Commentary: Why the City Needs to Take Up the Issue of Police Oversight

Next week the city of Davis will be hosting a forum discussion on the need for police oversight in this community.  To understand that need, it is important to understand that Davis has long had a problem where people of color perceive that they have been targeted by the police, who have engaged in vehicle stops and even non-vehicular stops based on skin color and vague descriptions.

We can look no further than the incident where an African American in his sixties was approached by a police officer while mowing the lawn at his home…  Well, since that incident occurred now four years ago, I would like to offer to some more recent examples.

One of the points I have made in recent months is the fact that people of color have had a fundamentally different experience with law enforcement here in Davis than the white community.  Former Councilmember Michael Harrington got himself in some hot water a few weeks ago at a council meeting, as he explained that he has always been treated well by the police.  He also cited his mixed-race son as an example – no doubt his Filipino son will experience a different world than his father as he moves from being a small child to a teenager.

Following the Picnic Day incident this April, the Vanguard began looking into the activities of the Davis Police Department and in particular the SAFE (Special Assignment and Focused Enforcement) Team, which the Picnic Day officers were a part of.  What we learned was troubling but not surprising.  The most frequent complaint we heard was overzealous raids on properties.

In fact, one such raid occurred by the SAFE Team in February 2015 at the very same home where the incident reported on earlier this week occurred, where Eduardo Letelier was punched in the face by two different Davis police officers.

The February 2015 incident also sought to serve a warrant on the place.  It occurred at 10:30 at night while there were at least three adults and multiple children present.

The children – ages 6, 12, and 19 – were asleep while the adults were still awake, when there was a pounding on the door, with the Davis police arriving and claiming to have a search warrant.

When Mr. Letelier’s brother opened the door, they put a shotgun to his face, threw him against the wall, and handcuffed him.

They were wearing ski masks and camouflage, had flashlights and arrived with guns drawn.  They announced they were cops, yelling “code blue,” and claimed to have a warrant.

They went up the stairs, had the 19-year-old sit down by the wall without cuffs, but grabbed the 12-year-old and pulled her down the stairs.  They were about to put her in cuffs when one of the officers yelled that she was a minor and they sat her down.

They cuffed all of the adults, and left them on the floor.  The officers searched the place in total for nearly five hours, not leaving until 3:30 am in the morning.

After they had searched through the house and flipped everything over, the officers finally questioned the adults and finally told them an hour and a half into it that they were searching for stolen items.  But they did not specify what – the police just said electronics.

Two of the officers were Ryan Bellamy and his brother Sean Bellamy, both of whom were involved in the Picnic Day situation.

The family would not learn exactly what the police were searching for until the police left the home, having found nothing.  They left the warrant on the floor and only then did the residents find out that they had been handcuffed for five hours, at gun point for some of that time, and had their house trashed and turned upside down to find a stolen bike and a stolen computer – neither of which were found.

This was just one of several complaints I have heard about raids and, as traumatic as this incident was – and the 19-year-old nearly two years later is still suffering from PTSD – the family was actually quite fortunate.  These kinds of mistaken heavy-handed raids often produce loss of life and loss of pets, as critics like Radley Balko have chronicled over the years (a few examples: here, here, and here).

This is just one example.  Last summer, we attempted to get from the police more information about these raids, but our request was declined.  What we can tell you from the conversations we have had: (1) most of the raids involve relatively minor items; (2) most of the raids involve disproportionate tactics; and (3) few to none of them resulted in the filing of complaints.

And there is a fourth point – all of the people raided that I spoke to were people of color.

There is a perception that a lot of the complaints against the police result from lack of cooperation on the part of the contacted party, but in the case of these warrant searches, the police are going in with overwhelming and disproportionate force from the start and, in many cases, the contacted parties were completely innocent of even the relatively minor charges.

I believe in only one of the six cases I looked into did the party actually file a complaint against the police.  In most cases, the explanation given was they did not believe that a complaint would warrant any changes and they were fearful of retribution from the officers.

