nov. 2, 2018

The Salinas Police Department is initiating an internal investigation of an arrest last spring, after a complaint was filed and video of the man’s arrest became public this week.

On Tuesday, someone posted a video to YouTube depicting body-camera footage from an April arrest.

In the footage, more than a half-dozen officers are seen chasing a man identified on YouTube as Jeffrey Mackay. The man tries to scale a fence but falls after officers use two stun guns on him.

Jeffrey Tyler Mackay, 27, was arrested late on the night of April 23 after two car chases, according to Monterey County Superior Court documents.

Officers spotted him running a stop sign in a 1998 silver Honda Civic at about 11:07 p.m. at San Vicente Avenue and West Acacia Street, documents show.

When he sped away, they chased him for a short time. Officers abandoned the chase as he went the wrong way on a one-way street, documents show. A short time later officers spotted him again and chased him to an apartment complex on Archer Street, where Mackay left his car, which then rolled into another vehicle.

After a foot chase, several officers eventually stopped him using the stun guns, punches and kicks, which appear to be shown in the YouTube video.

The person who posted the video, who goes by the name “Jack and Hennessy” and was identified as Mackay’s fiance in other news reports, wrote that the videos were released last week after Mackay was sentenced.

He had pleaded no contest to driving the wrong way on a street while fleeing from an officer, a felony, and misdemeanor resisting arrest, court records show. Charges of assault with a deadly weapon, evading police and hit-and-run were dismissed.

He was sentenced to four years in prison with credit for 341 days, the records show.

The video, which begins as the man is being Tasered, appears to have been spliced together from several different body cameras.

“We are investigating the actions of the officers to make sure that they followed policy based on the allegations that were brought forward,” said Salinas Police Assistant Chief Roberto B. Filice. “We hold our officers at a high standard because that’s what’s expected by our community and our officers have no issues with that. To be fair to the public and the officers, we need to investigate it.”

Filice said “the video that has been out there has been altered,” and that the same actions are played over and over “so that it appears it’s ongoing.”

The person who posted the videos wrote: “I have full original videos. They are simply cropped together to see both angles from different cameras at once.”

The department opens internal investigations when it receives a complaint, and one was received regarding this specific incident within the last few days, Filice said.

Alleging brutality, the person who posted the video writes that the footage “shows the helpless victim being tased, punched, and kicked multiple times, even after being fully incapacitated. All cries for mercy were ignored.”

The video was viewed nearly 1,800 times as of Friday morning.

In Mackay’s mugshot from that night, he has a black eye and some scrapes on his face. He is now incarcerated at North Kern State Prison, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

He also suffered “a ruptured eardrum that will likely lead to permanent hearing loss,” Mackay’s attorney wrote in a Monterey County Superior Court document seeking police records on officers’ conduct.

Attorney Roland L. Soltesz, who also represented Mackay, viewed the body camera footage, he said in a court filing.

“Mackay was submitting to the arrest following being Tasered and falling to the ground,” Soltesz said. “Though the officer reports claim that Mr. Mackay was continually resisting arrest by tensing his arm, placing his hands under his stomach and refusing to listen to commands, the (body camera) footage shows Mr. Mackay immediately said, ‘I’m done… I’m not resisting’ upon falling to the ground.”

When an officer placed a handcuff on one of Mackay’s hands, his “hair became tangled in the handcuff,” Soletsz said.

“Mackay was trying to cooperate with the officers but was instead beaten until his eardrum ruptured,” Soletsz said.

Mackay’s attorney had asked for any police misconduct records involving officers Jordy Urrutia, Robert Hernandez, David Puckett, Edgar Garcia, Cameron Mitchell, Ryan Keating, Froyland Aranda, Jose Luis Fletes Jr. and Clifton Smith.

Fletes originally tried to pull Mackay over, while Garcia and Puckett used their Tasers on Mackay, court documents show.

