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


My Photo
Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Louder than words: Civilian review in the United States

Another man died in the custody of Los Angeles Police Department officers after they had struck him with a baton, handcuffed him and taken him to jail, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Witnesses dispute police version of death of man

However, at least three female witnesses dispute the official account of the events which led to Mauricio Cornejo's death.


Norma Picasso said she saw officers hitting Cornejo in the head and body after he had been handcuffed in the parking lot at Ramona Gardens.

"It was just too violent," she said in Spanish. "They hit him in the parking lot and then they took him to where there was a bridge and they all started hitting him and he was already on the ground."

Picasso was referred to The Times by a lawyer who was at Ramona Gardens on Monday, Luis Carrillo. A second woman referred by Carrillo, Yolanda Puente, said she watched the arrest from a barbecue party about 20 feet away. She said she saw police kick Cornejo in the head and ribs and hit him with batons.

Cornejo was the second man who had allegedly had force used on him by LAPD police officers after being handcuffed in recent months. Several months ago, Chief William Bratton announced that a criminal investigation had been launched against another officer who had been videotaped placing a handcuffed Latino teenage male in a chokehold inside an interrogation room.

Later when relatives and neighbors held a vigil and carwash for Cornejo at Ramona Gardens to raise money for his funeral and burial, over 40 police officers showed up in riot gear to order them to disperse, a standoff that lasted several hours.

The Los Angeles Times has also written an article about the two law suits that were filed just days ago involving two fatal officer-involved shootings in Riverside last year. As has been stated earlier, litigation has been initiated by the families of both Lee Deante Brown who was shot on April 3 and Douglas Steven Cloud, shot on Oct. 8. Both of the men were unarmed.

Two law suits filed against Riverside shootings

In the case of the Brown shooting, the attorney who filed suit challenged the version of events provided by the police department, an action no doubt that will elicit consternation from that agency.

The law suits allege a pattern of excessive force in the department. Both cases could proceed to jury trials where a jury could answer those questions. Three other law suits have been filed in relation to officer-involved deaths in the past 18 months.


"Their response is always the same," Dunn said. "They always say the officer was in fear of his life. But the facts show there is no reasonable basis to feel that these individuals were going to create a substantial risk to them."

The city attorney's office has not returned phone calls regarding these law suits, even as the police department is routing its responses to them through that office.

Tacoma, Washington took a step closer to implementing civilian oversight over its police department, according to the News Tribune.

Tacoma moves closer to civilian review

The first seven people who filed complaints through the new review mechanism will receive letters on the outcomes of that process. During its first year of implementation, the commission had received 94 complaints including 36 involving police officers. Tacoma's model allows people to file complaints against any city employee. Complaints can be filed online here.

Initially the form of review implemented had included an auditor who among other things would sit in on internal affairs interviews but that componant of the new plan was never implemented because it conflicted with ongoing labor contracts in effect with assorted employment unions.

Response to the process was positive from the police department which had seen tragedy in recent years with the murder-suicide of Crystal Judson and her husband Chief David Brame.


Police Chief Don Ramsdell, who had opposed the council’s oversight plan, said the process will lead to better relations between residents and police.

“Citizens need to know that complaints will be investigated fully,” he said. That’s the only way to “make sure our community has trust and confidence in the police department,” he added.

“We have to earn that. Actions speak louder than words.”

Indeed they do. That's definitely true in Riverside, where civilian oversight has had a tough journey since it was first implemented by ordinance in 2000. Even after the majority of the city's voters pushed to place it in the city charter, that action appeared to intensify the actions taken by the city to weaken its position.

The excuses given by those in city management is that their intent is to make it more effective and independent, but banning an executive director from outreach, restricting the ability of commissioners to put items on their meeting agendas and implementing measures to delay the commission from investigating officer-involved deaths do not back those verbal assertions.

The topic of civilian review is also a hot one in Eureka, California. Eureka has seen four fatal officer involved shootings during an eight month period, even though the population of that city is of less than 30,000 people.

