Commentary: With No Accountability, There Can Be No Trust in Policing

Nandi Cain at an April press conference

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.

And Mr. Breton is right that the laws prevent us from knowing this and therefore undermine the ability of the police department to reassure the public that this isn’t being whitewashed.

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



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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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28 thoughts on “Commentary: With No Accountability, There Can Be No Trust in Policing”

  1. Keith O

    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.

    Ya think?

    1. Tia Will

      Keith

      Ya think?”

      And for you, perhaps that is the end of the story. I would ask you to consider which is the greater ongoing danger to our society, a jaywalker with a big mouth, or an armed police officer either itching for a fight or who is unable to control his temper once engaged ?

      1. Keith O

        I don’t know, I think many “reasonable” people could think that people not obeying police orders when stopped and then challenging the cop to a fight might be the greater ongoing danger to our society.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          The cop is an officer of LAW and needs to obey that law at all times. If Mr. Cain broke the law, he should be legally apprehended, charged and tried – no dispute. The problem is what you do about the officer who goes outside of the law?

    2. David Greenwald Post author

      I find it interesting that you cut your discussion off there Keith. The second part of it is that I have higher expectations for a law enforcement officer than an average citizen. And that’s where this little drama lies.

  2. Tia Will

    Keith

    Perhaps my view is different because of my profession. There are certain groups of people that society entrusts with their lives. We are given special privilege to do our job and with that privilege are special responsibilities not shared by most. We need to be held to a much higher standard. Amongst these groups are firefighters, whom I am sure you want to put out the blaze at your house whether you have been rude to them or not. Also surgeons who you anticipate will do their best to save your life even if you have just threatened their career or their license out of fear or frustration ( been there many times). Or how about an airline pilot ? Needs to fly the plane whether or not you have just insulted him. For me, police fall into this category. With special privilege goes special responsibility. There are many professions for people who cannot compartmentalize. Police need to be able to do this as a critical component of their job.

    1. John Hobbs

      “Professionals” And here we must make some distinctions. Police can be professionals, I would certainly classify those who have advanced degrees in administration, humanities or the sciences and apply that learning and experience to their duties are certainly due that label. I think most Londoners would agree that The Metropolitan Police is very professional in all regards and tolerates very little misbehavior from officers. Also true of Parisians and their police force.

      In America you would be hard pressed to find that kind of trust in a  large police department and even rural departments fail the sniff test. “Transparency” is a popular catch-phrase that really has little meaning in a alt-facts world.  If we excuse the mistake of an officer failing to use his bodycam, it gives license to all of the others to “forget” theirs when the opportunity to abuse their power arises.

      When, as in this csse an officer is so far over the line and is given a minimal discipline, why wouldn’t the community he abuses see this as the big flip-off? Jaywalking is a broken taillight ticket for pedestrians, BTW. Because of the  distance between crosswalks at Florin rd. between S.Land Park and Freeport blvd. over 1/4 mile, and the fact that my bank and the store I use are dead center, I frequently cross between the cross walks. I do my best not to obstruct traffic, but cross, I do. I know that there have been police cruisers watching from time to time, but I have never been stopped and questioned, because I’m an old white man.  On the few occasions when I’ve been pulled over in a car, I’m always addressed as “Sir” while in the same situation, I’ve heard my bass player addressed as m**********r and n***er,

      Police do not believe that there is a problem with their policy and procedure. They see the problem as an uncooperative citizenry spurred on by a nosy press.

      1. Keith O

        On the few occasions when I’ve been pulled over in a car, I’m always addressed as “Sir” while in the same situation, I’ve heard my bass player addressed as m**********r and n***er,

        I don’t believe you.

        1. Tia Will

          Keith

          I don’t believe you.”

          Why ? Is this because it does not comport with your world view ?  On the rare occasions that I, a white woman, have been in a spot police were trying to clear, they have invariably been polite and guided me gently to where they wanted me to be. I have never had a van drive up precipitously close to me even when I was in the street they were trying to clear ( Picnic Day, and the bike races). Do you not believe me either ?

           

        2. Keith O

          Tia, it’s not about you.  I was referring to cops pulling over John Hobb’s bass player and addressing him as “m**********r and n***er” on a traffic stop.  Sorry, but I don’t believe it.  Nothing you or he can say that will make me believe it unless of course you have video/audio proof.  Otherwise it’s all balderdash.

        3. Claire Benoit

          It does sound a little farfetched to think a cop would greet someone with those expletives. In my many years of being black, I have never been greeted by a cop with racial slurs… I am sure I was pulled over by a racist/sexist cop once in the midwest – but even he did not use those expletives. (Although he did give the impression that if I moved too quickly I might get shot)…

          [moderator] edited

        4. Eric Gelber

          Sorry, but I don’t believe it.  Nothing you or he can say that will make me believe it unless of course you have video/audio proof.  Otherwise it’s all balderdash.

