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


My Photo
Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Shades of Diallo: Should the feds intervene?

Where are the feds, asks columnist Rochelle Riley, of the Detroit Free Press here .

Riley is referring to the Nov. 25 shooting of three unarmed Black men by five armed plainclothed NYPD officers.


"There is no worse crime, so perhaps every high-profile murder should be investigated by state and federal officials. Oh, there will be no confusion about what high-profile means. Those slayings usually involve law enforcement (or celebrities), and they usually get away with it -- which makes life harder for the by-the-book, dedicated officers who don't bend, break or fire 50 bullets into the rules."

The Department of Justice did not investigate the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo and so far, has not launched an investigation into the fatal shooting of Sean Bell, 23, opting instead to observe from a distance. However, this agency did launch a pattern and practices investigation involving the department after the incidents involving Diallo and Abner Louima who was beaten and sodomized by a broom handle by several officers inside a bathroom at one of the station houses. The city of New York and the Justice Department brokered a settlement in which the NYPD was to implement a list of reforms. The department has paid out at least $20 million in settlements in connection with at least five incidents involving fatal shootings or other acts involving excessive force since that decree was implemented.

Juan Gonzalez asks the question, has the culture of the NYPD changed in the past few years? He doesn't mention the federal investigations that were supposed to produce reform, but addresses prior and more recent incidents involving shootings, including the fatal shooting of Timothy Stansbury in 2004. Only one bullet was fired in that shooting in comparison to the latest 50 rounds that were fired last Saturday. The officer who shot him, Richard Neri, was deposed for the civil law suit, an occasion Gonzalez discusses in his column. Neri was asked why he pulled the trigger, an event he had said earlier he did not remember.

"It was a reflexive action. There was no conscious decision of mine to pull," Neri said, according to a copy of the transcript obtained by the Daily News.

"What do you mean by that?" the lawyer asked.

"It was more of a startling action like a flinch, like if someone got scared, you flinch. You make a fist," he said.

Still, seven years after the shooting of Diallo, many people including community leaders wonder if the feds' involvement with their city's police department has improved its operation and how it protects and serves all the city's communities. Community leaders say that it is the police department and city hall that must enforce the reforms and create the climate of change. Whether it can be done by outside forces is often a subject of much debate about most police departments in most cities.

The same words were said here many times, by different people at different meetings in the months after Tyisha Miller died in a hail of bullets fired by four Riverside Police Department officers in 1998. Now eight years and one consent decree later, the city is once again facing about a half-dozen law suits or claims for damages filed in connection with four officer-involved deaths, including one in a neighborhood that one officer wrote here should be patrolled by animal control. Again, over a hundred angry city residents have congregated at the scene of one fatal shooting in that neighborhood, the Eastside, in the case of Lee Deante Brown, according to police reports submitted in that investigation. The FBI is conducting its own probe of that shooting.

The New York Daily News continues to cover the pre-dawn shooting of Bell and two of his friends outside a strip club in Queens. In one article, it described photographs which were taken of the officers who had fired their weapons including Det. Mike Oliver who had shot 31 times, expending two magazines from his gun. Those who saw the photographs said that afterwards, Oliver had stood apart from the scene of the shooting, a stunned look on his face.

Snapshots of a shooting's aftermath

The still unnamed undercover officer who fired first, made a statement through his attorney that he had identified himself as an officer to the three men, long before he fired at them, according to another article in the New York Daily News.

This cop screamed, 'Police!' and he had his shield out," attorney Philip Karasyk told the Daily News.

Snapshots of a shooting's aftermath

Karasyk also said that the other officers had fired at Bell's car because they believed the shots were coming from the car and they were in mortal fear for their lives. Afraid of being endangered by their own bullets it turned out.

This article on the photographs reminded me of what John Gonzalez, who witnessed the April 3 shooting of Lee Deante Brown in Riverside said to me about the aftermath of that shooting. After Riverside Police Department Officer Terry Ellefson had fired twice into Brown, Gonzalez saw Officer Michael Paul Stucker flinch from where Gonzalez stood on an elevated walkway 80 feet away, as if he were in shock. As if he had not seen that one coming, Gonzalez had said and perhaps Stucker hadn't.

At the time, Stucker had just struck Brown twice with his expandable baton and was preparing to hit him again when he heard the gunshots, according to his statement. Brown had allegedly grabbed Ellefson's taser, the same one that had already tased Stucker accidently and the two officers reacted much differently, each unaware of the other's presence and what the other was doing. Both said in their interviews with department investigators that they feared for their safety. One responded with his baton. The other with his gun, and when it came down to deciding which of their disparate accounts of events involving the instant the shooting actually took place, the department sided with Ellefson's, both in narratives it produced in its case book and at the initial briefing it held before the Community Police Review Commission last April. Even though Ellefson's version of events which had placed Brown on his feet also conflicted with the official coroner's report.

"We want answers."

The family of the men who were shot in Queens are still grappling with trying to find the answers to why a day of anticipated celebration became a day of tragic mourning. In this article, it details Nichole Paultre's, Bell's fiancee, efforts to try to find funeral clothes to wear to his funeral this Friday, after she had dropped clothes at the funeral house to bury him in.

At the hospital, Yolanda Guzman refused to allow NYPD detectives in her brother, Joseph's hospital room to interview him.

(excerpt, New York Daily News)

"She believes the officers tried to kill all of them and she's afraid someone is going to come and finish the job," said family spokesman Charles Aziz Bilal

The NYPD had also received vague threats against its department, by unidentified sources, after the shooting, telling its officers at roll call sessions to be cautious, alert and to wear their bullet proof vests.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is still trying to keep attending meetings with community leaders to try to keep things calm in Queens, while elected officials in the state senate and heads of civil rights organizations ask for an independent investigator to take over the investigation currently being conducted by the Queens' District Attorney office. Bloomberg's meeting with community leaders especially with the Al Sharpton was sharply criticized by a New York Sun editorial.

After the Miller shooting, Riverside's mayor, Ron Loveridge had remained silent for nearly a month even as thousands filled the streets in two protests the first month. It was only later that he decided to create a Use of Force panel to examine the practices of the department. Its findings and recommendations mirrored those of the State Attorney General's office which conducted its own investigation.

Here, in the New York Sun, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown advises Bloomberg to stop making comments about the shooting, because if charges are filed, it could give the potential defendants grounds to argue for a change of venue.

Readers of the New York Post weighed in on the shooting here.

Blogger Daniel Finkelstein at Times online applies the shooting and that of Diallo to criticize a theory raised in a popular book, titled Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. More discussion at the Lede. Many discussions sure to take place in many venues in the weeks to come.



Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older