Local Residents Rally in Support of Police Chief While Mayor Disputes Connection with Check-points
Politics inside the City of Escondido continue to confuse and confound outsiders. But we know several things:
- Police Chief Jim Maher was placed on administrative leave over some kind of personnel matter last week.
- Chief Maher has been a controversial figure within Escondido for leading the police department in holding traffic checkpoints – which have become hotly controversial as the Mexican-American community claims they are used to ferret out undocumented migrants who don’t have drivers licenses.
- There are calls for the removal of Chief Maher from a number of advocacy groups.
- Escondido Mayor Sam Abed said Tuesday that the checkpoints and Maher’s leave are not related.
- There was a rally in support of Chief Maher on Wednesday – partially organized by a group called Citizens of Escondido for Road Safety. They believe the chief has been wrongly placed on leave – paid by the way. Maher supporters also went to the City Council meeting on Monday to demonstrate their backing of him.
- Maher’s supporters, according to San Diego NBC, said that “the City is looking into text messages sent by other employees that may have included racial slurs.” Some also allege that the ” investigation is a ruse to fire Maher because they say the city manager and he disagree over the use of daytime traffic safety checkpoints.” The City is not commenting.
To top it all off, the Mayor promises that the traffic checkpoints will be “strengthened”. However, Mayor Sam Abed said that the check-point program will continue in the police chief’s absence, and disclaimed any rumors that they would be discontinued. NBC reports that Mayor Abed said in fact the checkpoint programs will be strengthened in Maher’s absence.
“Let me assure you that Police Department programs and policies, including checkpoints, will not only continue to be maintained, but they will be strengthened. They are City Council policies that are carried out by our City Manager through the Police Department.”
The group Citizens of Escondido for Road Safety – besides supporting the chief – also support the checkpoints. Escondido continues its investigation … into something.
But it has been obvious for years that the city is grappling with its interaction with the Mexican-American population of the city. Earlier we reported on the current scandal. Six years ago, the City Council passed an ordinance that barred landlords from renting to immigrants without papers, but had to discontinue the practice after a legal challenge by the ACLU.
And currently, as we stated:
Suffice it to say, the Mexican-American community is not happy with these checkpoints. Critics of the forced auto stops say they disproportionately affect undocumented immigrants, who cannot by law obtain a driver’s license, who suffer disproportionately from having their cars impounded by the City. Other critics contend the City is making money off the checkpoints.
In fact, people have been protesting near the checkpoints for a while. In January 2011, an activist by the name of Matthew Bologna and another protester were demonstrating near a checkpoint from a sidewalk along Valley Parkway. A police officer ordered them to move, citing a California Vehicle Code section (22520.5). Despite the ACLU assertions that the vehicle code did not apply to the situation, CHP officers used the same code section during another checkpoint in May 2011 in Escondido.
More recently, Bologna was videotaping officers at a checkpoint on April 24th. Police ordered him to move away. According to the ACLU lawsuit, an officer told him that “we have a policy not to have you in our operational area for officer safety reasons.”
The ACLU is requesting the court to prevent the CHP and Escondido police from interfering with the anti-checkpoint demonstrators.
Besides this lawsuit, city hall has been besieged lately with calls for the City Manager and the Police Chief to resign. Latino activists accuse City Manager Clay Phillips and Chief Jim Maher of leading the City into an illegal system of profiteering from the police checkpoints and towing fees. A protest was held back in mid-April on these calls to the City Council to act. Activists claim the city is making millions from mostly Mexican immigrants.
We all will stay tuned into Escondido for the next episode of how an Anglo-dominated city government manages to survive in a city where half its residents are Latino.