Urrutia, Aranda and Mitchell also struggled with Mackay after he was taken to the ground. Keating had spotted Mackay after he escaped police during the first chase.

Hernandez patted down the suspect, noting in his report “it took… four officers on each side in an attempt to retrieve the suspect’s arms” that he allegedly was keeping under his stomach.

Smith’s role in the struggle, if any, isn’t clear. The defense filing included some but not all police reports related to the arrest.

Rhonda Combs, senior deputy city attorney for the city of Salinas, objected to disclosing records of the officers’ conduct in a June 15 filing.

Combs did, however, acknowledge the body camera footage showed Mackay’s “long hair was tangled into a cuff or something and that is why he was refusing to cooperate,” she said.

“He would have had to pull his own hair to tender his left hand (for) officers to cuff,” she said.

Officers used a “kick to the shoulder and closed-fist hits” to finish handcuffing him, she wrote.

Nonetheless, Combs added that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that excessive force accusations must be viewed from the vantage of the moment it happened.

“Officers are often forced to make split second judgments — in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving — about the amount of force necessary,” she said.

She also noted that Mackay had led officers on two car chases and then ran away from them after 11 p.m.

“He is doing his time for his mistakes that night,” the person who posted the video wrote on YouTube. “This video is only to bring to light the other side of the story. I am a strong supporter of police but they need to be held accountable as well.”

In the lead-up to the struggle, Salinas police officers noted Mackay had repeatedly reached for his waistband while running in the dimly lit apartment complex, the police reports show.

After two officers used the stun guns on him, Mackay, lying face down, wouldn’t remove his hands from underneath his stomach, the reports say.

Officers said they feared he was trying to access a weapon in his waistband or front pockets, so they began striking him until he said “OK. I’m done. I’ll stop,” police said.

After they handcuffed him, Mackay was evaluated by paramedics before being taken to the jail. Officers reported injuries from the struggle, including one officer whose left middle finger “was bent backwards,” according to the reports.

The reports did not mention the handcuff snaring some of Mackay’s hair.

Mackay has had many encounters with law enforcement, some of them violent, Monterey County Superior Court records show.

In April 2016, he was accused of resisting arrest and seriously injuring Monterey County Sheriff’s deputy Brandon Smith.

The more serious charge was dismissed after he pleaded no contest to resisting or obstructing an officer. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail and three years of formal probation.

In January 2011, Mackay was charged with resisting arrest. He pleaded no contest to the charge and was sentenced to three years probation, according to court records.

A year before, he’d been charged with felony battery on a peace officer and pleaded no contest, court records show.

He also was accused of felony DUI in 2010, to which he pleaded no contest, which led to the suspension of his driver’s license.

On April 22, the day before Salinas police allegedly used excessive force, Mackay was caught by Marina police on suspicion of driving on a suspended license. Court records show that charge was later dismissed.

Filice said after a formal complaint is received, the case is assigned to the police department’s internal investigations sergeant. He or she then conducts interviews with all involved and gets as much information as possible to compile a report.

That report is given to the chief of police and executive staff to review whether policy violations took place, Filice said. If a violation is found, action is taken, he said.

Internal investigations may take months to complete.

“Obviously we try to address complaints as expeditiously as possible but we can’t say how long it will take because we do not know,” Filice said.

The chief will make the final determination on what information from the investigation will be shared with the public, he said.

“One of the things that I’d like for people to consider is that the video has been altered and what they are depicting there is not what happened,” Filice said. “Unfortunately, since we have an internal investigation going, we can’t share any videos we have at this time … I would ask people to keep an open mind.”

Filice added that the police department has seen increased trust with the community and the police chief’s goal is to be “as transparent as possible.”

“We ask the public to be patient and let us go through the process of investigating the incident and then the chief will be able to share the facts once we know all the facts,” he said. “But we do want to thank the community for all the support we have received.”

Filice said Friday the police department has not been served with any notice that a civil lawsuit has been filed in this case.

