By Doug Porter
We’re supposed to have been reassured that San Diego was on its way to solving the problems with police officers who break bad. Yet there is mounting evidence that it’s business as usual behind the ‘blue curtain’ in local law enforcement.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer appointed a new chief of police before he was even sworn in and a voluntary audit by way of the Justice Department’s office of Community Oriented Policing made recommendations for reform. Chief Zimmerman assured the City Council not long ago that new training procedures were addressing the concerns raised by the audit.
When the Union-Tribune editorial board is taking the department to task and lawsuits begin to pile up, you might have a problem if you are the San Diego Police Department. This problem isn’t constrained by the city limits, as legal actions and court settlements point to the County Sheriff’s Department having it’s own issues with use of force.
It’s easy to be blase about this until you realize it’s your tax dollars being used to inflict violence on actual human beings. And the millions of dollars being paid out to settle lawsuits don’t exactly fall from the sky either, even if the checks are written by insurance companies.
The Body Cam Sham
One of the more hopeful steps taken in recent months was the roll out of body cams for the SDPD. The total cost to taxpayers for this program will come to $3,870,000, inclusive of a five year service contract with TASER International.
These cameras were pitched as a path to more transparency with the public. The original request for two million dollars in funding by then-police chief Bill Landsdowne in 2014 included a promise to that effect.
From NBC7 News:
“It would help us with the misunderstandings, with lawsuits, It helps us when we sit down with someone and they say, ‘what happened?’ We can show them an actual video of what happened. There are few things better than video or sound,” Lansdowne explained.
The Los Angeles Times reported back in March about SDPD claims the cameras were already leading to less citizen complaints and less use of force by officers.
Complaints have fallen 40.5% and use of “personal body” force by officers has been reduced by 46.5% and use of pepper spray by 30.5%, according to the report developed by the Police Department for the City Council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee.
On one occasion, when those cameras might have really made a difference, there was nothing to be seen. On April 30, SDPD Officer Neal Brower neglected to activate his camera prior to a fatal encounter with Fridoon Rawshan Nehad. A new policy was announced shortly thereafter mandating the use of recording police contacts with citizens. Really? It took a shooting incident to develop a policy?
UPDATE – Via Brian Marvel, with the SD Police Officers Assn:
We have always had a policy in place, even when beta-testing BWC back in 2009. What the Chief stated was she wanted to modify when the cameras are turned on. The new language states the BWC should be turned on prior to arrival versus when making the contact.
I am under the impression the video isn’t being released because of a mutually agreed upon protective order in the federal lawsuit.
If a body cam recording of Nehad’s shooting had been made, the public would just have to take the department’s word on what happened. As it turns out a nearby security camera recorded the event.
From the Union-Tribune editorial:
…Instead of body cameras providing transparency and clarity, they instead could become tools of a status quo that tolerates, minimizes or hides police misconduct.
In Sacramento, bills establishing statewide rules for dissemination of police body camera footage have been gutted or made toothless. The result is likely to be a dubious default in which decisions about when to release this evidence are made locally on an a la carte basis. There’s also concern that in many California agencies, law enforcement officers will be allowed to view the footage before filing official reports or being interviewed over alleged misconduct, an approach some fear will allow wrongdoers to craft cover stories.
In San Diego, Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman has indicated her department’s position is to treat body-camera footage as evidence and that the public will need to have faith that police are doing the right thing in deciding what footage to make public. But such faith has been shaken by Zimmerman’s refusal – backed by District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis – to withhold private security camera video that would clarify the details of of Officer Neal Browder’s fatal shooting of unarmed Fridoon Rawshan Nehad on April 30 in the Midway District.
An employee of the business who owned the security camera has viewed the tape several times and says it depicts actions differing from the official account. The attorney representing Nehad’s family has filed an amended complaint asserting officer Browder was allowed to view that video tape of the incident prior to questioning. The SDPD officer in question is back at work.
A consortium of San Diego media outlets have gone to court to gain release of the video.
The District Attorney’s office suggests that the tape is evidence in an ongoing investigation. I’ll hazard a guess here that the investigation will drag on for many months and the evidence deemed inconclusive. This reeks of cover-up. There is no way Bonnie Dumanis is ever going to prosecute that cop.
After all, it was just some mentally ill brown homeless guy…
Going Home While Brown: Cause for Brutality?
Voice of San Diego has a story posted today about a lawsuit against the SDPD filed by a City Heights family, charging officers with using unwarranted force against a mother and her two sons. Things got off to a bad start when officers observed brown people using a key to enter the a store. (It turned out they lived upstairs from the business)
The July 29, 2014, incident occurred at the family’s wireless business, Lucky Star Mobile, on University Avenue in City Heights and was recorded by several surveillance cameras inside and outside the store. The police officers’ version of what happened, as detailed in their incident reports, differ significantly from the family’s version of events and from surveillance footage that appears to contradict the officers’ stories in key instances…
…San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman watched the surveillance footage of the incident during a November 2014 meeting with the family’s attorney, according to the lawsuit.
