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

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Disparities and decisions

Dana Parsons, who writes columns for the Los Angeles Times commented on the decision of the Orange County District Attorney's office not to prosecute the Huntington Beach Police Department officers who shot and killed Ashley MacDonald after she brandished a knife at them.

The danger looks bigger

If you remember, this shooting fostered a lot of discussion in the disparities between different law enforcement agencies even in the same county, as to what less lethal options are made available to them. Before MacDonald was shot and killed, officers had been trying to locate one of the department's few pepperball launchers and were in the process of loading one when the shooting occurred.

More information on the MacDonald case is below.

Orange County Register: Probe clears officers

Los Angeles Times: Officers cleared in MacDonald case

An interesting situation arises in communities here when you ask residents what they are thinking when they learn of cases where district attorneys decide not to file criminal charges against officers involved in onduty shootings. In response, usually they just shrug their shoulders and say, that's not news. And in a sense, they are right.

Indeed, when you look at the record of both county prosecutory agencies in the Inland Empire, both of them have only filed criminal charges against law enforcement officers involved in onduty shootings once in their respective histories.

In San Bernardino County, District Attorney Michael Ramos filed charges against San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department deputy Ivory Webb for shooting and wounding Elio Carrion last year. The announcement to do so came only five weeks after the shooting. The most recent trial date for this case has been postponed.

In Riverside County, a grand jury filed charges against then Riverside County District Attorney's office investigator, Daniel Riter who shot at a man driving a truck as it passed by him. Riter was prosecuted by the State Attorney General's office and convicted at trial of involuntary manslaughter, a lessor included charge. He is now serving 7 years in state prison.

Still, in the Inland Empire, it's pretty much assumed that charges won't be filed against law enforcement officers and that assumption is affirmed in virtually every example that is produced by circumstances. So people don't pay much attention and neither the law enforcement agencies nor the county prosecutors regularly announce the status of officer-involved shootings like they do in other regions.

The process of how these cases are handled in the Inland Empire differs greatly from what happens in other jurisdictions.

In other cities, like New York City, grand juries are convened and prosecutors present their evidence to the jurors who themselves come to a consensus on whether or not to issue indictments which is what happened in 1999, involving the NYPD officers who shot and killed Amadou Diallo.

Court TV: Diallo indictments

The grand jury process also played a pivotal role in the indictments of the four Los Angeles Police Department officers who faced felony charges for beating and kicking Rodney King in 1991. Among the crimes charged included assault under the color of authority, assault with a deadly weapon and knowingly writing a false police report. The trial was moved to Simi Valley and all four officers were acquitted on all charges, except for Lawrence Powell, who had one of his counts deadlocked by the jury.

Sgt. Stacey Koon and Powell along with Theodore Briseno and Timothy Wind were later indicted by a federal grand jury for civil rights violations in connection with that same incident. A jury convicted both Koon and Powell and both of them served brief stints in federal prison.

Of the four officers, at least three of them had prior discipline in their histories, according to a book written by the investigator who worked for one of the attorneys who handled the civil law suit filed by King against the city of Los Angeles. Powell and Briseno had both served lengthy suspensions for excessive force involving using a baton and kicking someone respectively, which were actions taken by them during the King incident. In fact the night the incident occurred, Powell had allegedly flunked a test involving his baton skills during a roll call session and was given remedial training before he went out in the field.

Wind, who worked for a law enforcement agency in Kansas before coming to the LAPD, had been disciplined for an incident inside the locker room where during an argument with another police officer, he had thrown a battery at him striking him in the head.

Chronology on Rodney King case

Inglewood Police Department officers, Jeremy Morse and Bijan Darvish were also indicted by a grand jury on charges of assault under the color of authority for Morse and of knowingly writing a false report for Darvish. Darvish was acquitted at trial and Morse received two hung juries before the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office decided not to refile.

Before the Jackson incident, Morse had at least 12 prior complaints involving excessive force filed against him during his three years with Inglewood Police Department including at least three during his probational period. Just two weeks before the Jackson incident, Morse had been involved in an alleged excessive force incident involving a Black man leaving a picnic at a park. On the day Morse encountered Jackson at the gas station, this man was still hospitalized on a respirator.

New York Times: Articles on Donovan Jackson case

In Riverside County, you'll probably never see a grand jury convened to examine evidence in a case involving a law enforcement officer involved in an onduty shooting. The Riter case was an exception because it involved an employee from the District Attorney's office so that office had to recuse itself from the process. In fact in many of the cases that are heard by grand juries in this county, charges have already been filed by the District Attorney's office and the grand jury process is used by that office to send them straight to trial without having to undergo the preliminary hearing process.

Even having the first new district attorney in 25 years will not change this trend for officer-involved shootings, which will surprise few people.

Law enforcement agencies and county prosecutors may be operating under the assumption that people are waiting to hear what they have to say on officer-involved shootings, but in reality, many people aren't waiting because the way they see it, the minds of those running those respective agencies are already made up so there is no reason to wait for the words they know they will hear ahead of time.

