Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Sunday, April 16, 2006

RPD Briefing Before the CPRC

On April 12, representatives from the police department appeared before the Community Police Review Commission to present the department's official version(up to now)of what happened before and during the April 3 shooting of Lee Deante Brown.

According to Capt. Jim Cannon:

At 1:26 pm, the department received a call of a man acting suspiciously near the intersection of Loma Vista and Ottawa. According to the police department, Brown was lying down in the street, jumping on cars, screaming and exposing himself to people. Brown then headed towards University Avenue and walked into traffic, causing cars to stop abruptly to avoid hitting him.

Officer Michael Stucker, who Cannon referred to as "Paul Stucker", was monitoring his police radio and he headed towards The Welcome Inn of America motel at 1910 University Avenue. When he arrived, a man told him that Brown might be on PCP. Stucker then called for backup. At the time, Brown was lying in the parking lot. When he saw Stucker approach him, Brown retreated to the alcove. Stucker gave numerous commands, and Brown did not comply, instead saying "You can't hurt me" and talking to Jesus. He advanced towards Stucker and Stucker tased him, knocking him down on the ground. Brown got up and Stucker tased him again.

At 1:55 pm, Officer Terry Ellefson arrived onscene. He asked Stucker to undo his taser so he could handcuff Brown. Ellefson apprehended Brown on the ground and handcuffed his left wrist. When he tried to put handcuffs on his right wrist, Brown got to his feet. Ellefson tased Brown, but it had no effect. Stucker got closer and tased him directly on his body. At that point, Brown grabbed Stucker's arm and Stucker felt the electricity in his body. At some point, there was prongs from the taser stuck in his hand.

Stucker then took his expandable baton and struck Brown an undisclosed number of times. Ellefson tased Brown on his right shoulder and tried to grab the loose handcuff which was swinging wildly. Ellefson and Brown struggled further. Both Ellefson and Stucker saw Brown with the taser in his hand(but there was no explanation provided by the department in terms of how he got hold of it) and he began advancing towards the officers. They backed up and Ellefson then took his service weapon out and shot Brown twice.

Cannon then said that the two officers were the only two to see the taser in Brown's hand.

"Witnesses somehow were unaware that Brown had grabbed the taser," he said.

This was mentioned at the very end of the presentation almost as an aside. The civilian witnesses either had blinked and missed the struggle over the officer's taser or they are the liars with axes to grind that "Joe Citizen" claimed them to be in his earlier comment. Those are the two possible explanations that the department can possibly come up with to explain the conflicting information provided by the civilian witnesses and the two police officers involved in the fatal shooting. A third possibility is one that it is not really ready for and it is doubtful that it ever will be. Hopefully, evidence not testimony from the department can put this possibility to rest.

Maybe they are right. Maybe they do have all the answers, all the evidence and have opted to withhold both from the public. Because it is early in the investigation of a critical incident, it might be appropriate to do so. One problem with doing this, is that while they are declining to offer evidence of why they have reached the conclusions that they have, they are making judgments themselves in public about a recent event. While doing so might present no problem with the department or the "Joe Citizens" of the world, it might be construed by other people as having made up one's mind from the start or are in a sense, circling the wagons. This might be particularly true for people who live in communities where relations between residents and the police department have been strained for many years. Some of these people might wonder and many have, why does the department even bother to collect their eyewitness accounts of critical incidents at all?

If the civilians had agreed 100% with the version provided by the police department, would there be any comments by anyone about them having "axes to grind"? Would there be any sarcastic comments by anyone about them being upstanding people at a "fine motel establishment" on University Avenue?

Probably not. In that case, they would most likely be viewed as the most truthful, pro-police individuals in the universe, not to mention the best witnesses out there. It's one thing if the "Joe Citizens" of the world practice this dichotomy. Quite another, if the police department practices it too.

Even the police chief referred to civilian witnesses who were quoted about the shooting in the Press Enterprise as "mystery witnesses" at a recent meeting. Words like that while meant to explain or even soothe, can actually fuel further dissent, because the police department has not yet repaired all the bridges which it had spent the last three decades burning. Yet even as the department has written off the accounts of civilian witnesses for reasons still unexplained, it is asking the CPRC's investigator to provide it with contact information for any new witnesses who turn up. Hopefully, this is more than just an exercise. Still, by asking this of the CPRC, it shows that the department is admitting and recognizing the CPRC's power granted to it by the city's charter to conduct its own independent investigation.

Community members who attended the briefing before the CPRC walked away from it shaking their heads. A few asked each other, if they had heard at exactly what point the police department had stated how the taser went from Ellefson's hand to Brown's and then agreed they had heard nothing about that. In a depiction of a shooting that narrated every other action taken by Brown down to the exact detail, why was the most important detail of the entire critical incident still missing?

Hopefully, these questions will be answered in coming weeks.

Columnist Dan Bernstein wrote a very good column on April 14. He has been a regular attendee at recent community meetings on the issue. One point he raised, that even if the version the department has provided of the shooting is the accurate one, it still does not paint a pretty picture.

Bad Day in April

He writes about the LAPD's crisis intervention program, known as SMART which pairs up law enforcement officers with mental health experts. Other cities have created similar programs to address police officers' interactions with the mentally ill populations. Some of these programs were created in response to critical incidents including those where mentally ill people were killed.

LASD MET and other programs

Memphis PD Crisis Intervention program

Portland Police Bureau's CIT program

One community resident in this city offered up information she had learned about a similar program to Riverside's city council.

Their collective response? YAWN. Blink. Blink. Hardly surprising. The Attorney General's office is gone. Hopefully, this is not a sign that the city council's interest in the department's operation has gone with it.

Leach has also voiced his concern on this issue, and said there was a lot more to be done by the department in this area. In response, there were no shortage of community residents offering him assistance addressing this challenge. One hopes that he takes them up on their offers and utilizes their collective expertise on mental health issues to come up with a similar program for the RPD. Community members and the police department working together to grapple with a serious issue as this one, is what community policing in practice is about after all.


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