 

Joe Szydlowski and Chelcey Adami, Salinas Californian,  Nov. 2, 2018, “Salinas PD investigating alleged police brutality in April arrest posted to YouTube”,  https://www.thecalifornian.com/story/news/2018/11/02/salinas-police-brutality-alleged-case-posted-youtube/1854456002/

California law enforcement unions seek to block release of officer disciplinary records

, Jan 17, 2019 | 5:25 PM

California law enforcement unions seek to block release of officer disciplinary records
Law enforcement unions in Los Angeles, Orange and other counties are heading to court in an effort to stop departments from releasing disciplinary and other records issued before a new disclosure law took effect this year. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

A landmark attempt to open up records of police use of force and misconduct in California has turned into a broad legal battle as law enforcement unions across the state have gone to court to stop the release of some of the documents.

An Orange County judge on Thursday issued a temporary restraining order to block the Sheriff’s Department from disclosing records from incidents that took place before Jan. 1, when the transparency law went into effect.

Like other unions, the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs argued that applying Senate Bill 1421 retroactively would violate longstanding legal protections for officer personnel files.

“To have the rug pulled out from under them isn’t fair,” Jacob Kalinski, an attorney for the AOCDS, said after a hearing on the request. He noted his request is meant to pause any release of records so the legal issues involved can be examined more closely.

Laura Knapp, an attorney for Orange County, opposed the union’s move, arguing that the new law applies to documents currently in the county’s possession, which includes records of incidents before Jan. 1.

“We are committed to transparency,” she told Superior Court Judge Nathan Scott at the hearing.

The Times, along with Voice of OC and Southern California Public Radio, applied to intervene in the case in favor of disclosure.

In Los Angeles County, open-government advocates and media organizations, including The Times, filed court papers Thursday asking for permission to challenge a temporary order blocking the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Police Department from releasing the same kind of records. The order was requested by the union that represents LAPD officers.

The unions representing deputy sheriffs in Los Angeles County and Ventura County have each filed their own requests to block disclosure of records of incidents prior to Jan. 1. A judge in San Bernardino County granted a similar request from a local law enforcement union.

Until last year, the state’s powerful law enforcement unions repeatedly blocked attempts to make any disciplinary records public. But lawmakers approved SB 1421 amid a heightened debate over how officers use force and interact with communities of color.

The law covers records of shootings by officers, severe uses of force and confirmed cases of sexual assault and lying by officers. Proponents of the measure say restricting its reach to records of incidents after Jan. 1 severely limits the law’s impact and shields misconduct by some officers who remain on the job.

“Officers have been escaping responsibility for their past acts,” said Melanie Ochoa, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which supports disclosure and filed to intervene in the lawsuit brought by the union representing LAPD officers.

Ochoa said there have been records released under the new law that show a pattern of misconduct that could otherwise have remained hidden. In San Mateo County, the district attorney said he would consider reopening a criminal investigation into an officer accused of an attempted sexual assault after records surfaced showing the officer had a history of similar allegations.

“There is a pressing, current need to make sure officers are not engaged in very egregious acts of misconduct and to understand how police departments are evaluating use of deadly force,” Ochoa said.

Scott Tiedemann, an attorney who represents police managers across California, says many of the law enforcement unions appear to be concerned that records created with an expectation that they would be kept private will now be subject to disclosure.

Tiedemann said police agencies do not have the funding to respond to voluminous requests for records that date back decades. He said a more reasonable solution would be for the law to be interpreted to apply to records as far back as five years.

“There are many good things that can happen as a result of the increased transparency,” said Tiedemann, a managing partner of Liebert Cassidy Whitmore. “But right now, public resources are being spent on disclosing old records for incidents where the people don’t necessarily work at those departments anymore and the incidents … don’t necessarily reflect the practices of the agencies now.”

Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), who wrote the law, said her intent was for it to apply to any records in a department’s possession. But she said if a court decided otherwise, she believes the rules would still provide a needed boost to transparency surrounding police activities.

