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 The 36 year old law would have to be repealed.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.

 

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