First We Did. Now We Don't.
Tyisha Miller had a blood alcohol of 0.13 and her initial toxicology tests showed the presence of cannabis, according to the Riverside County Sheriff-Coroner's office, when she was shot and killed by four police officers in December 1998. As early as Jan. 8, 1999, these toxicology results were printed in articles written in the Press Enterprise.
In that article, Sgt. Chris Manning said that accessing these toxicology results would enable investigators to better assess what had happened in a situation leading up to a critical incident.
Anastacio Munoz had a blood alcohol of 0.20, when he was shot and killed by Officer Melissa Wagner Brazil(who ironically also had a blood alcohol of 0.20 when she was involved in an off-duty vehicle accident in Corona in 2004, according to court records) and Officer Carl Michael Turner in November 2002. Munoz's blood alcohol level was mentioned in several news articles after the shooting.
Rene Guevera was seen drinking out of a beer bottle and tested above the legal limit(0.08) for alcohol, when he was shot and killed by Officer Richard Prince in December 2003. His drinking was mentioned in several news articles, based on accounts provided by the police department.
Summer Marie Lane was under the influence of methamphetamine when she was shot and killed by Officer Ryan Wilson. Her drug use was mentioned at a briefing held by the department in December 2004.
Lee Deante Brown was alleged to have used PCP before he was shot and killed by Officer Terry Ellefson on April 3, 2006. Toxicology results will not be released until the department has completed its investigations, which will take at least six more months.
On one level, it could be considered commendable that the department has declined to release the toxicology results, because it might go along with their statement that they do not wish to "try" the investigation in the press. This decision to do so would deviate from past practice where the police department has either commented on or released toxicology results as soon as they came in. This left many community members feeling as if the department was using those test results to justify the actions of their officers in these shootings, especially when those statements were made in the initial days and weeks after the shootings occurred. This sentiment was most prevalent after the shooting of Miller and led to a lot of complaints and heated discussions on the issue in different circles.
However, one problem with this sudden reversal on protocol is that when it comes to Brown, there has already been this assumption floating around for several weeks that he was on PCP when he was shot by Ellefson. This assumption which was provided on several occasions by representatives from the police department has been used to explain and defend the officers' actions against him. One woman said that when she had asked an officer how Brown could grab a taser out of an officer's hand, she was told that a man on PCP had the strength of three men.
Then there are people like "Asti Spamati"(whomever or whatever he is) who seem to believe that he is not mentally ill at all, just using illegal substances including PCP and rock cocaine, when often the line between the mentally ill and the drug addict can be blurred by the fact that untreated mentally ill people may attempt to self-medicate by using legal substances(alcohol) and illegal substances, according to medical experts.
A lot of the assumptions about Brown first arose when it was revealed that one witness, possibly Kenneth Williams, had told Officer Michael Stucker that Brown was on PCP. The police department acknowledged at its April 12 briefing that a witness had made that initial comment. Also, Brown had been arrested without incident on April 1 at a motel, for being under the influence of an illegal substance, which the department said was PCP.
However, was Brown under the influence of PCP when he was shot by police two days later? Only those who have access to the tests can know for sure and they are not talking, even though they were the ones who first put that word out there.
Those tests could have different possible outcomes. Brown could have been on PCP either alone or with another substance. Brown could have tested negatively for all controlled substances, or he could have tested positively for another drug altogether(i.e marijuana).
Another factor that could explain the disparate treatment by the police department is that the turnaround for laboratories for blood alcohol testing is much faster than it is for drug testing and most of the previous cases involved alcohol intoxication. While initial drug tests might come back several days to several weeks after the samples are drawn, more detailed drug screening may take up to six weeks or longer. Consequently, the information is available to be disseminated earlier.
More detailed drug screening is most often done when the initial tests are positive for controlled substances. Getting an accurate toxicology reading from someone who has died also poses complications including delays as well, although especially in Miller's case it did not prevent positive test results for several substances being made readily available for public dissemination. In Brown's case, his toxicology tests had been expedited in order to learn the truth quickly, the police chief reassured people at one meeting.
With all this aside, it still is curious that the police department has opted not to release the results of its toxicology tests, even as the discussion of Brown's possible PCP use has suddenly died down from its corner. Those who are cynical might think that the department has already received the toxicology results and they did not reveal what had been expected. Hopefully, the department has learned enough in the past five years to not choose to withhold them for that reason.
The department's current position is that it will not release the toxicology results until it has completed its investigation which may take six months or longer. By then, the public's attention will have probably moved on(hopefully, not towards the next shooting).
If Brown did test positive for PCP, then it's a contributing factor to a tragic situation which led to his death. PCP will be the major focus of attention rather than mental illness and it will deter people from tackling the issues of either problem because he will be labeled as a person who deserves what he got.
However, if the reality is instead, that Brown was not on PCP at the time he was shot to death, it will be quietly whispered as a footnote on a piece of paper stacked together with hundreds of other papers in a three-ring binder that defines the department's own investigation. PCP will still be the major focus of attention rather than the issue of mental illness and it will deter people from tackling the issues of either problem because he will be labeled as a person who deserves what he got.
Well, at least until it's the CPRC's turn to evaluate all the evidence and information in addition to what it has gathered on its own. Since its own evaluation takes place in a more public arena, the public will be allowed to participate while it drafts its public report. Once that report becomes public, so will Brown's PCP status. Then whether the answer is positive or negative, it will likely be known why the department withheld this information as well, given that it did put that information out there in the first place.
If the test was positive, then hopefully, by that time the department will have started putting together tactical strategies and training to at least deal with individuals under the influence of PCP so something beneficial can come out of this tragedy. Because the officers were operating at least under the assumption that Brown was on PCP(based on information given to them) this is something that needs to be done. It will probably choose not to tackle the more complex issues of mental illness if it can focus its attention elsewhere, which will then have to wait until the next critical incident involving a mentally ill person. Just like other critical incidents that occurred before the Brown shooting were ignored.
If Brown was not on PCP, nothing will happen or change in the interim. Unless that truth comes out, Brown's legacy will be that he was high on PCP when he died, not that his death became the cornerstone of the RPD's new crisis intervention program on addressing the interactions between police officers and the mentally ill.