Thursday, October 11, 2012

Observations about a Federal investigation into Vallejo Police

2012-10-11 "Police Shootings" by James D. Davis, published by "Vallejo Independent Bulletin"
A recent article on police shootings in New York City during 2011, based on a report published by the Police Department itself, showed officers shooting and killing 9 suspects and injuring 19 more, “the second-lowest annual toll in recent city history” (a city of eight million people with 515 homicides in 2011).  (Five of Vallejo’s 18 homicides so far this year have been officer-involved killings.)
The New York City report concluded that the experiences of the 62 officers who fired at suspects demonstrated that “restraint is the norm” in police shootings.  In those 36 separate encounters, more than two-thirds of the officers involved fired five or fewer shots.  And more than a quarter fired only a single shot.  In none of the episodes did the police officers reload. The 28 suspects wounded or killed by police bullets in 2011 represented a slight increase over the 24 suspects shot by the police in 2010, the lowest number in recent history. (As a point of comparison, in 1971, the police shot 314 suspects.)
According to newspaper accounts I’ve read about the latest Vallejo officer-involved shooting and killing—to wit, one Mario Romero, Sept 2--more than 30 shots were fired at close range into Mr. Romero’s car by two officers.  Reloading was probably required at some point during this orgy.  And they were probably shooting with weapons that required pulling the trigger each time; pretend you have a gun and pull the trigger fifteen times; it took me fifteen seconds.  The police said Mr. Romero had a replica gun and Ecstasy pills.  He made a move for the replica gun and they opened fire, at one point jumping up on the hood of Mr. Romero’s car—to get a good look or a better shot.  Mr. Romero wasn’t shooting then; indeed, Mr. Romero was never shooting.  The police would have you believe Romero reached for his fake gun when confronted by two police officers, headlights and maybe spotlights blazing into his eyes, red lights flashing.  It wasn’t like he thought he could escape or have a gun battle with the officers.
Yes, this whole story is absurd.  But we’re never going to hear what happened.  The police investigate themselves, assisted by the DA.  They’re both police agencies.  There is no independent citizen review.  And the police don’t discuss the results of their investigation; it’s police business.  Mr. Romero and his case have died.  You won’t read about it anymore.  There will be no report.
The only way I know to find out what happened is to have the AG or the U.S. Department of Justice file criminal charges or allegations of civil rights violations against the officers.  Then there would be an open court hearing and we would hear from the officers and witnesses.  A civil action against the officers would probably not succeed because the police have nearly unqualified immunity for actions taken in the course of their duties (a lawyer could argue that the police were “on a lark of their own,” not pursuing lawful duties).
How would we get a Justice investigation?  One or more of the council members could write and request it.  Mayor Davis at least made a feint in this direction; the other council members and the city manager are silent.  They have confidence in the system that exists, even though it remains hidden from us.  They think we should trust them to take care of the police department.  Yes, we’ve had a spate of officer-involved shootings and killings this year, but the council is taking care of it.  You think?
Comments posted by readers at "Vallejo Independant Bulliten":
2012-10-11 from "Anonymous" -
Jim, when did you write this article? Burris has been hired by the daughter, and another lawyer was hired to represent the mother. They are the only 2 who have standing to sue civilly for wrongful death. Excessive force is a violation of civil rights; that will be the focus of the case. Police Governmental Immunity does not apply to violations of civil rights. As long as the family wants to pursue the wrongful death action, there will be at least some limited information available. The court file is open to the public, but depositions are not filed with the court file, so unless one of
the parties made the deposition transcript public, and if there is no protective order stopping someone from purchasing a copy from the court reporter, you could buy a copy. (which would be in the hundreds of dollars or more depending on the length of a transcript). The City Council has already voted unanimously to ask the AG office to investigate. It is up to the AG office to decide if it will investigate. Burris in his public statement said he was submitting a request to the feds (FBI and Justice Dept) to investigate. Again, it is up to the FBI and Justice Dept. to decide if it wants
to investigate. No one can force them. You've identified one of the more serious problems with all CA police departments - the privacy laws, and statutes which protect police officers - identities, claims against them, investigations, recommendations, conclusions. This is not a Vallejo PD issue - it applies throughout the state. Time to talk to Sacramento.
2012-10-11 "Anon, get your facts correct" -
At City Council one of the daughters specifically said she had NOT hired Burris. Osby's invite to the Dept of Justice was ultimate grandstanding as he knows they wont come in for a long time (after the case is closed by VPD and the DA)
2012-10-11 from "Anonymous" -
Got my facts right. On Sept. 21, Burris, said at a news conference that he is representing Joseph Johnson, 21, and Mario Romero's 3-year-old daughter. Since Romero only has 1 daughter, who is 3, I doubt she spoke at city council. The sisters have said they did not hire Burris. That is correct. Under CA wrongful death statute, the mother and daughter have standing to bring a lawsuit, the sisters do not, so they have no reason to hire a lawyer.
2012-10-12 from "Jim Davis" -
Good to know Burns is trying, no matter who hired him and who has standing. The latest development is the city council calling on a Justice mediating program to improve relations with the community. That strikes me as wide of the mark. The problem is the police department, not the community. No one is in control of the department. I hope we get a fuller story one day, but I'm not holding my breath. Love, Jim

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