What they look for instead is how an officer-involved shooting will impact how a department conducts its business. What matters to them at least as much is whether or not shooting an individual was the only option the officers could use and what the police department will do in the future to prevent further shootings in certain cases, such as those involving unarmed individuals and/or those who are mentally ill, medically ill or developmently disabled.

Will shootings of mentally ill individuals result in the development of mental health crisis intervention training or partnerships between law enforcement agencies and mental health organizations? Will shootings of individuals result in better training and usage of less lethal options?

Rather than knowing whether or not an officer will be prosecuted or fired for shooting a mentally ill person or shot while complying with an officer's commands, they want to know if their loved ones who are mentally ill will be shot, or whether they will be shot the same way Carrion was in Chino after he was apparently complying with Webb's command.

Will these residents have a police department that is willing to allow them to engage it in a process addressing these issues and other community concerns in relations to officer-involved deaths? Or will the agency as well as the city or county that presides over it instead circle their wagons and shut them out, preferring to limit its contact with those individuals who always are in agreement with them? That is the easy road, but was that what former State Attorney General Bill Lockyer had in mind when he discussed the three partners in the reform process?

These are the kinds of questions I hear most often from community members who believe that most of the time and energy is spent by law enforcement agencies trying to exonerate their officers or to reduce their civic liability, whether that is the truth or not.

In San Jose, California, an emotional forum on police/community relations was held, where community members described their experiences and those of their families with officers from the San Jose Police Department, according to the San Jose Mercury.

Community forum in San Jose

Over 200 people who showed up watched as speaker after speaker detailed experiences of racism and abuse.

(excerpt, Mercury article)

For more than two hours, dozens of speakers -- many of whom have filed complaints -- painted a dismal portrait of racist, renegade officers who are quick to target Latinos, blacks and Muslims and stop them for little or no reason.

"Police officers are still the same, they go by color and mostly after blacks and Mexicans,'' said Rachel Perez. "All they look at is your color, what you're wearing and what you're driving. When are police going to be accountable? Some things have to change.''

Police chief Rob Davis and San Jose's police auditor, Barbara Attard attended the meeting but didn't address the allegations although Davis spoke to a reporter after the meeting.

(excerpt, Mercury article)

But in an interview with the Mercury News after the meeting, Davis said he plans to share the information with his command staff and offer suggestions -- including increasing crisis intervention training and educating the public on police policies -- to help cut down on any problems.

"It's important to listen to this and hear the comments. It doesn't fall on deaf ears. We follow themes,'' Davis said. "There are 1,800 people in the San Jose Police Department and they are human beings. There are officers who have issues.''

The city of Riverside will also be holding a public forum that will be attended by city and county employees on Jan. 29 at 7 P.M. at the County Office of Education. Issues that will be addressed include the mission of the city's Community Police Review Commission which appears to be changing a lot lately.

Riverside Police Department Police Chief Russ Leach and Riverside County District Attorney's office representative, Sara Danville will speak on the roles both of their agencies play in regards to officer-involved deaths. CPRC chair Les Davidson will speak on the commission. City Manager Brad Hudson was invited to speak on behalf of his office in terms of addressing the role he plays in making the final disposition on officer-involved deaths but just as he did in the shooting death of Summer Marie Lane, he opted out and handed off the responsibility to someone else, in this case Councilman Andrew Melendrez.

In the wake of the city's decision to suspend the CPRC's investigations into fatal three officer-involved shootings due to the resignation of its executive director, Pedro Payne and for other reasons, the forum is both timely and should provide an interesting discussion in the wake of recent events.

Police shootings are up in Philadelphia and many people want to determine the reasons why, according to an article published in the Philadelphia Inquirer written by Bob Moran.

Shootings by officers up in Philadelphia

The police say that it's crime and dangerous neighborhoods. Other people say there are problems with the department's leadership, given that the shootings have increased greatly since Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson took charge.

Twenty people were shot and killed by police officers in a department which numbers about 7,000 police officers last year.

Of the two people killed this year so far, one was unarmed, the other suffering from mental illness.

(excerpt, Inquirer article)

Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson and his commanders point to what they say is a more violent street culture, the same one that generated 406 homicides last year. It is not surprising, they contend, that officers are using deadly force more often as they aggressively try to police streets that are awash with guns.

Others, however, are placing the blame on Johnson. They point to other cities and Philadelphia's own history to argue that a rise in police killings often is more a function of a department's leadership than dangerous streets.

"There's no justification for Philadelphia to be so far in excess of other cities," said Samuel Walker, a criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. "There's something clearly wrong in Philadelphia."

An interesting note was that one of the times that this police department's shooting rate approached its current one was during the 1970s, the decade when the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper published a series of articles written by investigative reporters, Jonathan Neumann and Phil Chadway about how the department's homicide detectives had been beating and torturing mostly Black and Latino individuals into making confessions. After discovering that about 20% of those confessions had been tossed out by the judges, the two men began working on their stories, which were published in 1977 and led to an investigation by the United States Justice Department and the indictments of at least a dozen of those detectives not to mention action taken by the Justice Department against the city.

Fatal shooting rates per 1,000 officers:

Philadelphia Police Department(2006): 2.8 per 1,000 officers

New York Police Department:(2006) 0.325

Riverside Police Department: (2006) 7.89

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