Lee Deante Brown.
Two Black men, both acting strangely in two separate incidents six months apart. Both died during or after encounters with Riverside Police Department officers. Both cases under investigation by both the Riverside Police Department and the Community Police Review Commission.
One might have been mentally ill. The other was certainly physically ill. In both cases, there would be allegations that these two men either were under the influence of PCP or that officers had believed that this could be true.
On April 3, Brown was shot and killed by a Riverside Police Department officer.
Three months after his death, his family filed a wrongful death claim against the city of Riverside."We think the system broke down on several levels," said Brian Dunn, a Los Angeles-based lawyer who is representing Brown's family. "I have not heard anything that suggested to me that he had to be shot out there."
In fact, not much has been said about the shooting at all by the police department since it briefed the CPRC on the events leading up to and including Brown's death. What's known is that officers were called to respond to reports that Brown was walking down the street, shouting and engaging in strange behavior including lying down in the street and exposing himself to other people. The department's briefing before the CPRC provided the following narrative of the shooting.
Officer Michael Paul Stucker was monitoring his radio and drove his squad car to the Welcome Inn, at the corner of Ottawa and University Avenue. When Stucker arrived, Brown was sitting in a corner of the parking lot, near several motel rooms. Stucker got out of his vehicle and approached him after hearing from a resident that Brown might be under the influence of PCP. Stucker then issued verbal commands and when Brown did not comply, he shocked him with his department issued taser. Officer Terry Ellefson, who had SWAT training, then arrived and assisted Stucker, after telling him not to tase Brown because Ellefson was standing too close to him. Ellefson then tried to handcuff Brown and was able to place the handcuffs on one arm. Brown continued to struggle and he and the two officers moved closer to the middle of the parking lot. Ellefson tased Brown and Stucker hit him several times in the legs with the baton. After he had tased Brown, Ellefson then fired two shots at Brown from his service weapon because he alleged that Brown had grabbed his taser and he was in fear for his safety. Brown fell on the ground and later died from gunshot wounds to the chest after being transported to a local hospital.
No civilian witness who was in the vicinity reported seeing anything in Brown's hand when Ellefson shot him. One recent report came from a woman who was ironically, a mental health expert. She had been driving down University Avenue when the shooting took place. She saw Brown fall to the ground, and like other civilian witnesses, did not see anything in his hands.
Pretty quickly, it became evident that more than one individual's safety might have been endangered that day, before Ellefson fired his gun.
It turned out that Brown was not the only individual who apparently had been shocked by Ellefson's taser. Stucker also had been struck by a taser dart in his hand around the time Ellefson used his taser on Brown. As a result, he briefly lost control of his hand and arm after tens of thousands of volts of electricity ran through his body. An officer who loses his ability to control himself due to being shocked by a taser is thus placed in a dangerous and vulnerable position. He would not be able to defend himself in an altercation and thus could potentially be in fear for his safety, correct?
After all, that's the same argument that was used by the department to explain why Ellefson resorted to using lethal force against Brown. The department stated that if Brown had gained control of Ellefson's taser, then he could have used it against Ellefson, thus potentially incapacitating him and placing his life in danger. Ironically, it might have been Ellefson himself that demonstrated that scenario on his own partner.
Initially, a department representative had said that it was not clear which officer's taser was the source of the dart that had struck Stucker in the hand. However, Stucker had used his taser in the initial few minutes of his encounter with Brown and it is unlikely that he shot himself with his own taser. That only leaves one taser present at the scene that could have been responsible, which would have been Ellefson's, with one dart hitting Stucker and the other dart apparently striking Brown.
At the time Stucker was allegedly hit by one of the darts from Ellefson's taser, he was standing in close proximity to Brown, trying to grab the loose handcuff fastened to one of Brown's arms, according to the department's own version of events. Ellefson fired his taser anyway, despite having warned Stucker earlier not to fire his taser at Brown until Ellefson removed the darts from a prior usage. Ellefson likely said this because he was standing in such close proximity to Brown at the time and recognized the potential danger of that situation. Perhaps this had been part of the training he had received at some point on taser usage. It is not clear that either Stucker or Ellefson were standing at an appropriate safe distance when discharging their tasers from the information provided thus far by the police department. Witnesses said that both officers were fairly close to Brown at all times during the incident including when the tasers were discharged.
The departmental representative who provided the briefing to the CPRC never actually said that Stucker had been struck by "friendly fire" but mentioned that at some point, Stucker had felt an intense electrical shock running through his body and that there was a taser dart fastened to one of his hands. There was no explanation as to how the taser dart became attached to an officer who was not its intended target. The department representative initially attributed the electric shock felt by Stucker to Brown had grabbing his arm while he was being tased by Ellefson, during that same briefing. However, it was fairly clear to anyone who listened to the briefing what had really happened. If you feel an electric shock passing through your body and you have a taser dart sticking to any part of your body, then you probably have been tased, whether it was intentional or not.