Finally, similar names came up with regard to officers that were responsible for these tactics and, even within the raids themselves, the residents told the Vanguard that some of the officers were extremely polite and professional, while others operated almost with impunity.

—David M. Greenwald reporting



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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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39 thoughts on “Commentary: Why the City Needs to Take Up the Issue of Police Oversight”

  1. Keith O

    the contacted parties were completely innocent of even the relatively minor charges.

    How do you know that?

    Because the officers didn’t find any stolen goods or contraband?

    Wouldn’t a more accurate sentence read something like:

    ‘No evidence was found during the raid’?

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      “How do you know that? Because the officers didn’t find any stolen goods or contraband?”

      That’s part of it. In some cases they were looking for a person who didn’t live there and had the police asked for them in advance, they would have found that out.

  2. Tia Will

    Keith

    Honest question. If your household is under suspicion for a non violent offense, do you want the police to treat you and family members gently and politely, or do you want your house ransacked and your 12 year old cuffed because someone had to be told that 12 is a child ?  I know what I want and suspect that everyone, regardless of the color of their skin feels the same way.

    1. Keith O

      No I wouldn’t want my house ransacked and my children handcuffed for a minor offense.  That said I and my family would never do anything to put ourselves in that situation.  Also, we’re only hearing one side to this story.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            That was the first time, the second time was the story from Monday. Neither were related, so yes, just a coincidence.

      1. Tia Will

        Keith

        Given that no evidence of any wrong doing was found during the search, why would you make the assumption that this family had put themselves “in that situation” ? Is it inconceivable to you that the police may  have made a mistake and that this family may be completely law abiding and never done anything wrong ?

        1. Keith O

          Is it also inconceiveable that it’s possible that someone in the house did do the crime but the cops didn’t find the evidence or it had already been moved or sold?  That was my point.  Once again, you or I have no way of knowing for sure.

        2. David Greenwald

          In the case above, it’s unlikely that someone in the house did the crime, the individual listed on the warrant did not live at the house.

          However, you are avoiding the real issue here which is the manner in which this warrant was served:

          1. Never identified the target of the warrant or what they were looking for

          2. Heavy-handed for stolen property

          3. Threw minors around and left adults cuffed in their living room on the floor for extended periods of time

          4. Ransacked the place while looking for larger items

        3. Keith O

          Keith: Are people not presumed innocent until proven guilty and in this case, there is no evidence whatsoever of wrongdoing?

          I agree, but do you know what precipitated the cops getting a search warrant.  They must of had some reason for doing so.  I mean it had to be signed off on by a judge, they don’t okay them for no reason.

  3. Tia Will

    Keith

    There are two ways at looking at this “situation”. Once can view it from the perspective of probable innocence which you expect for yourself. One can look at it from the perspective of probable guilt which you seem to feel is the appropriate approach for this family for reasons which are not clear to me.

    1. Keith O

      One can look at it from the perspective of probable guilt which you seem to feel is the appropriate approach for this family for reasons which are not clear to me.

      There you go again, projecting what others think.   And you so hate that when people do that to you.

      I don’t know if someone in the house did the crime or not, but obviously the authorities must of had reason to conduct such a search.

      1. Tia Will

        Keith

        I guess you missed the words, “you seem”, what I dislike is when people tell me what I must think or must know. If it “seems” like you are asserting something, that leaves plenty of room for you to correct or clarify as needed.

  4. Ron

    From article:  “One of the points I have made in recent months is the fact that people of color have had a fundamentally different experience with law enforcement here in Davis than the white community.”

    Not sure that you can make a blanket statement, such as this.  Different individuals may have different perceptions (despite sharing approximately the same level of skin pigment).  I recall a speaker who appeared to be African-American at the same council hearing that you referred to, in reference to Harrington.  From what I recall at least, that speaker did not feel uncomfortable regarding police interactions (in regard to the color of his skin).

    And then there’s the fact that “people of color” includes more than one color, who may not share the same perceptions as others within the “people of color” category, as you define it.

     

     

      1. Ron

        Well, I’ve provided an example in which a “person of color” might disagree with your assessment.