, Jan 17, 2019, Los Angeles Times, “California law enforcement unions seek to block release of officer disciplinary records”, https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-police-misconduct-records-20190117-story.html

Two Veteran Watsonville Cops Fired for Sexual Misconduct

 (Getty Images)

Police officials in Watsonville, in Santa Cruz County, fired two officers in recent years for repeatedly having sex with civilians while on duty — at least once in the front seat of a squad car and other times going to private residences while they were supposed to be working, according to documents released under a new state law that took effect Jan. 1.

Officer John Espinosa was fired in July 2017 and retired from the department as a mandatory appeal played out. Officer Jose D. Barrera was fired in April 2014 and resigned during his appeal. It’s the second time in a little more than a week that officer disciplinary records showed sexual misconduct by a police officer in Northern California.

Disciplinary records for Espinosa and Barrera were released under the state law meant to shine a light on bad cops. Neither former officer could be reached for comment Tuesday. None of their sex partners were identified in the records.

Watsonville Police Chief David Honda said in a written statement that no crimes were committed, and the cases involved consensual sex with adult partners. The cases did not involve prostitution.

For decades before the new state law took effect, records showing what officers did to get fired or disciplined were secret from the public. But the information is starting to come out.

In addition to the Watsonville Police Department’s information, last week Burlingame police released documents showing a veteran officer was fired for offering to help a woman he had arrested for DUI in exchange for sex. The documents revealed that at least two other women had also complained about the same officer.

“It is highly significant that this kind of information can be accessed by the public now. In prior years, this sort of information simply would not be known by the public, said David Harris a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law who specializes in police matters. “You can’t have accountability without information.”

Officers need to be above reproach, he said.

“Police officers have every right to have love affairs, to have sexual relations, but they should not be doing that on the job, in their patrol cars, in uniform, because it is likely at best to send a very confusing signal to the public about what the authority of the police officer is being used for,” Harris said.

Records show that in September and October of 2013, Barrera had sex on “approximately five occasions” while he was on duty at an address on Silver Leaf Drive in Watsonville, and once in the front seat of his patrol car somewhere outside city limits. He also had sex while on duty three times at an address on Freedom Boulevard.

Investigators found he lied about the encounters when first questioned about them and violated seven department rules, including conduct unbecoming an officer, leaving his job during his work hours and unsatisfactory work performance.

Records of the state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training show Barrera worked for Watsonville police from 1995 to 2007, then went to the Gilroy Police Department from 2007 to 2009, and returned to Watsonville in 2009.

Espinosa had sex with a civilian at least six times between November 2014 and November 2016 at an East Lake Avenue address in Watsonville, “while on duty, and in uniform,” according to documents.

He had worked for the Watsonville Police Department since 1991.

Last week, San Mateo District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said he is considering whether to reopen the investigation into the former Burlingame officer. After the officer, David Granucci, was fired last year, two other women came forward with similar stories about him, but the district attorney’s office was not made aware of those complaints until KQED and the Bay Area News Group wrote about them.

Wagstaffe said he had declined to criminally pursue the DUI matter because of a lack of corroborating evidence, but that might change if there are multiple witnesses who might be able to show a pattern of behavior by Granucci. Granucci’s lawyer denied that her client asked the woman arrested for DUI for sex and wrote in an email that he was the true victim in the matter.

“Two Veteran Watsonville Cops Fired for Sexual Misconduct”, https://www.kqed.org/news/11718481/two-veteran-watsonville-cops-fired-for-sexual-misconduct

Pomona agrees to $700,000 settlement to resolve lawsuit over police beating

It will be the third settlement the city has paid in recent years to resolve police misconduct cases

 

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

The city of Pomona has reached a settlement agreement to pay three brothers $700,000 to resolve a federal civil rights lawsuit that claimed Pomona police officers violently and unlawfully arrested them in 2015.

