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

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A tale of two tasers

An unidentified individual wrote the following here.

"Personally, I hate the taser. It has often failed me more than helped me. Plus, it's another weapon I have to worry about retaining if I get into a fight. As long as we're carrying taser's, and as long as suspect's try to take them, there will be more OIS's to come. Take the taser's away and we'll have to go back to batoning suspect's repeatedly or be forced to use our guns. It's a win lose situation."

Joseph Darnell Hill. Lee Deante Brown, both Black men who were shot to death by police officers this year, while allegedly holding department issued tasers in their hands. Both shootings were the subject of separate briefings at the Community Police Review Commission on Nov. 8 at City Hall.

First up, was an initial briefing on the Hill shooting conducted by Capt. Jim Cannon. Cannon provided the following narrative of that shooting. Perusual, there were no questions and answers allowed at the briefing, just a short summary of the facts that the department had gathered up to that point, subject to change at any moment during an investigation process that lasts several months.

On Oct. 19, Hill was driving in a red 1997 Toyota when he allegedly encountered Officer Jeffrey Adcox for the first time. Adcox thought that Hill's behavior was odd and became concerned. He stopped him at some point the first time, to ask him if he had a valid driver's license which Hill produced. The two parted ways at that point because Adcox felt he did not have enough probable cause to do an enforcement stop. Adcox spotted the car later and observed it as it was heading towards him. The car did an illegal u-turn and failed to stop at a stop sign, so Adcox decided to do an enforcement stop. Adcox and Hill argued and Adcox decided to call for back up and Officer Giovanni Ili, who was assigned to the traffic division stopped at the scene and was briefed by Adcox. Ili and Adcox positioned themselves on opposite sides of Hill and did a pat down search. Hill is asked to sit down and does, but is arguing. Ili and Adcox decide it would be safer to have Hill stand up, be handcuffed and placed in a squad car. Hill agrees after he is asked to put his hands behind his back. He stands up and then attacks Adcox, and after Ili grabs Hill, all three of them fall on the ground.

At some point, Ili feels the right side of his gun belt is pulled and believes that Hill is trying to take his gun. Ili puts his hand down on his gun to secure it. Then he feels Hill tugging on the left side of his gun belt and believes Hill is trying to get his taser, so he tries to hold it in place. Hill has the taser in his left hand and tries to undo the safety. At that point, Adcox shoots him twice for fear of Ili's safety. Hill dies at Parkview Hospital.

Hill's sister Leslie Braden spoke at the meeting and described her brother as intelligent and passionate about his music. She questions the police department's decision to shoot her brother, the second brother of hers to be shot to death by law enforcement officers. Her first brother, Charles Hill, was shot to death by Riverside County Sheriff deputies in 1992. She also shares her experiences of being pulled over by police officers because she drives a nice car and how officers ask her where she bought it.

"I bought it like you, at a dealership," she told the commission.

The commission then moved on to receiving its briefing from its own investigator, Butch Warnberg on the shooting of Lee Deante Brown. However, this shooting investigation is living up to its controversial beginnings and the CPRC has decided to conduct it in two parts, due to pressing concerns and questions which remain as to exactly what happened during the several minutes that elapsed between the time the first officer arrived onscene and Officer Terry Ellefson shot Brown twice with his firearm.

According to Warnberg's preliminary briefing, Brown, 31 was an African-American living in Riverside who had been diagnosed at one time with paranoid schitzophrenia and prescribed medications to treat it. Months ago, a department representative had made allusions to Brown having been hospitalized for illnesses but refused to release any details.

At this point, it's hard to prove a narrative of what took place, because there are many different narratives that are difficult to weave into one conclusive account of the events. Each officer provided an account, about a half-dozen witnesses provide accounts, the investigating officers provided their accounts, as did the department when it provided an initial briefing on the investigation last April 12. At many points, all of them contradict each other, including the statements given by both officers.

Analysis: The original contact

Six phone calls by civilians in the University Avenue area were made to the police department regarding Brown's odd behavior that spanned about 524 yards, from beginning to end. This behavior included screaming profanity, acting crazy, public nudity and diving on cars in traffic.

Officer Paul Stucker initially drove into the parking lot of Welcome Inn and was soon contacted by witness Kenneth Williams who told him that he believed Brown may have been under the influence of drugs. Brown at that point was sitting on the ground and waving at Stucker to leave. He was shirtless and wearing dark pants. As Stucker left his car, Brown retreated to a corner of the building putting himself flat against the wall. Stucker began giving Brown clear audible voice commands. Stucker was alone with nearest backup about a minute away.

