This moment in time is about so much more than gun reform. It’s about political reform. It’s about criminal justice reform. And that’s what I’m going to focus on today, in light of recent events in Sacramento and along with what’s (or not) happening locally.
San Diego is lucky in that we have candidates for County Sheriff (Dave Myers) and District Attorney (Geneviéve Jones-Wright) in the June primary who stand on the side of criminal justice reform.
Assemblyman Todd Gloria and San Francisco’s David Chiu have joined forces with statewide Indivisible groups in partnership with ACLU of Northern California and the American Friends Service Committee to co-sponsor AB3131.
The bill would create oversight and ensure transparency on the sale of surplus military equipment to police departments statewide. This is important because President Trump and Jeff Sessions have rolled back an Obama executive order limiting the sale of surplus military equipment to state and local police departments.
In announcing his executive order, President Obama said: “We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force, as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them. It can alienate and intimidate local residents, and send the wrong message.”
Clearly, alienation and intimidation are a big part of the Trump agenda, particularly as it applies to police violence against people of color in this country.
Here’s the big picture, via Indivisible State Strong:
- Black men are killed by the police at a rate that is nearly three times higher than that of white men.
- In 2017, 35% of the unarmed people killed by police were black, even though black people make up only 13% of the population
- 99% of cases have resulted in the officer’s acquittal.
It has been a week since Stephon Clark bled to death in his backyard in south Sacramento. In that week 27 other people have died at the hands of police in the United States, according to criminal justice reform advocate Shaun King. That’s more than police in most developed nations kill in a year; more than police in most developed nations kill in a decade.
We’ve learned a lot about the 22-year-old father of two children since he died. He had a criminal record. After a 911 caller complained that a male in a black hoodie had just broken a truck window he was shot at 20 times in the dark.
The officers told Clark to stop and show his hands. They chased him after he ran, and took cover behind a wall once they thought they saw a gun, which turned out to be an iPhone. There was a law enforcement helicopter overhead. The police could have waited for re-enforcements to arrive, but didn’t.
We know the officers reloaded their weapons and emergency personnel waited several minutes as Clark bled to death outside the back door of his grandmother’s house. Video released by the Sacramento police department reveals the officers muted the audio on their body cams, and discussed something for another two minutes.
Officers interviewed Clark’s grandmother for several hours before revealing it was her grandson who’d had been killed by the gunfire, and his body was only feet away from her.
Here in San Diego, we wouldn’t even know about the video, because the District Attorney’s office most likely wouldn’t feel obligated to release it, per their policy as articulated by former DA Bonnie Dumanis, and continuing under interim DA Summer Stephan.
As the Sacramento Bee pointed out in an editorial:
Here’s what we don’t know: Enough about the two Sacramento police officers who killed him. We don’t know if either has been accused of crimes in this state in the past. We don’t know if they have a history of using excessive force here. We don’t know how many times – or even if – either has pulled a gun on or shot a civilian.
And that’s unlikely to change, because, thanks to the muscle of California’s law enforcement lobby, the personnel records of peace officers are completely confidential, only to be discussed in closed-door hearings. The public isn’t privy to information on promotions, discipline, annual appraisals or “any other information the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
This legislative straitjacket, officially known as the California Peace Officers Bill of Rights, was launched into law, in part, by Gov. Jerry Brown in the final months of his first term. And though it might have made sense then, over time it has hardened into a serious obstacle to meaningful oversight.
There have been street demonstrations in Sacramento, and the political upheaval in the wake of this shooting will continue as San Diego’s Rev. Shane Harris and Rev. Al Sharpton are on hand to demand justice.
And, absent a civil suit likely to be settled a couple of years down the road, that will be the end of this story.
Obviously, police officers should have the right to protect themselves when they feel threatened. But the policies and procedures surrounding officer-involved shootings offer near-zero protection for citizens unlucky enough to get shot.
California has a miserable record for prosecuting police officers who kill unarmed civilians while on duty, with only three prosecutions of officers for murder or manslaughter since 2005, according to Bowling Green State University professor Philip Stinson in data provided to the In Justice Today newsletter. In 2016, California police officers killed 157 people. The city of Los Angeles has not prosecuted a police officer for an on-duty shooting in over two decades.
While the San Diego PD has reasonable procedures on-paper to follow up on police shootings, the system is only as good as its weakest links. The District Attorney’s office and the Civilian Review Board are those weak links.
The District Attorney’s office role is to review the investigative work of the PD involved and issue a report. In other words, if key facts are omitted or eyewitness testimony is tainted, they’ll most likely never know. Furthermore, if a prosecution isn’t warranted, this report is the end of the road.
From the DA’s office memo on officer-involved shootings:
This review does not examine such issues as compliance with the policies and procedures of any law enforcement agency, ways to improve training, or any issues related to civil liability.
The relationship between prosecutors and law enforcement in San Diego is so symbiotic that conflict is avoided at all costs. Law enforcement officers associations/ PACs are typically a major funding source for electoral contests for District Attorney and County Sheriff.
These groups have also been involved in the opposition to significant criminal justice reform in California over the last few years including:
- Prop 47 (a law that changed certain low-level crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and directs the savings to drug and mental health treatment, programs for at-risk youth, and victims services);
- Prop 57 (a law that increased parole and good behavior opportunities for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes and allowed judges, not prosecutors, to decide whether to try certain juveniles as adults in court);
- The Repeal Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements (RISE) Act, repealing the state’s three-year sentence enhancements for prior drug convictions. These enhancements were applied consecutively, so three years were added for each prior conviction for anyone convicted again for a similar offense.