Toxicology issues also reared their heads, with the issue of PCP intoxication in the case of Brown.
As is standard for an officer-involved death, the police department performed a toxicology screening on Brown, for alcohol and controlled substances. In this case, the test was expedited by Chief Russ Leach, a fact he relayed at a community meeting that took place two days after the shooting.
The department ran its screenings on Brown, but remain mum about the results, even though departmental representatives had brought up PCP intoxication at several community meetings as a possible reason for Brown's erratic behavior. Most likely, this conclusion had been drawn because Brown had been arrested by police officers for being under the influence of a controlled substance several days before his fatal shooting. In fact, one unidentified correspondent here claimed that it had taken seven RPD officers to get Brown inside the squad car. On the day of the shooting, one of the witnesses had allegedly told Stucker that Brown might be under the influence of PCP. Stucker's reaction to that news was to approach Brown and issue verbal commands, without waiting for any backup assistance. This, despite oft-repeated stories about individuals on PCP displaying super human strength and being nearly impervious to pain or other external stimuli. However, PCP usage has decreased markedly since the 1980s so maybe that has impacted the training the newer officers have received on apprehending individuals on PCP. At the time Stucker approached him, Brown was on the ground, behaving fairly quietly.
Despite the initial attention given to PCP, the issue of mental illness soon entered into the discussions of the shooting as well, beginning on the day that it took place. Concerned city residents and community leaders wondered out loud if it was time for the department to examine how its officers were interfacing with the mentally ill population which has grown tremendously thanks to policies and procedures put into place for deinstitutionalization of the facilities provided for the mentally ill by former President Ronald Reagan. At least, one out of every nine hospital beds is being used by a patient suffering from schizophrenia, one of several different mental illnesses and about 1/3 of the homeless population suffers from a mental illness. Increasingly, police officers are placed in the position of being the primary responders in terms of interacting with the mentally ill population.
Some of these community leaders including those with backgrounds in mental health issues took their concerns to several community forums that were held to address the shooting soon after it happened. The response from the police department's management appeared to be cautiously receptive. If the department's leadership is intelligent and visionary, then it has already taken the initial steps needed to address this serious issue that will only increase in importance over time.
However, some of the unidentified correspondents here were not buying that mental illness of any kind played a role in the Brown shooting. Last April, one "Anonymous" stated:"Did a little more, Mary, and I'm sure you'll find out what Mr. Brown's real legacy will be - and it has nothing to do with mental illness awareness."
Correspondent "Asti Spamanti" put in his two cents on the issue of mental illness and law enforcement response as well. In prior statements, "Asti Spamanti" had identified himself as a RPD officer."Now as for the mentally ill, can you define that please? Does the mentally ill include those that put illegal substances into their bodies like PCP and rock cocaine-sorry Sandalou, I know you get a little peeved when people start making fun of those who use rock cocaine---Mary, I hearby proclaim that all mentally ill people should be allowed to do whatever they want including imposing threats against cops because they are mentally ill!!!!"
Disturbingly, race entered into the fray.
During the past eight months, unidentified correspondents including "Asti Spamanti", "Starksy" and others had made numerous comments about the relationship between African-Americans and illegal drug use especially crack or rock cocaine. Some unidentified individuals went further and appropriated stereotypes in their comments."RPD does a good job. They took the crack right out of my ass and put me in jail. Now, I'm an upstanding citizen. Mary...leave those RPD guys alone. Come see me on the corner of Douglas/University and i'll take care of your underlying problem. You need some dick.....Sincerly Huggy Bear"
They also fabricated quotes and attributed them to famous African-Americans involving drug use to *prove* their points."He who smoketh the fattest rock will get the biggest high."---Rick James...
Then there are the numerous comments made by unidentified individuals about how Hispanics were "gangsters", African-Americans were "drug addicts or dealers" and the crime victims unless they were White, did not have any racial identity at all.
"Starsky"'s statement that he provided last December provided this portrait of how these individuals viewed society in a succinct fashion."Afterall, with all of the time spent trying to rehabilitate our youth (particularly on the East side) and all of the stipulations and politics that have created a reactive police force instead of a pro-active one, there are still a number of black males with big afros selling rock cocaine and pimpin hookers; and there are still Hispanic gangters claiming turf and shooting innocent citizens; and there are still a large number of blacks pointing guns at the faces of innocent shop owners and employees and tying them up and taking things that don't belong to them while devestating these inncocent victims for life. Yup, the more things change,the more they stay the same!!!"