A police spokesman confirmed to VOSD in February that the department had opened an internal affairs investigation over the incident. But the lawsuit claims that Zimmerman and the city never “initiated any formal investigation or judicial proceedings by which to discipline the offending officers and/or bring them to justice.”
Security Guard Files Complaint against Sheriffs Department
A protest and press conference on Tuesday morning called attention to the case of Robert Branch, who alleges that plainclothes Sheriff’s Detective Paul Ward illegally assaulted and arrested him.
Mahnani Clay, an organizer with Black Lives Matter and Catherine Mendonca of United Against Police Terror led a demonstration demanding Branch be cleared of criminal charges. They say the Sheriff’s officer’s actions came as the result of an incident of road rage.
Attorney Dan Gilleon, who previously represented the women sexually abused by former SDPD officer Christopher Hays, is representing the security guard making the claim in this matter.
As it turns out there is video of the event. Here’s a spoiler: The victim is black. The cop is white.
In early July the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department settled an earlier suit, paying $1 million to the family of a young man with Down’s syndrome who was beaten with a metal baton, sprayed with pepper spray, handcuffed and held at the Vista Sheriff’s Station for five hours without letting his father see him.
The stories I’ve shared today are not unique to San Diego, nor are they indicative of what individual police officers are like as human beings.
The behavior (and believe me, if you are on the receiving end, it’s a lot more than a ‘problem’) we’re seeing locally reflects an ‘us vs. them’ culture baked into law enforcement and the expectation that it’s legitimate for the state to use force to cope with social problems. Add a good dose of institutional racism along with a dash of personal bias and you’ve got the perfect recipe for police out of control.
As the Guardian newspaper (and other media outlets) have been documenting our nationwide policing problem. Brutality and fatalities, it would seem, are occurring at an astonishing rate.
The Counted graphic at the Guardian says 776 people have been killed by police in the United States in 2015. Compare that to 55 fatal police shootings in the past 24 years in England and Wales. Or the 94 fatal police shootings in Australia between 1992 and 2011.
Twenty seven people have been killed by the use of Tasers in the United States.
Attorney Dan Gilleon and others will keep winning lawsuits (it’s just collateral damage) until citizens demand better from the criminal justice system and the people we pay to enforce the laws.
Be Careful What You Ask For…
The Hillary Clinton email ‘scandal’ continues to unfold, with some pundits saying the steady release of documents from her years at the State Department is going to derail her presidential ambitions.
Yesterday the Justice Department released about 7000 emails, including this brutal analysis of the Speaker of the House by Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal, sent on the eve of the 2010 mid-term elections.
From The Hill:
“He is louche, alcoholic, lazy, and without any commitment to any principle,” Sidney Blumenthal wrote to Clinton, then the secretary of State, in a lengthy “post-midterms” memo.
Blumenthal went on to say that the Boehner, who became Speaker shortly after the election, had tried to “buy” some potential GOP opponents in his conference with campaign contributions and plum committee assignments. Blumenthal also said Boehner had a weak grip on his conference and is “despised” by younger, more conservative members.
The Urban Dictionary defines a louche (I had to look it up) as “Any person, thing, or situation which is sketchy, shady, or undesirable.”
Also, an Associated Press analysis of her email use debunks the popular conservative assumption that something illegal was taking place.
Via Media Matters:
“[T]o prove a crime, the government would have to demonstrate that Clinton or aides knew they were mishandling the information — not that she should have known,” and as one expert noted, “A case would be possible if material emerges that is so sensitive Clinton must have known it was highly classified, whether marked or not,” but “no such email has surfaced”:
Experts in government secrecy law see almost no possibility of criminal action against Hillary Clinton or her top aides in connection with now-classified information sent over unsecure email while she was secretary of state, based on the public evidence thus far.
Although political controversy has centered on Clinton’s use of private email instead of an unsecured government account, the distinction matters little in the context of classified information. Clinton says State Department rules allowed her to use private email and officials knew about it.
Your Tax Dollars at Work
The folks at Muckrock.com has obtained the FBI’s dossier on the Burning Man Festival. (The 29th version of which is happening this week)
On This Day: 1939 – World War II began when Germany invaded Poland. 1946 – In Hawaii, some 26,000 sugar workers represented by the Longshoremen’s union began what became a successful 79-day strike, shutting down 33 of the 34 sugar plantations on the islands. The strike brought an end to Hawaii’s paternalistic labor relations and impacted political and social institutions throughout the then-territory. 1995 – In Cleveland, OH, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum ribbon cutting ceremony took place. The museum officially opened the next day.
Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to “The Starting Line” and get an email every time a new article in this series is posted!
I read the Daily Fishwrap(s) so you don’t have to… Catch “the Starting Line” Monday thru Friday right here at San Diego Free Press (dot) org. Send your hate mail and ideas to DougPorter@SanDiegoFreePress.Org Check us out on Facebook and Twitter.