Witnesses: the civilians

John Gonzalez, a witness I talked to on the day of the shooting was across the street working on the second floor of the Budget Motel, about 75 yards away from the location of the shooting. From the walkway, he had a clear, unobstructed view of the shooting, being able to watch events unfold over the traffic on University Avenue.

Gonzalez heard a siren in front of the motel and left his work to see a police car entering the driveway at the Welcome Inn. He saw Stucker standing in the south-western corner of the parking lot with Brown who was lying prone on the ground. Ellefson arrived and got out of his car, running up to Brown. Both officers moved in and "wrestled" with Brown for a minute. Brown squirmed, kicked and waved his arms as the officers tried to handcuff him. They did get a handcuff on his right wrist at that point. Ellefson got to his feet and both officers stepped backward and away from Brown who was waving his arms and yelling at the officers from a sitting position.

Ellefson then pulled out his taser and shot at Brown, but the tasing which was audible from where Gonzalez stood watching, had no effect. Both officers moved on Brown again after he failed to comply with commands and they struggled again. The officers moved away and Brown got off the ground to face the officers. He never charged the officers or tried to run away, but yelled at them. The officers tried unsuccessfully to shock Brown again. They then rushed him to knock him down but couldn't handcuff him. Stucker stepped back, took out a retractable baton and then struck him several times on the legs while Brown was in a sitting position.

Ellefson drew his gun, and stepped to the right and in front of Brown who was on his knees waving his arms, with a handcuff flapping around on his right one. Ellefson then shot Brown twice.

Rachay Lear was walking down the sidewalk when she saw two officers struggling with Brown. They tased him and then 60 seconds later, Ellefson took out his gun and shot him three times.

Racheal Nichole Bacon lived at the Inn and was in her room when she looked out a window and saw Brown walking down the street. A cleaning lady was telling Brown to "calm down baby, calm down" and then Stucker arrived. Bacon then heard Stucker yell, "get on the ground" and Brown was then lying face down on the ground. Stucker was pointing something toward Brown and yelling, "Stay on the ground or I'll shock you again." Bacon said that Brown was always in a sitting position and never got on his feet during the remainder of the incident. At one point, Stucker hit Brown with his "night stick" five or six times. "They shot him" while he was still in a sitting position.

Kenneth Williams was the only witness that said that he saw Brown on his feet at the time he was shot. He said that Brown had pulled out taser wires from his body and then Ellefson dropped the broken taser gun and grabbed his baton to hit Brown. Ellefson then drew a second taser and drive stunned Brown on the neck. Ellefson then stepped back, drew his gun and shot Brown once in the left shoulder. Brown went down on one knee then stepped towards Ellefson who then shot him in the chest.

The Officers:

Officer Paul Stucker said to Det. Mike Medici in his interview that he contacted Brown in the parking lot, after monitoring radio traffic in his car. He approached him on foot and momentarily lost sight of him near the building. He activated his digital audio recorder at that time. He then pointed his taser at Brown and commanded him to put his hands on the wall. Brown failed to comply and stepped in Stucker's direction. Brown was yelling about God, Jesus and the devil. Brown's behavior was perceived as threatening by Stucker.

Stucker deployed his taser immediately when Brown turned and moved towards him. Brown was still standing, but stiffened and stopped his approach before falling to the ground. Stucker felt that Brown was semicompliant but he didn't want to approach him. Ellefson arrived and told Stucker to turn off his taser while he attempted to handcuff Brown. Ellefson placed one handcuff on Brown but Brown began to resist, twist away and face the officers. Stucker heard Ellefson use his taser but was not sure in what mode.

Stucker then removed the cartridge from his taser to apply a contact strike. Brown grabbed his arm and Stucker felt an electric shock. Stucker moved away from Brown with his back turned to figure out where the shock came from, then saw a probe, most likely from Ellefson's taser stuck in the knuckle of his left hand.

Stucker then said when he turned around, Brown was either squatting or sitting with his legs in front of him, with Ellefson's taser in his right hand. Brown aimed or pointed the taser toward the officers. Stucker was in front of Brown and Ellefson was to Stucker's right. Stucker said he pulled his baton and delivered two strikes to Brown's legs below his knees. He was preparing to hit Brown again when he heard two shots. Officer Stucker said after Brown was shot, he remained on the ground and fell forward with his back toward "where Terry and I were standing".