When it receives final approval, it will be the third settlement the city has paid in the past several years in cases in which Pomona police officers were accused of misconduct, the most memorable, a $500,000 settlement paid to Christian Aguilar, a teenager who was beaten and arrested at the Los Angeles County Fair in 2015.

In the lawsuit at the center of the agreement reached Wednesday, Jan. 9, Jesus, Victor and Jose Pelayo detailed an assault at the hands of four police officers that left Jose Pelayo hospitalized with head injuries.

The brothers recalled watching as an officer struck Jose on the head with a flashlight. While Jose lay unconscious on the ground, other officers continued to beat him, the lawsuit said.

“The settlement reached before trial was a successful resolution for my clients, victims of police brutality, who were attacked and arrested in front of their homes while getting ready to go to work, and then were false accused of crimes they never committed,” said Narine Mkrtchyan, a Pasadena civil rights attorney who represented the brothers.

City officials declined to discuss why they agreed to the settlement.

“While an agreement in principle has been reached, it has not been formally signed nor executed,” Deputy City Manager Mark Gluba said in a statement. “As such, the City views this matter as ongoing litigation and will not comment further at this time.”

Mkrtchyan said Wednesday’s settlement was, in part, the city’s attempt to limit further exposure.

“If we proved our case to the jury, which I am confident we would, the city could have faced a lot more in judgment and attorneys’ fees,” she said.

Members of the defense team, which included attorneys from three different Southern California area firms, did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls seeking comment.

The four officers have denied any wrongdoing or civil rights violations.

In court documents, they said there was “probable cause and/or reasonable suspicion” to detain the brothers. To address allegations of assault and injury, the officers said they used force “in self-defense and/or in defense of others,” and were responding to the brothers, who had refused to obey orders and were resisting arrest.

Before the settlement was reached, the judge who oversaw the case said there was not enough evidence to place responsibility on the city or then-Police Chief Paul Capraro, who retired in Dec. 2017.

If the case had moved forward to a jury trial, only the four police officers would have been tried, court records said. The city would have not been tried as an entity. Though if the officers were found guilty, the city would still have had to pay.

When the settlement is final, all claims of wrongdoing will be dismissed.

In a summary judgment, Federal District Court Judge Philip S. Gutierrez outlined the facts of the 2015 arrest based on testimony and evidence from both the brothers and officers.

At about 3 a.m. Oct. 6, 2015,  Jesus and Victor Pelayo were sitting inside their car outside their Pomona apartment, waiting for Jose Pelayo, who was using the bathroom and looking for his work boots. They had a 4 a.m. shift at a Mira Loma furniture warehouse.

Officers Frank Sacca and Austin Dossey, who were on a foot patrol, had been watching the brothers. After two minutes, the officers approached the car with guns drawn. Without identifying themselves as police officers, Dossey shined his flashlight into the car, in the faces of Jesus and Victor, according to the judgment.

Dossey noticed Jesus Pelayo’s Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap, which Dossey said was commonly worn by gang members in the area.

This detail was a key part of Dossey’s defense. He also told the court that the area was a “high crime/gang area.”

Several residents from the area testified that they had never been victims of any crimes, one of them telling the court that the area was “always quiet.”

Jesus Pelayo testified that he was not aware of any connection between his baseball cap and gangs in the area.

“Whether a reasonable officer would believe that Jesus’s Pittsburgh Pirates hat signified gang membership is also a disputed factual question that must be determined at trial,” Gutierrez wrote in the summary judgment.

Confused and agitated by the bright light from Dossey’s flashlight, Jesus Pelayo walked out of the car, yelling “Get that [expletive] light out of my face!” The officers ordered both men to the ground, dragging Victor Pelayo out of the car.

Jose Pelayo, who was leaving his apartment, noticed the unfolding incident. He walked toward the officers asking, “What’s going on?” with his arms extended to his sides.

“Get down to the ground!” one of the officers yelled. Jose Pelayo claimed he did not know the man was a police officer and kept walking forward.

