NATIONAL ASSOCIATION for EQUAL JUSTICE in AMERICA: POLICE INVOLVED KILLINGS

A deputy is probably more likely to be convicted of smuggling a cell phone to a jail inmate than found guilty of murder. No one at the February 4, 2013, NAEJA (video) meeting could recall when a policeman was convicted of murder when acting in the role of peace officer. Someone tried to recall Johannes Mehserle, the BART police officer who shot Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day, 2009 but he was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, not murder.

The cry for help was loud and clear but whether it was heard, that’s another story and if it is true that past performance is in fact the best predictor of future performance, Lord have mercy, are we in trouble. Someone among the 150 people in the NAEJA audience actually suggested that the panelists help the attendee’s change the dynamics that allow police to kill people without ever being punished.  Fat chance.

The assumption seems to be that all police killings are justified and if not, a certain level of collateral damage is acceptable, unless of course your family member is on the receiving end.  (Another assumption is that a lower overall homicide rate is a good thing. If murders drop from 80 to 20, it’s time to rejoice. Maybe in Compton but in other cities, one murder is one too many)

Someone in the NAEJA audience offered that changing the Police Officers Bill of Rights might make it easier to convict police for murder. That Act, actually California Government Code Section 3300-3311, was passed in the late 70s to help protect officers from police management and was supported by the ACLU. The Act imposed significant changes on the state’s police departments in the way they conduct investigations involving their own personnel. The 36 year old law would have to be repealed.

Someone else asked if the Grand Jury could be used to indict killer cops. There are two types of Grand Jury, civil and criminal. The main function of the Civil Grand Jury is to investigate county, city, and joint-power agencies.  The Grand Jury acts in a “watch-dog” capacity, by examining carefully and completely, the operations of various government agencies within Los Angeles County. The Civil Grand Jury is further charged with investigating individual complaints from citizens. Conceivably, a citizen could ask the Civil Grand Jury to investigate, for example, the sheriff’s citizen complaint process and procedure. Click here to obtain the form to request investigation by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury.

On the other hand, the Criminal Grand Jury may be impaneled and empowered by law to bring indictments (which are formal charges of generally felony crimes) and also to perform criminal investigations in connection with these indictments.

In Los Angeles County the Criminal Grand Jury attends hearings to weigh evidence brought by the District Attorney’s Office in order to determine on the basis of this evidence whether certain persons should be charged with crimes and required to stand trial in the Superior Court. The Criminal Grand Jury is an accusatory body and not a trial jury; therefore, the burden of proof is much lower. Specifically, the Criminal Grand Jury must decide if there is a strong suspicion the individual committed the crime alleged.

Unlike for civil cases, use of a Grand Jury in criminal cases is a tool of the district attorney, not the average John Q. Public. Moreover, the District Attorney’s Office serves as the legal advisor for the Criminal Grand Jury.

Note that D.A. Lacey was harshly criticized during the NAEJA meeting for failing to attend. Also note that the County D.A. has never brought a murder charge against a local police officer that anyone can recollect. As someone in the audience pointed out during the meeting, maybe the D.A. is simply too cozy with police and is part of the problem.

There was also much talk about the Pitchess Motion. A California Pitchess motion is a request for information contained in an officer’s personnel file. Criminal defense lawyers typically raise this motion when they believe that their client has been the victim of police misconduct. It is filed by a defense attorney to force the police to produce information about the police officers which will help the defendant and which is negative towards the police. Citizen complaints, on the job discipline and other information must be provided.

If you are arrested…and, for example, you claim that the police;

• violated your rights,

• used excessive force,

• engaged in racial profiling,

• coerced your confession,

• fabricated or “planted” evidence, and/or

• made false statements in the police report,

your California criminal defense attorney should probably file a Pitchess motion. When granted, it entitles the defense to obtain information about prior complaints (by other people) that the officer(s) engaged in the types of conduct described above.

Pitchess Motions show why filing complaints against police is so important. Theoretically, the police department or agency keeps records of complaints lodged against its personnel that should be made available under a Pitchess Motion. Whether complaints include those made by inmates against a deputy in the county jails is not known. Again, it is important that people are not discouraged from filing complaints and how they are treated when they attempt to can make all of the difference.

There are procedural requirements for filing a Pitchess Motion that must be met by an attorney. It is best that the filing guidelines be adhered to.

Looking for a defense attorney? Try the L.A. County Bar Association.

NAEJA Anti-Crime Committee meets every first Wednesday of the month at 600 N. Alameda Street, Compton 90221. For more information call (310) 608-5878.

Justice for Jose de la Trinidad March

On January 26, over 100 family members, friends, and supporters marched to protest and bring attention to Jose de la Trinidad who was killed  by L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies in the Willowbrook area on November 10, 2012. The march began at the site of Jose’s killing, 122nd Street and Wilmington Ave. and proceeded south down Wilmington Ave. to Compton Blvd., turned east and ended in front of the Compton Sheriff’s Station on Willowbrook Ave.

Mr. Trinidad was the 238th person killed by police since 2007 according to Isaac Asberry, Teen Intervention Program  CEO and founder of the Wall of Shame that tracks all murders in the county beginning in 2007.

The coroner’s report says that Mr. de la Trinidad was shot seven times in the back. A witness claims that Mr. de la Trinidad’s hands were atop his head  when deputies from Lynwood Station opened fire. Pending the investigation, there has been no official word from the sheriff on the shooting other than the standard “he reached for his waistband.”

When we examine the use of deadly force by the sheriff’s department over the past year, the deaths of Jose Toloza, Steven Bromen, Gilberto Guterriez, Christopher Allen, Javier Ortiz, Juan Serna, Christian Coban and others makes one wonder if there is some form of killing competition among sheriff stations.

The de la Trinidad family and supporters will pursue change within the sheriff’s department. Some believe deputy killers should be held personally liable for their actions with the use of deadly force. I believe hiring practices, overall policing style, and leadership are major contributing factors to excessive and deadly force use. Training is a factor as is the excessive length of time deputies spend in jail house training before street assignments.

“NO” ON MEASURE I

There is a ballot initiative, Measure I, for Compton voter’s decision on  April 16, 2013  that I believe is unconscionable. Measure I takes away the city’s choice of policing by adding to the Compton Municipal Code a requirement of county sheriff (LASD) to provide policing or law enforcement services.

All police powers as prescribed by Federal and State law that can be carried out by a Municipal Police Department shall be provided by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for the City of Compton. The city shall annually budget funds to cover the coast for Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department services.”

Here we go again. First we had the ineffectual Compton PD, F Troop. Then, thanks to Omar Bradley, we were introduced to sheriff’s services in 2001. Eric Perrodin attempted and failed to bring back CPD. That was really an expensive fiasco. There is one common thread to all of this: The people of Compton had no input whatsoever, and hopefully, memory is long come April 16 when you see familiar names on the ballot. Its time to get off the dysfunctional merry-go-round.

Has anyone living in Compton ever been satisfied with either of the two? I’m not asking which of the two that you are more satisfied or dissatisfied with. No. I’m asking if you are satisfied with either the CPD or LASD service.

Most people I speak with are not only dissatisfied with policing (law enforcement) in Compton but don’t trust them either. Moreover, there is too little discussion on public safety period. If residentts feel safe, they might be more likely to shop and spend money locally. When residents feel safe, they are less likely to move away such as what happened in the 80s.

The question of trust is never asked by elected “leaders” (Bradley, Perrodin, Council) or LASD. Given that we can’t seem to live with or without police, why is the question of trust never asked? Why isn’t the question of whether Compton residents are satisfied with police services ever asked?

“NO” ON MEASURE I.