        Now, if you want to speak about an “average” perception among a population, than your statement would likely be more accurate.

        I’m pretty confident that not everyone of a particular “color” shares the same view, let alone “grouping” colors together, to arrive at a blanket conclusion.

        I’ve known some “white” folks who have had negative views of the police. But, that view is not “universally-shared”, among that group.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          The point made by the speaker was not to ascribe racial motivations to the conduct of police officers. My comment does not ascribe motivation at all, it simply points out that people of color receive different treatment than whites from police officers in Davis. Based on my years of work, my countless conversations, and the data I have seen, I’m very comfortable with the statement I made and accuracy.

        2. Ron

          David:  “My comment does not ascribe motivation at all, it simply points out that people of color receive different treatment than whites from police officers in Davis.”

          Another comment that can’t be definitively proven, one way or another.  It would inevitably lead back to the individual reasons why an interaction occurred. And then, assumptions would have to be made that the entire incident would be different, based upon skin color alone.

          Note that I am not saying that it does not occur.

           

        3. David Greenwald

          Not every statement has to be quantitatively proven in order to be valid.  I’ve been doing this for over a decade and it’s my observation based on the contacts I’ve had over the years.

        4. Ron

          David:  “I’ve been doing this for over a decade and it’s my observation based on the contacts I’ve had over the years.”

          Have you ever spoken with individuals (of color) who don’t share that view?  (For example, the speaker at the council, a few weeks ago?)

          Again, I’m just pointing out that not all “people of color” would share the same view.  I’ve provided one possible example (that I believe you witnessed), already.

          I suspect that different age groups have different views (on average), as well (e.g., regarding police interactions). (But again, nothing is a “universal” view.)

  5. Eric Gelber

    It would be informative to know what probable cause was relied on in these situations for issuance of warrants. Regardless, however, the treatment of the Leteliers appears to be clearly over the top and excessive under the circumstances.

    1. Ron

      Eric:  I also found that video alarming.  But, the thought never even crossed my mind regarding the color of the person.  (In fact, I assumed while watching the video that he was “white”.)

        1. Ron

          Yes, really.  I didn’t think about (or even notice) his name.  And when the officer called out “donde Eduardo”, he was speaking to someone else.

          In general, it’s more likely that an officer might respond aggressively toward someone who is accused of harassing a child (and who might have had past interactions with police), and less likely that it would have something to do with skin color.

          But, either scenario would be disturbing.

  6. Eric Gelber

    Ron said:

    Different individuals may have different perceptions (despite sharing approximately the same level of skin pigment).

    So, you would discredit claims of disparate treatment of people of color by law enforcement unless such experiences were universal?

        1. Ron

          Eric:

          From article:  “One of the points I have made in recent months is the fact that people of color have had a fundamentally different experience with law enforcement here in Davis than the white community.”

          If David had qualified this by saying “on average” (or something to that effect), I probably wouldn’t have made a comment.

          I’m still uncomfortable with “lumping together” specific colors within the “person of color” category, though. For example, African-Americans might have an entirely different view, on average, compared to those of Hispanic descent.) Lumping them together implies a shared view/experience, as well. (Which may not be accurate.)

        2. Eric Gelber

          Well, I don’t read David’s statement as suggesting every person of color has had a fundamentally different experience with law enforcement than every white person. The statement as written is accurate and supportable.

        3. Ron

          I read and interpreted the statement differently, even though we might have the same skin color.  🙂

          (Note – the “smiley face” is not intended to represent any particular color.)

          Seriously, race/skin color is such a sensitive topic, and is therefore so easily misinterpreted.  It’s difficult to discuss openly/honestly, especially on a blog.

           

        4. David Greenwald

          My point was that in general, the people of color I have encountered have had a fundamentally different experience with the police, than in general the white people I have encountered.  It wasn’t meant to be taken to the extreme or an absolute statement that all people of color or all white people – I know a number of white people who do have complaints over the treatment of the police.

  7. Tia Will

    Keith

    Sorry, but you “seemed” to be projecting what I felt, something that you “seem” to hate when others do it to you.”

    This seems much better to me.

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