Dossey ran over to Jose Pelayo, hitting him twice in the head with a flashlight, the brothers recalled. Officers Prince Hutchinson and Timothy Dorn, who also were on foot patrol, ran over to Jose and continued to “use force” against Jose as he lay unconscious on the ground, according to court records.

The three brothers were arrested with no explanation.

In their police report, the officers wrote that Jose Pelayo had punched Dossey in the stomach. The brothers claimed this was false. Based on the police report, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office filed misdemeanor charges for resisting arrest and battery on a peace officer.

The brothers did not have a prior criminal record, Mkrtchyan said.

In July 2017, the DA asked the court to dismiss the case after learning that Dossey had been fired and was the subject of an FBI investigation, the lawsuit said.

Why Dossey was fired was not known, but court records show he had been a defendant in five other lawsuits accusing him of misconduct and civil rights violations during arrests. One of the cases stemmed from his time as a Rialto police officer.

In September 2018, another lawsuit was filed against Dossey and Pomona and remains ongoing. An additional lawsuit against Dossey was settled by the city in November 2018 for an undisclosed amount.

Dossey, along with Dorn and Hutchinson, were also tied to the highly publicized arrest of 16-year-old Christian Aguilar at the fair. That took place one month before the arrest of the Pelayo brothers.

A bystander captured the county fair incident on a video that showed several Pomona police officers strike and tackle Aguilar.

I 2016, Aguilar and his father, Ignacio Aguilar — who was arrested under suspicion of public intoxication — filed a civil rights lawsuit against Pomona, its police department, and several officers, including Dossey, Dorn and Hutchinson.

The lawsuit accused Dossey and Dorn of unlawfully arresting Ignacio Aguilar and trying to cover it up with false police reports.

Hutchinson was accused of violating the Christian Aguilar’s civil rights for arresting the teen and later trying to cover it up by also writing a false police report and giving false testimony in court. In 2017, the city agreed to pay Christian and Ignacio Aguilar $500,000 in a settlement.

A few months later, federal prosecutors indicted three Pomona police officers in a new criminal case related to the 2015 county fair arrest. Hutchinson was among the three. He currently faces falsified records and obstruction of justice charges and is set to be retried Monday, Jan. 15, after a mistrial last fall.

On Oct. 4, 2017, Mkrtchyan filed the civil rights lawsuit against the city, the police chief, and the four officers, on behalf of the Pelayo brothers.

Hutchinson has been on paid leave since he was indicted in 2017.  Dorn and Sacca are still active employees of the police department.

California Police Fight To Stop New Law Releasing Their Misconduct Records

A new year brings new transparency, and new lawsuits to try to limit it.

Top secret recordsFrannyanne / Dreamstime.com

Thanks to the state’s newly implemented public records rules, we’re starting to see the first stories detailing misconduct of California police officers. We’re also seeing the lengths to which police groups will go to keep those records secret.

In Burlingame, up in the Bay Area, media outlets were successful in getting records showing that a police officer, David Granucci, was fired last year after the Burlingame Police Department found out he had offered to help a woman deal with a DUI charge if she’d have sex with him. He appears to have made similar offers to two other women, one of whom apparently went through with it.

For decades, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for media outlets or the public to find out exactly what happened with Granucci because a state law in California, pushed through by police unions and signed by former Gov. Jerry Brown back in 1978, blocked the release of disciplinary records.

But the rules finally changed last year when Brown, who just concluded his fourth and final term as governor, approved changes that made public police investigation and disciplinary records. The law went into effect with the start of the new year.

Some folks are now doing whatever they can to stem the tide of releases. Two California cities, Inglewood and Long Beach, destroyed decades of police records, with both municipalities insisting that it was part of a plan to streamline record-keeping and had nothing to do with the new law. The police commander in Long Beach says they made sure to preserve records pertaining to current employees and only purged records of officers who no longer worked there. It’s not clear how that’s a good idea, given that officers who get fired for incompetence or misconduct frequently move on to other police departments in other cities, with the public often unaware of their troubled backgrounds.