Officer Terry Ellefson told Det. Rick Cobb that he had responded to the Welcome Inn to assist Stucker who had requested backup. Ellefson saw Stucker involved in an altercation with Brown. Stucker was pointing his taser at Brown, who was lying on the ground. Ellefson heard the taser cycle and the wire leads in Brown. Ellefson approached Brown from the rear and he initially appeared to be semicompliant. Officer Ellefson, who had his handcuffs out, asked Stucker to stop deploying the taser while he handcuffed Brown.

Ellefson said he put his body weight on Brown's back and handcuffed his left wrist. Brown then began to resist and Ellefson lost his grip. Brown's maneuver threw Ellefson off of Brown and he stumbled backward to regain his balance. Brown then stood up and faced the officers. Ellefson said he was forced to back up as Brown moved his hands and arms to his side with fists clenched.

Ellefson drew his taser and Brown advanced in his direction. Ellefson deployed his taser six feet from Brown and the darts appeared to hit Brown. When the taser cycled, it had no effect on Brown. He attempted to cycle his taser again, but it was not effective. Brown then took several steps to his right and Ellefson removed the cartridge from his taser and moved towards Brown. Ellefson gave a contact tase to Brown's upper right area of his body near his chest or shoulder. Again, the taser had no effect on Brown. Ellefson began struggling with Brown and they started to go to the ground. Ellefson heard Stucker warn him that Brown was using the loose handcuff on his wrist as a weapon and then applied another contact tase. The taser was then knocked out of his hand. Brown was in a crouched position and Ellefson stood to his rear and to the left. Brown then reached down with his right hand and picked up the taser. Ellefson tried to push away from Brown but could not see which way the taser was aimed.

As Ellefson moved away from Brown, Brown stood up and lunged forward directly at him with the taser, thrusting it towards Ellefson. Ellefson pulled out his gun and shot Brown twice from the hip without obtaining a site picture on the front site of the weapon. He was two feet away and stepping backwards when he fired the weapon.

Ellefson was unaware of Stucker's position or that Stucker was hitting Brown with his baton.

Brown was on the ground, squatting and remained there when he was shot by Ellefson, according to Stucker.

Brown got up on his feet and lunged towards Ellefson with the taser when Ellefson shot him, according to Ellefson.

Then there is Officer Anderson's version to investigators:

"I arrived and saw that Officer Ellefson and Officer Stucker had their duty weapons drawn and were giving verbal commands to a subject that was laying on the ground in front of them."

Now, it's easier to see why this investigation has been divided into two parts. And why forensic tests are being conducted on Ellefson's taser by the Department of Justice.

Technology is also assisting in the form of two digital audio recorders that were deployed by Stucker and Ellefson when both arrived separately onscene. It's apparently the first officer-involved shooting ever where all involved officers had their audio recorders turned on.

Stucker's audio recording

Time Event

0 Activate

:08 Taser deployed

:24 Stucker: "Do not move or I'll shock you again"

:55 Radio traffic

1:27 Ellefson: "Palm dart"

2:22 Stucker: "Watch the cuff; he's swinging it as a weapon."

2:23 Ellefson: "I got it."

2:36 Shot fired

2:37 Shot fired

3:33 "He's got the taser in his hand."

Terry Ellefson's audio recording

0 Activate

:01 Ellefson said: "Palm dart"

:56 Stucker: "Watch the cuff; he's swinging it as a weapon."

unknown Inaudible voice, saying possibly "drop the gun"

1:06 Shot fired

1:07 Shot fired

2:38 Ellefson: "Stay down brother."

3:18 Ellefson: "Put your hands behind your back please."

5:37 Unknown voice: "Where's your taser?"

5:38 "Right there"

6:58 Ellefson: "He picked up the taser."

8:30 Ellefson: "He came up with the Taser. I shot downward."

11:30 Ellefson: "Two shots, trajectory downward."

Warnberg stated in his report that he found it interesting that the only mention of the taser being in Brown's possession came after the shots were fired, but that might have changed because the night before, Ellefson's tape had been reanalyzed and a barely audible voice was heard saying something that Warnberg interpreted as being, "drop the gun" before the shots were fired. There was no mention of whether or not Stucker's recording yielded similar information.

There were also no verbal instructions by either officer for Brown to stop advancing towards them.

Commissioner Jim Ward expressed confusion at this development because he said that neither officer had mentioned in their statements that they had issued verbal commands at Brown to "drop the gun" and he found it difficult to believe information this critical would have been omitted by the officers during their interviews. He also noted that neither officer referred to a taser as being anything but a taser in their statements.

Most everyone left with more questions than answers at what exactly took place on April 3, 2006 at the Welcome Inn of America. The second briefing by Warnberg which may include a reenactment of the shooting will take place sometime in January.


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