Before the holiday break, the news came out that the Sacramento Police Department was reinstating Sac PD Officer Anthony Figueroa, seven months after being shown on video punching Nandi Cain in the face 18 times. I suppose I should be used to it by now, but this one doesn’t sit well with me. In my view, Anthony Figueroa has no business carrying a badge and a gun.
Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton in a column yesterday, I think, got it partly right when he talked about the fact that the law is “eroding public trust with police.” But I don’t think he goes nearly far enough, as I will explain shortly.
Key point made by Mr. Breton is this: “Did Figueroa break any policies during the encounter with Cain? We don’t know. Was Figueroa disciplined? We don’t know. How exhaustive was the investigation of Figueroa by his own colleagues in internal affairs? We don’t know. Did the young officer even acknowledge that maybe – just maybe? – the beatdown was not the best use of his authority despite Cain’s aggressively talking back to him? We don’t know.”
This is a good point, because perhaps if we knew what happened we would feel better about the officer returning. Maybe he acknowledged he did something wrong and messed up. I don’t know.
Mr. Breton is right to point out: “The otherwise liberal state legislature checks its ‘progressive’ street cred at the state Capitol door and, save for a few legislators such as Sacramento Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, does nothing to amend or mitigate the effects of the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights or other laws that protect cops from public scrutiny.”
But where I think Mr. Breton is wrong is this: “Does Figueroa deserve a second chance? Of course he does.”
Where I start getting queasy on this is a statement by the new police chief Daniel Hahn who said: “The end result of this contact (between Figueroa and Cain) is not what we want to see.” While he admits there is a problem here, it’s a weak statement. But, as Marcos Breton points out, “Hahn is still backing his officer.”
Instead of a strong message that this behavior will not be tolerated, “The police chief met personally with community leaders in Del Paso Heights to sell them on the idea that Figueroa needs to be reintegrated into the community, where he likely will start policing again.”
In the previous Bee article the prospect of restorative justice was floated by the chief to the community. I am a strong proponent of restorative justice. I defended its use in the Picnic Day case, but this type of suggestion makes me second guess that thinking on my part.
I see restorative justice as a tool that can be used as an alternative to the traditional criminal justice system and a way to address conflict resolution. It is a way to hold people accountable for their actions that is different than the criminal justice system, which in many ways does not teach accountability.
But in this case it seems to be being used in a way to avoid further accountability to the public. It seems like it is being used, not in the furtherance of justice, but as a way to mollify and placate angry members of the public. And the problem is that we have seen this song and dance before and it doesn’t lead to change and it doesn’t lead to reform.
In my view, being a police officer is a tremendous public trust and Officer Figueroa showed that he is not deserving of that public trust.
Nandi Cain was walking home from work when he crossed the intersection of Cypress Street and Grand Avenue. Officer Figueroa was following him in his patrol car and told Mr. Cain to stop, but Mr. Cain continued without looking back.
Mr. Cain continued and crossed in the middle of Cypress Street where the altercation escalated, and ultimately Mr. Cain challenged Officer Figueroa to a fight.
Here’s the thing – was Mr. Cain in the wrong in terms of ignoring the commands of the officer and in terms challenging him to a fight? Absolutely.
But there are serious questions about the legality of the stop. There is the Bee investigation that found in 2016 Sacramento Police disproportionately gave jaywalking tickets to black people with a heavy concentration of those tickets in North Sacramento.
But where this case breaks down for me is that, instead of ignoring Mr. Cain, calling for backup and doing his job professionally, Officer Figueroa under the color of authority obliged Mr. Cain’s challenge by punching him in the face 18 times.
In my view, this officer should not have a job. If he were in Davis, he would not have a job. This man should not be a police officer.
And yet here we are in a department still reeling from criticism over the handling of Dazion Flenaugh’s and Joseph Mann’s shootings, and this man has been reinstated. The message sent to the black community is once again that black lives do not matter and the message sent to the police officers is that we will protect you.
Chief Hahn was brought in to restore the department’s reputation and in his first chance he fumbled the ball at his own goal line.
Chief Hahn is right – this isn’t what we want to see. We want to see accountability and the message sent that being a police officer is the ultimate privilege that will be taken away when the authority and trust that have been bestowed on these officers is violated.
Instead, we have business as usual. And reasonable people come away thinking that the system simply doesn’t work.
As Marcos Breton put it: “The system is rigged in favor of the police every time (police brutality) is alleged.
Matt Taibbi in his book on the Eric Garner killing put it this way: “Another recurring theme in these stories is that while the cases often begin as unplanned murders and assaults committed in heat-of-the-moment situations by working-class cops, they end as carefully orchestrated cover-ups committed in cold blood, through the more ethereal, polished, institutional racism of politicians, judges, and attorneys.”
Chief Hahn wants to reinstill confidence in the system? That only comes with clear and visible accountability – and that is what is clearly lacking here.
—David M. Greenwald reporting