Then there are the lawsuits. Police unions and their representatives are now trying to argue that the transparency law only applies to new records, produced after the start of 2019. There’s nothing in the bill itself that says this: It amends existing public records laws to add additional records that law enforcement agencies are required to release. The date of the bill’s implementation was the start of the year.

The California Supreme Court has declined to hear a suit from San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department employees, in which they argue that the law is not retroactive. But in Los Angeles, a superior court judge did grant an injunction that stops the Los Angeles Police Department from releasing records from prior to Jan. 1, until a hearing to determine whether the law covers records prior to 2019.

To be clear here, this new law does not order the public release of all police personnel records. It requires the release of records that pertain to incidents in which a law enforcement officer fires a weapon; an officer-involved incident that results in a person’s death or great bodily injury; an officer found to have engaged in sexual assault with a member of the public (this includes any sex act while on duty—relevant to the disclosure of the records about Granucci’s firing); and officers found to have engaged in dishonest conduct like concealing evidence, falsifying reports, and/or committing perjury.

These are all things the public deserves to know about state employees who have the power to kill them, take their belongings, and deprive them of their freedom. Nevertheless, police unions are fighting to stop law enforcement agencies from releasing this information, claiming that revealing records about their conduct somehow violates their rights.

Scott Shackford|, reason.com, “California Police Fight To Stop New Law Releasing Their Misconduct Records”, https://reason.com/blog/2019/01/10/california-police-fight-to-stop-new-law

Burlingame cop fired for seeking sex from suspects

Police officer’s misconduct shared under a new state law designed to enhance transparency

A Burlingame police office was fired after an investigation found he offered to help a woman navigate her driving under the influence charge in return for sex, according to a report released under a new state law designed to enhance transparency.

Without authorization, former officer David Granucci took the phone number of a woman arrested in early March and scheduled an appointment at her house where he sexually propositioned her, according to the report released Monday, Jan. 7.

The woman refused his advance and reported Granucci, leading to discovery of a series of similar transgressions according to the summary released in accordance with a new law requiring police to adhere to more public records requests.

Burlingame Police Chief Mike Matteucci declined to comment on specific terms of the Granucci investigation, but said his department remains committed to examining misconduct concerns raised by residents.

“The department has long been committed to conducting thorough investigations of citizen complaints, and we take our obligations to the public seriously including the newly enhanced transparency requirements under state law,” he said in an email.

The new state law to which he refers is Senate Bill 1421, authored by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D- Berkeley, who crafted legislation designed to enhance the authority of those seeking more information about police misconduct.

The law amends the state Public Records Act, and allows those requesting information about claims against police officers a clearer path toward tracking down complaint reports or summaries.

The information shared about Granucci is only a summary, as Matteucci said more time would be required to redact sensitive information before a comprehensive report is available.

From the limited material available though, Granucci apparently committed dozens of department policy violations in advance of his eventual termination in June. Reports of his misconduct were sent to the District Attorney’s Office, but charges were not filed. But District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said with the additional reports of misconduct, his office could reopen a new criminal investigation.

Following his firing, two other women who encountered Granucci on the job claimed he acted inappropriately, according to the report. In 2017, he initiated a sexual relationship lasting several months with a woman who he met while trying to serve an arrest warrant for her son.

Two years earlier, Granucci also solicited a sexual relationship from a woman he met while she was being arrested for a warrant. He lied and said he was helping her with her case and attempted to use that as leverage, but was refused, according to the report.

Investigators reviewing the 2018 misconduct complaint found he lied to administrators about both of the earlier reports.

Granucci was placed on administrative leave after the March complaint was received and he was fired Friday, June 29. He was also informed he would be fired again if he got his job back through an appeal, according to the report.