"Starsky" clearly is correct in that there are indeed Hispanics in gangs and African-Americans committing crimes. However, no where in his comments does "Starsky"(or any of the other commentators, for that matter) ever talk about African-Americans in any other context besides that of being criminals. These attitudes regarding African-Americans even extended to discussion of several officers employed by the RPD. Roger "Charlie 211" Sutton and the two Black officers involved in the 1997 Lake Evans incident appeared to represent the epitome of Black officers in the RPD to several of these unidentified correspondents.
Equally apparent is how "Starsky" and others view victims of crimes as being without race. None of these commentators ever depict African-Americans or Hispanics as being crime victims, even when discussing crime in communities where members of these two racial groups make up the vast majority of the crime victims. The "innocent shop victims" and the "vendors" are not assigned racial identities, like those who victimize them are so readily in comments made here. The 10-year-old boy who was shot last Christmas also does not have a racial identity, even though he was Hispanic, although his suspected killers did.
If these individuals are indeed police officers like they have claimed to be, then how they view both perpetrators and victims along racial lines can affect how they deal with not only individuals comprising both groups, but individuals who belong to different racial groups. If an African-American man can be so readily labeled as a drug dealer or crack cocaine addict but can not just as easily be referred to as a victim or at least a person in need of assistance, how is that going to impact how an African-American man is viewed by police officers if he is suffering from a physical or mental illness that manifests itself in ways that makes him appear "crazy" or "hostile"?
After all, the fatal shooting of Tyisha Miller in 1998 originated as a 911 call for emergency medical assistance and ended with 12 bullets in her body and many more passing through her vehicle.
How many officers would look at a Black man experiencing symptoms similar to those shown by Brown or Rabb and think that he might be under the influence of an illegal drug? How many of them would still think this even after informed that he was suffering from a medical condition or a mental illness?
In November 2004, police officers fired dozens of rounds of less lethal munitions at a Black man suffering from mental illness who was trespassing on someone's roof. Fire fighters sprayed the man with their fire hoses, adding to his injuries. A version of this incident was related on this blog last November by an unidentified individual who called himself "Starsky" and claimed to be a RPD officer. Perhaps, if that incident had not been complicated by its own investigation and what it apparently uncovered, it could have been the watershed incident in terms of addressing the issue of mental illness. Unfortunately, for Rabb and Brown that would have to wait.
However, "Asti Spamanti"'s concerns about African-Americans and their drugs of choice became moot because it's still not clear whether or not Brown was even under the influence of PCP when he was shot. The police department is not making any claims either way while it conducts its own criminal investigation as well as its administrative review of that investigation. Likely, any toxicological test results(probably negative for PCP) will first be made public when the CPRC receives its briefing from its own investigator on the shooting in the upcoming months.
Unfortunately, that will make it appear as if the CPRC is detailing the facts and the department is keeping them under wraps. This is due in large part to the fact that after the department appears before the CPRC and gives the initial briefing on an officer-involved death, it closes its mouth on the matter in terms of public disclosure. In the past, it has stated that state law and the police officers' bill of rights require it to be circumspect about its inhouse investigations including officer involved deaths.
There has also been silence from the department in the public arena on whether or not it plans to implement a program geared towards dealing with individuals who are mentally ill or medically incapacitated. Some community leaders had expressed hopes that the department would adopt a program similar to DMH/SMART in Los Angeles or the renowned Memphis Police Department's program.Southern California LE agencies' mental illness intervention programsMemphis Police Department's CIT program
Several fatal incidents involving RPD officers and civilians in recent years have had either mental or medical conditions involved as contributory factors in terms of the behavior they exhibited that officers said left them with no alternative but to shoot them.
In November 2005, Todd Argow, a White man and a former city manager who suffered from depression, was shot and killed by Officer Terry Ellefson after he came outside of his house with an unloaded shotgun. Earlier, Argow had told one of his neighbors during a phone call that he had planned to commit "suicide by cop". The shooting was found to be in policy by the police department, a finding which will most likely be seconded by the CPRC in the next several weeks.
Mental illnesses like depression can greatly impact behavior. So can other types of medical conditions, which was apparent when examining the events leading up to the incustody death of Rabb.
Currently, the CPRC is drafting its public report for the incustody death involving Rabb. Its investigator Butch Warnberg presented his findings to the commission last week.
In October 2005, Rabb, who was a diabetic, died at a local hospital soon after he allegedly struggled with police officers who were called to assist paramedics in dealing with a "hostile" man. According to a briefing given by the police department on this incident, Rabb had been exhibiting symptoms of a diabetic episode throughout that day, culminating in the incident that led to his contact with both law enforcement and medical personnel.