The Times-Standard has run articles addressing this issue, trying to provide answers to questions that the Eureka Police Department has failed to address publicly. One of the articles was based on a study conducted by Dr. David Klinger, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice from the University of Missouri, St. Louis addressing officers' emotional states before, during and after shootings. It was conducted through interviews with 80 law enforcement officers involving 147 incidents where they fired their guns.

Police shootings: An emotional profile

Klinger, a former Los Angeles Police Department officer noted that the emotional responses varied from fear and a rush of adrenaline up to the shooting, with fatigue, anxiety, sadness meshed with elation and guilt afterwards. However, he noted that less than half of the officers he surveyed reported any emotional feelings at all lasting longer than one week after the shooting incident.

One notable thing about the sample studied was that although all of the officers intentionally used lethal force by shooting their guns, the end result to the person on the other end differed greatly, in terms of whether they were injured, how badly or if they had died and there wasn't a distinction made in which emotional responses were tied to which outcome.

Links to Klinger's study:

Klinger's study on police shootings

Klinger's study(pdf)

NPR: Klinger interview(audio)

In Eureka like many other places, there is also an outcry for a civilian review board. In this article in the Times-Standard, the Humboldt Buddhist Peace Fellowship became the latest group to call for an oversight mechanism over Eureka's police department.

The group cited statistics from a federal agency which stated that Humboldt County should have one officer-involved shooting every three to four years, but the city of Eureka by itself has had four shootings in eight months including one that happened just after the fellowship wrote its letter.

Eureka's police chief isn't interested. Instead he repeated a mantra said by many a police before him.


Eureka Police Chief Murl Harpham said he doesn't see a need for a police review board.

“We do a pretty good job of policing ourselves,” Harpham said.

Usually those words are said by the heads of law enforcement agencies when city or county residents push for civilian oversight over those agencies. Often, civilian review boards and commissions come into being despite those protests. More often, they come into being because of those protests.

A former Humboldt County Grand Jury member had an opposing view. Keath North wrote that instead of implementing a civilian review board in Eureka or Humboldt County, the grand jury should handle and investigate police complaints. His list of reasons are included.

(excerpt, Times-Standard article)

1. The grand jury is in the unique position of having oversight over all city and county law enforcement departments, the only exception being the California Highway Patrol, which is a state agency.

2. Sound legal precedent exists which gives the Grand Jury access to police records that no citizen review board will ever be able to obtain.

3. The selection process of the Grand Jury assures a more random selection of ordinary citizens without predetermined bias or single-minded agenda.

4. The perception of bias would be lessened in the eyes of law enforcement agencies because they have an established history of responding to and cooperating with Grand Jury inquiries.

5. The Grand Jury is here to stay. Local law enforcement cannot ignore it, nor can they limit or deflect its reach. It has its foundation in the Constitution of the State of California, the county is mandated by statute to provide funding for it, and its authority is spelled out in statutory and case law.

One drawback that isn't included is that the county grand jury is entrusted to investigate a wide variety of complaints involving many different city and county divisions. Would it be able to invest the necessary time and resources to investigate every citizen complaint against a police officer?

It might work in that respect for Eureka because its police department is fairly small but for larger counties with multiple large-sized law enforcement agencies, it doesn't seem to be practical in its application

But North is definitely correct in that the grand jury process is less vulnerable to political attack or influence at the local level. Even boards and commissions which are mandated by city charter's which are akin to their constitutions are not free from attempts made by those who fear them, to weaken them.

In Riverside, it is also an election year with four council seats up for grabs and the entry lists into these races filling up already. Three of the outspoken opponants to civilian review are running are either leaving office or running for second terms. One council member who ran on a promise to support civilian review in 2003 has been very quiet on the issue this time around as have been his supporters. Dom Betro, who represents Ward 1 did appear at a community forum on the CPRC but that's been the extent of his involvement on the issue. Perhaps he hopes the issue won't be raised in discussion at all.

As the election season progresses given the renewed commitment by city officials to micromanage it, that might not be the case.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older