In 2003, Granucci was involved in a fatal shooting of a suspect, but charges were not filed. In 2011, he was honored by the Burlingame City Council for helping to save a man choking at a restaurant.

For his part, Matteucci said his department will continue to comply with the enhanced transparency obligations, but would not speak to specific allegations.

“We will respond to all appropriate requests but will not have further comment on the merits of these cases,” he said.

Atlantic Beach officer charged with misconduct, solicitation of a minor

 

Police officer from Andrews charged with misconduct, solicitation of a minor (J. Reuben Long / WPDE background)

An Atlantic Beach police officer, who used to work for Pickens Police Department, was arrested by US Marshals on Jan. 2.

Akiel Jamar McKnight, 28, of Andrews, was charged with misconduct in office, solicitation of a minor, 3 counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, 2 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor.

According to police, the incidents occurred while he was employed with the Pickens Police Department.

Warrants state that on or between the dates of Oct. 1, 2017 and May 15, 2018, “McKnight was employed with the Pickens Police Department and failed to properly discharge his duties by committing the offenses of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, criminal solicitation of a minor and sexual exploitation of a minor.”

Another warrant states that McKnight tried to contact a minor to “engage in sexual activity” and asked the minor to “send the defendant sexually explicit photographs and/or videos.”

The Pickens Police Department asked SLED to investigate.

McKnight was recently employed with the Atlantic Beach Police Department, according to Chief Quentin Robinson.

He said McKnight was hired on Dec. 13 and was still on his probationary period. Robinson said he was not aware of the SLED investigation when they hired McKnight.

McKnight was fired Thursday, Robinson said.

Robinson released this statement:

After receiving and reviewing a thorough report from SLED, the Town of Atlantic Beach is justified in terminating Akiel McKnight from his probationary period with our Police Department. McKnight’s termination is effectively immediately this 3rd day of January, 2019 at approximately 2 p.m.

ABC 15 requested McKnight’s file from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy (SCCJA).

He has worked in four departments including Atlantic Beach Police; the city of Georgetown’s police department; the Andrews Police Department and in Pickens.

He worked in Pickens from Jan 2016 to May 2018. In Andrews from June 2018 to October 2018. He worked in Georgetown for one day in October 2018 and then was hired in Atlantic Beach in December, according to his record.

An affidavit in his SCCJA file shows that in December Robinson did a background investigation on McKnight and that he was of “good character” and didn’t have any criminal offenses.

A report in the file from SCCJA regarding his employment with Georgetown states he was terminated due to “supplemental information obtained after a background investigation.”

A public record search shows that McKnight filed a federal lawsuit against the Pickens Police Department, the city of Pickens and two other people.

The lawsuit states that while McKnight was employed as an officer, he was romantically pursued by another male, who send him nude photos that McKnight claims he didn’t solicit.

In April 2018, McKnight was suspended for two weeks without pay for conduct unbecoming of a police officer, according to the lawsuit.

McKnight claims in the lawsuit that he didn’t violate any rules or laws and made an employment grievance with the city administrator.

During the grievance meeting, the police chief changed his ruling from conduct unbecoming of a police officer to contributing to the delinquency of a minor, which McKnight denied.

A month later, another meeting was held and the police chief changed his position again and stated that McKnight violated an order of the department.

In May 2018, McKnight was suspended and then fired.

In September 2018, the EEOC issued a right to sue letter to McKnight.

He’s asking for damages for libel, slander and defamation.

The City of Pickens responded to the federal lawsuit and denied all allegations.

Chuck Thompson, the city’s attorney, said they will defend the lawsuit to the best of their abilities.

McKnight was transferred from J. Reuben Long Detention Center to the Pickens County Detention Center.

Heather Gale, Thursday, January 3rd 2019, wpde.com, “Atlantic Beach officer charged with misconduct, solicitation of a minor”, https://wpde.com/news/local/pickens-police-officer-charged-with-misconduct-solicitation-of-a-minor