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

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Lee Deante Brown: "Shots fired."

The fatal officer-involved shooting of Lee Deante Brown is currently under investigation by the Riverside Police Department, the Community Police Review Commission, the Riverside County District Attorney's office and the FBI.

The police department's own criminal investigation is documented in three binders and numerous CDs, all of which are public records. Reading through these records has provided few answers, many questions. Perhaps that is the nature of most investigations of this type and any confusion elicited from them is the norm, not the exception.

Maybe the Brown investigation simply stands in a category of its own. Thanks to the existence of the CPRC, the shooting and its handling have become more transparent, hence the confusion has as well.

The department had hoped that the recordings from both officers' equipment would clear up the matter, but if the FBI is still in the house, obviously it is not all that impressed with that evidence. On that matter, the department has yet to provide a transcript of Officer Terry Ellefson's recording as it has for Officer Michael Paul Stucker. It only decided to transcribe Ellefson's recording after the CPRC had requested a copy of it. A space remains empty, but reserved for it in one of the investigation binders.

The initial facts of the shooting, like many others before it, were sketchy, as shown in an intradepartmental report that captured that uncertainty as part of its initial chronology of events.

This report stated that both officers had deployed their tasers at Brown because he was resisting arrest. The initial information on the shooting itself was as follows.

“When the tasers were not effective, Officer Ellefson fired two rounds from his handgun striking Brown twice.”

It is not clear where this preliminary information came from, but it apparently is based on material that was provided before the Officer-Involved Death Team began conducting interviews with the officers and the eyewitnesses to the shooting. What stands out in this bare-boned account is that there was no mention at that point about one of the tasers being lost and picked up by Brown, only that both were used but had been ineffective.

The intradepartmental report also included a basic chronology of events.

Department’s initial timeline:

13:52 Officer Paul Stucker to handle call

13:54 Stucker changed location to Welcome Inn of America

13:55 Ellefson dispatched to assist Stucker

13:57 10-33 call by Ellefson to restrict radio channel to emergency use only

13:58 Shots fired by Ellefson

After Riverside Police Department officer, Terry Ellefson fired twice at Lee Deante Brown, police officers began arriving at the epicenter of the department's latest shooting, the Welcome Inn of America at the corner of University Avenue and Ottawa. Witness John Gonzalez who watched the shooting from the second floor level of the Budget Inn across the street, said that at some point he had seen Ellefson walk towards his squad car and remove a backpack from its trunk, before walking away with another officer. Other witnesses had said after the shooting, that Ellefson who had been wearing a dark colored baseball cap was with another group of officers.

Immediately after the shooting, Ellefson and his partner Officer Michael Paul Stucker were still issuing verbal orders to a prostrate Brown for several minutes. Both officers still viewed him as a threat to their safety according to statements they provided for the Officer-Involved Death Team.

Stucker told investigators that he had warned other individuals about the taser being in Brown's hands. He had first made a comment in relation to that about a minute after the shooting, according to a transcript the department had made of the recording taken from his digital audio recorder. It is not clear whether Stucker had made that comment to Ellefson or another police officer.

But Stucker said he had warned Ellefson, in his interview when he had been asked if he had still considered Brown a threat after the shooting.

"Actually I voiced to Terry after that, that he might still be a threat because the taser I saw in his hand immediately before he was shot was no where in sight. I believed he still had it in his hands. He was curled up with his hands tucked underneath him. So I actually told Terry 'he's still got the taser in his hands. Be careful.'"

Det. Mike Medici asked Stucker a question.

"Okay, so last you saw of him, the taser was actually in his hands?"

Stucker answered.

"I couldn't see it but I thought the taser was in his hands."

After the medical personnel had arrived, Stucker had also told them to exercise caution when dealing with Brown as he told investigators during his interview.

"...Even once the medics got there, we were warning them as they were coming up. 'Hey, this guy has been very combative and he still has a taser in his hands."

So according to Stucker' own words, he was issuing warnings on the location of taser, sight unseen which seems prudent under the circumstances if he had believed that the taser was a threat. Even when pressed by the investigators, he told them he had never really seen the taser after the shooting, which is a little different than what Ellefson had to say on the subject.