The City and County community boards charged with oversight in the process of protecting the citizenry aren’t doing the job.
In 2017, the County Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board dismissed 22 investigations involving people who died in county detention facilities or while being taken into custody due to an unnecessarily narrow interpretation of the California Public Safety Officers Bill of Rights.
San Diego City’s Community Review Board on Police Practices evaluates misconduct complaints from residents and reviews officer-involved shootings only after the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division completes its investigation and issues any discipline.
They lack the independent investigative power, are historically underfunded, and only just recently added outside legal representation to avoid conflicts of interest with the city. As one former board member told in an aside not long ago, they act on what they’re told they can look into.
Up next in California, bail reform.
A State Court of Appeals Ruling in January issued a ruling casting doubt on the constitutionality of money bail, one holding significant implications for statewide bail reform in California. Specifically, the court declared it is a violation of defendants’ 14th Amendment rights to detain them pretrial without critical due process protections.
Senate Bill 10, introduced but not passed in 2017 would end the traditional bail system as we know it, relying instead on “pretrial assessments” to determine if a defendant is a danger to society or a flight risk.
Currently, pre-trial detainees remain behind bars unless they can pay the full bail amount to the court — typically, $50,000, which would be refundable — or 10 percent of that amount, which is not refundable, to a bail agent. This amounts to money being the arbitor of whether somebody arrested is a danger to the community.
The status quo is supported by some law enforcement groups and, of course, the bail bond industry, as this clip from the Mercury News during last year’s legislative hearings illustrates:
Opponents of the bail-reform legislation warned it would create public safety risks and cause job losses throughout the bail-bonds industry.
“You, the taxpayer, will pay to release these criminals,” Duane Chapman, known as “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” said in a robo-call to some 800,000 phone lines last month. “Car thieves, burglars, sexual predators and repeat offenders will get out of jail with little accountability, and we will not be able to go after them when they run.”
The bail issue entered the contest for San Diego County District Attorney, following a recent debate sponsored by the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council between interim DA Stephan Summer and challenger Genevieve Jones-Wright.
Stephan used the appearance to say she favored bail reform and that the “protection of the community depends on actual assessment of people’s risk of doing harm out there as opposed to how rich their pockets are.”
This was news to Jones-Wright, who is currently a public defender:
“If you are for bail reform and against cash bail, why are you waiting for the state legislature to pass a bill? The District Attorney’s Office has tremendous discretion in arguments for bail. Unfortunately, it has continued to be business as usual for the Deputy DA’s handling cases in our courtrooms. New policies supporting bail reform efforts have not been put in place by the interim District Attorney. The District Attorney’s Office continues to seek cash bail and continues to fight against common sense practices in court.”
I’ll close with this little horror story from last week about bail, the people who profit from it, guns, and the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, via Mark Lane:
On 3/1/2018 a video was posted by Ryan Patrick McAdams stating that he apprehended an undocumented male who was out on bail due to an alleged DUI arrest. McAdams stated the unidentified man’s family had contacted the agency stating he was thinking of “jumping” bail and returning to Mexico, talking over the pleas from the man to not be sent to ICE. The man was paraded, humiliated, and tormented on live video with no regards to his humanity.
McAdams is known to the activist community as a racist, White Supremacist, who belongs to the United Patriot National Front and the Bordertown Patriots. He has been accused by activists of harassment and assault with a deadly weapon before and during the border wall protest on December 9th which were documented in local and national media. In addition, McAdams has multiple restraining orders and at least one arrest for allegedly beating his ex-wife and other immediate family members.
McAdams is not allowed to possess firearms until the restraining order expires in 2022. However, there is documented evidence that McAdams still possesses firearms and that a San Diego Sheriff’s Deputy caught him with a trunk full of firearms and ammunition on February 10th 2018 in Marron Valley, east of Otay Mesa, yet did not arrest him nor confiscate any of his firearms. Pictures from Ryan McAdams Facebook post of his car, the guns and a sheriff deputy outside of the car are attached to this email. McAdams brags on Facebook that the sheriff let him go with the firearms because the sheriff was a huge 2nd amendment supporter.
The community has contacted Watkins Bail Bonds who stated that McAdams does not work for the company. Other sources have come forward stating that McAdams works as a contracted Bounty Hunter (bail fugitive recovery person) for the company. Ryan McAdams has criminal convictions as far back as 2009 and restraining orders against him that were filed in 2017 for his violent abusive relationship upon his ex-wife.
At this point, nobody knows what happened to the person who was ‘aprehended.” There was a protest outside Watkins Bail Bonds last Friday.
The owner of the company appeared on 10News, saying the video was taken out of context.
The family called and said look, this guy’s acting shaky, we don’t want to be on the hook for $5,000,” he said.
Watkins said McAdams isn’t his employee. He simply knew the agent, who let him ride along while he broadcast it on Facebook.
“Yeah, I’m not happy about that,” Watkins said. “That’s just some private citizen doing what he’s going to do.”
Regardless of the context, the story here shows just how much reform and real oversight is needed in San Diego.
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