Fire fighters onscene said that Rabb appeared to be in an "altered" state. They recognized his symptoms as being similar to what is seen in diabetics suffering from severe hypoglycemia, based on their statements to the CPRC's investigators. Hypoglycemic attacks can affect various bodily organs including the brain where it induces a mental state known as "hypoglycemic unawareness". Non-epileptic seizures and convulsions which can lead to unconsciousness may also occur with a severe hypoglycemic attack. Other symptoms include tremors, irritability, impaired judgment, anxiety, glassy looks, combativeness and slurred speech, all of which were exhibited by Rabb.
However, according to several witnesses, Officer Camillo Bonome made statements that indicated that he had a different theory that explained Rabb's behavior. Cathy Jones said in her interview with Warnberg that Bonome had said that he thought Rabb was on some sort of illegal drug, either crack cocaine or PCP. Hearing him say these words made her very angry with him, Jones admitted. Warnberg stated in his report that if these allegations were true, then it could have escalated the situation."If such statements were indeed made, they would have only served to inflame and disrupt an already chaotic scene and would have been a tactical error," Warnberg stated.
Rabb had exhibited signs that were similar to those exhibited by a person under the influence of a stimulant. However, in this particular situation, family members had informed the 911 dispatcher about Rabb's extensive medical problems, as related on the incident's CAD sheet. Fire fighters were able to identify the signs of severe hypoglycemia and were acting accordingly. Warnberg stated in his report that it appeared that the officers did not recognize Rabb's behavior as being indicative of any medical condition. In fact, he believed that the opposite might have occurred. That they may have believed that he was manifesting symptoms that were not related to any medical illness. If this is true, then it might have impacted how both officers acted in the situation. To them, was Rabb a seriously ill man or a relatively healthy drug addict?
That question is one that needed to be answered. The only problem is that apparently it was not even asked because these alleged statements made by Bonome apparently went uninvestigated.
Warnberg stated that there was no evidence whether the alleged statements were actually made by Bonome or not. What he was able to conclude is that the alleged statements were not investigated by the police department's homicide investigators assigned to the Rabb case. Even though in these cases the officers are often the last parties to be interviewed, it appeared that the detectives never asked either Bonome or Officer John Garcia about allegations that these statements had been heard by several witnesses. They never allowed them the opportunity to admit or deny making these statements, instead leaving the issue open to question. A situation which simply raises more questions.
Because the officers were dispatched to the call, current RPD policy did not require them to activate their department-issued digital audio recorders and it is not clear whether or not either officer did. The fire fighters said in their statements that they were too busy tending to Rabb to have overheard any conversations between the police officers and civilian witnesses.
Bonome did turn on his digital audio recorder after Rabb had gone into cardiac arrest, according to statement he gave to investigators. This information was provided in Warnberg's report. The reason Bonome gave for doing so was because he believed that the civilians present were upset about the incident and he wanted to protect himself from false allegations. About his use of force, Bonome stated that he and Garcia had shown a "tremendous amount of restraint" in the midst of Rabb's actions and threats, according to Warnberg's report.
The police investigators did ask both police officers about another allegation made by three civilian witnesses that one of them had hit Rabb in the face or neck with a closed fist while attempting to perform the carotid restraint. Bonome said he did not do it. Garcia said he had not done it either and that he had not seen Bonome do it, although he admitted that at one point in the altercation, he had been too busy handcuffing Rabb to see what Bonome was doing. Fire fighter Patrick Hopkins said he did not see either officer hit Rabb. At one point, Hopkins was assisting the officers in handcuffing Rabb by holding one of his arms steady, according to his interview with the CPRC's investigators.
The autopsy report for Rabb stated that there did not appear to be any bruising on his face consistent with a strike to it nor were there any obvious bruiseds or marks on his neck indicating that the cartoid restraint had been used.
According to an autopsy report submitted by the Riverside County Sheriff's/Coroner's Department, Rabb died of heart disease complicated by his diabetes and related kidney problems. Warnberg stated that Rabb's death was by cardiac arrest following his restraint by the police officer. His toxicology tests were negative for both crack and PCP, showing only the presence of THC, an ingredient found in marijuana.
Two members of Rabb's family filed claims with the city of Riverside alleging that excessive force was used against Rabb by members of both the RPD and the fire department. Claims filed in the cases of Brown and Rabb join at least one law suit filed last year involving the 2004 shooting death of Summer Lane.
The city routinely denies claims, which are often precursors to civil law suits.Family Files Claim in Officer-Involved Shooting DeathFamily files claims in Terry Rabb OID