Ellefson was also interviewed by investigators who asked him where the taser was after the shooting. Ellefson told them that his best memory was that it was near Brown's right arm, which was next to the right side of his body.
Both officers had said in their statements that even after Brown had been struck by two bullets from Ellefson's gun, he continued to move. At one point, he had even risen partially up on his arms or hands, while lying on his stomach.

When Ellefson was asked about what happened with the taser, he responded that it had been on the ground next to Brown when he had braced himself up on his knees and the balls of his feet, after the shooting. Both officers were still giving him commands but Brown was not complying. According to Ellefson, Stucker was the one who took action at that point.

"At one point, I remember Officer Stucker came in and kicked the taser away from him."

Stucker does not mention this part of the incident at all during his interview with investigators, which makes sense because even when the medical personnel arrived, Stucker had told them to be careful of Brown because he still had the taser in his hand.

Ellefson is heard on his recording telling an unidentified individual that Brown had come up at him with the taser right before he told someone that he had shot downward twice. Three sergeants submitted reports on the shooting, including two who had conversations with Ellefson. Both of those sergeants reported that Ellefson had informed them that he had fired twice in a downward trajectory. Another sergeant mentioned in his own report that one of those two sergeants had relayed similar information to him.

None of them mentioned a taser.

Brown was shot close to room #7 of the motel. Police photographs show him lying on his back and several medical personnel trying to save his life. One of Ellefson's bullets had first struck his left rear bicep, continued through his arm where it exited before striking him in the left side of his chest. Inside his body, it lodged in the right ventricle of his heart. Massive bleeding likely resulted and the few heart beats that Brown had left simply sped up his death. Within 45 minutes of the shooting, Brown would be declared clinically dead at a nearby hospital.

The staples in his left chest attest to a last ditch effort by emergency physicians to ward off death that was ultimately futile. Another bullet had penetrated near his right breast and its outline could be seen where it had attempted to exit through his right side, quite a bit lower and to the right of the entry wound. Both bullets were extracted by the medical examiner but bore little resemblance to their original state. Both had entered front to back and traveled downward, according to the medical examiner's report.

Lacerations and bruises were on his shins and above his knee, apparently from several blows delivered by Stucker's expandable baton. Several small punctures and burn marks were attributed to the approximately seven taser cycles attributed to both officers' tasers, according to their statements and information that was downloaded from both tasers. Older bruises and abrasions that had already scabbed were also recorded, along with a fresher injury on his forehead, just below the hairline area.

Ellefson's taser was shown in front of room #9 some distance to the east of where the shooting had occurred, in several crime scene photographs that were taken. It was an X-26 model with its cartridge missing.

Most of the evidence was discovered where Brown had fallen, although several items including the two spent shells from Ellefson's gun were located near or in the alcove to the west of the building. That was where Stucker had first encountered Brown after arriving at the motel. Pieces of taser cartridge doors and one taser cartridge attached to taser wires were photographed, along with two pairs of handcuffs. One of those was covered in blood, with one of its links open. Clearly that had been the handcuffs that Ellefson had tried to use unsuccessfully with Brown. Another pair of closed handcuffs covered with rain drops that were located nearby belonged to Stucker.

Officer B. Anderson arrived onscene after having been called to assist Stucker with a suspicious subject at 1:57 p.m. When he arrived, he saw both officers with their guns drawn giving verbal commands to Brown who was lying on the ground.

According to the transcript of Stucker's recording, both officers repeatedly gave him commands, from about 10 seconds before the shots were fired, until several minutes afterward. The commands before the shooting were for Brown to put his hands behind his back, although Ellefson had told investigators that he had also told Brown to drop on the ground.

Stucker mentioned in his report that people gathered at the site of the shooting afterwards and began screaming at both officers. Other police officers who arrived later would provide the same accounts in their reports.

Those officers who had been called at various stages of the incident to assist the officers also appeared but were then used to "control" a large crowd of over 100 angry people that had materialized at the corner of University Avenue and Ottawa after the shooting. Several officers tried to move them away from the crime scene, and then finally called for reinforcements.

The onlookers screamed at Ellefson and Stucker for having shot Brown, calling them murderers according to one police report. In cases like this, 1998 seems like yesterday.

At some point, the supervisors began arriving too.

Sgt. Brian Kittinger who had been assigned to the Special Investigations Bureau had been driving in an unmarked vehicle down University close to Ottawa at about 1:59 p.m. He noticed that there were police cars with sirens on in the parking lot at the Welcome Inn of America so he stopped there to offer assistance after he had turned on his radio to get more information. Kittinger was the first supervisor of any type to arrive at the scene of the shooting. When he first walked up, he saw Brown lying on the ground on his back with a handcuff around his left wrist and taser wire wrapped around that same arm. The medical personnel had just arrived onscene, and Kittinger saw Ellefson and Stucker standing by Motel room #8. Ellefson told Kittinger that he had shot two rounds in a downward direction. Sgt. Russell Shubert who had arrived by that point was questioning Stucker, who indicated to him that he had not fired his gun. Kittinger remained at the scene until Sgt. John Capen’s arrival.

Capen had been near the Galleria at Tyler at about 1:57 p.m. when he received a call from Ellefson and Stucker requesting supervision. He arrived at the motel by 2:06 and Shubert informed him that Ellefson had told him that he had fired twice at Brown striking him twice.

Shubert arrived, after having responded to a “shots fired” call he had received, at about 2:00 p.m. He saw the Riverside Fire Department’s units responding to Brown’s medical needs. He also had a conversation at some point with Ellefson about the shooting.

“Officer Ellefson advised me he had fired two rounds in a southern direction and the trajectory was downward.”

It wasn't until the interviews were done with both Ellefson and Stucker that the alleged role of the taser as a deadly weapon in the hands of Brown took a prominant place in the department's investigation. As a result, the taser was tested after several fingerprints were discovered on it but the results were inconclusive. So the department turned towards more advanced forensic technology.

A sample for DNA testing was collected from Ellefson’s taser the day after the shooting and also later from Brown. Some time later, DNA samples were taken from both Ellefson and Stucker. A police report that was dated June 6 stated the following.

“DNA report from Officer Ellefson’s taser is pending until completion from the D.O.J.”

On Oct. 16, CPRC executive director, Pedro Payne sent an email to Internal Affairs Division Lieutenant Ed Blevins, who forwarded it to Det. Rick Cobb, asking him if the DNA test results had been released by the Department of Justice. Cobb responded by email to Payne’s request by stating that he had spoken to Dave Woo at the D.O.J. and Woo had told him that the testing would take two more weeks.

However, as of Dec. 13, the space in the department’s investigative case file which was reserved for the DNA test results remains empty.

Few answers, more questions and much more to come as the investigations surrounding the Brown shooting continue. CPRC investigator Butch Warnberg will return to Riverside next month to present the second briefing on his ongoing investigation.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm only going to clarify two points for you:
1)Per Department policy, the use of the Department issued digital recorders is not required on this type of call. If they wanted to hide something, why even turn them on?

2)Per the Police Officers Bill of Rights, When you discharge your weapon and a supervisor arrives you are only required to provide public safety information. That is exactly what the Officer did. Direction, trajectory and number of shots.

Enough said on that. Find something else to build your conspiracy therory on.

vanilla gorilla

Friday, December 15, 2006 8:00:00 AM  
Blogger Five Before Midnight said...

Dear "vanilla gorilla":

Thank you for your insightful comments. Could you cite that particular section of the Police Officer Bill of Rights for me? Thanks!

Oh, and if you can also cite the relevant sections from the RPD's policy and procedure manual addressing this issue, I would really appreciate it. Thank you so much and God speed!

Who said they were trying to hide anything? You're the one who brought that up. I'm just providing information from the department's own investigative report. Have you read it yet? Interesting, isn't it?

As for your advice regarding conspiracy theories, I will certainly keep that in mind...vanilla gorilla.

LOL, you are what they call, a riot?


Friday, December 15, 2006 11:47:00 AM  

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