          I don’t have any basis to believe or disbelieve John Hobbs. However, Keith’s statement illustrates precicesly why police abuses of, particularly, black males remains a major societal problem. Just as Keith’s preexisting bias makes this anecdote unbelievable in the absence of video/audio proof, fact-finders are disinclined to take the word of black victims over that of police.  And, as we know, even with such proof, consequences are all too often absurdly lenient or nonexistent.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            “Or just possibly people making up stories to back their assertions?”

            Let’s look at a key two examples. Walter Scott and Laquan McDonald. Both cases the police officer gave stories not knowing there was video, and then the video came out and completely showed the officer was lying. Now I happen to believe that if we know of just those two examples, there are countless others where there are not videos as well.

        5. Eric Gelber

          In my many years of being black, I have never been greeted by a cop with racial slurs.

          Claire – You might be interested in the this NPR story from this morning relating the experiences of Louis Mitchell, a black trans male, before and after his transition. “‘I was probably pulled over 300 percent more in my first six months of transition than I had been in the previous 23 years of driving,’ Mitchell says.” https://www.npr.org/2017/11/28/563374035/new-generation-of-transgender-americans-wants-to-change-laws-not-just-minds

        6. Keith O

          How many 10’s of thousands of interactions do cops have daily with people of color.  You’ve just cited a whole two incidents that fit your profile.

          No, I don’t believe cops make traffic stops and call the drivers the “N” word.  Now out of the millions and millions of traffic stops you might be able to cite a few incidents, but it rarely if ever occurs especially in this day and age.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            I cited two known incidents in which the police officer gave one account that turned out to be untrue. Again the problem is that it required several specific factors to reveal that that are not present in most cases. I cite that as evidence that such lying is more widespread than you seem to be acknowledging.

            Do I believe that cops make traffic stops calling the driver the n-word? Absolutely. Often? Probably not. Does frequency invalidate the concern about racial bias? Not to me.

      2. John Hobbs

        [moderator] edited
        That you question my veracity is a rule violation, no?

        I could refer you to any number of videos and official reports, not to ,mention cop blogs but I know you’re got going to waste your time on facts.

  3. Claire Benoit

    Thank you for sharing Eric… I could only skim the article right now but I am not sure this relates to police violence… I know transgender discrimination is a sensitive issue and it’s difficult to offer an opinion/feedback without being taken offensively. I worked at a gym when I was 17 and met a transgender for the first time then… I come from a multicultural background with every extreme and variety you can imagine. I am not prejudiced, but I am human. The transgender woman scared me. Her manly parts and female parts were always quite visible through the clothes she wore and she wore dramatic makeup, and it seemed like her hormone therapies made her extra hyper with an unusual voice. She’d dance around the gym at midnight singing to herself loudly with wild eyes and an unkempt weave/wig masterpiece… (I think she may have also been schizophrenic – not sure). I got to know her and came to adore her. But just upon my first few observations of her – I thought she was extremely strange and at times feared she was just an oddball on the verge of snapping. I can still remember her little man flopping around in her very short spandex pants as she danced around the gym haha.

    Perhaps a transitioning person gets pulled over often because the cops think its a man/woman incognito at a glance. I dont know. I would be very concerned if they were mistreated upon being pulled over. I dont know that its logical to expect everyone in all parts of the country not to get suspicious at first glance of something that looks “unusual”… (Unusual is not bad. It just attracts a lot of attention). My gorgeous 9 year old son was chased down daily by mobs of serbian kids at his school. They wanted to touch his hair and his cheeks. He loved the attention and was the most popular kid in school. When you stand out, you get pulled over. It’s just life.

    But I do hope the transperson wasnt ticketed or verbally abused when pulled over. That owuld be totally wrong of course. (If I missed that in my skimming – forgive me).

  4. Claire Benoit

    ***In the case of this transgender man in your shared article perhaps it has something to do with his being a doppelganger for that Subway guy that got into lots of trouble with kids….

    Thats the first thing I thought when I saw him. Dead ringer.

    1. John Hobbs

      “perhaps it has something to do with his being a doppelganger for that Subway guy that got into lots of trouble with kids….

      Thats the first thing I thought when I saw him. Dead ringer.”

      Uh-huh.

    2. Eric Gelber

      My point in sharing the article was to illustrate that black men’s encounters with police may be very different than those of black women. By the way, Louis Mitchell is shown in the second picture. He’s not the Jared look-alike in the first picture.

  5. Claire Benoit

    LOL! Im on american work hours in europe. Fatigue makes me loopy. Yes I believe black men do get targeted more than women. Men in general do – so if you add in our inclination to be a racist culture; its tough for black men especially.

    Its a sad and horrible problem. Unfortunately I dont think enough people have the selfless and indiscriminate type of compassion necessary to overcome it any time soon.

    In order for a racist to overcome his own unconscious bias/conscious hatred – he has to feel love and understanding from the people his thoughts « hurt »….

    my coach always said that a team is only as strong as its weakest player. The weak ones hold all the power if they understand their cards.

    I wonder if that transgender man was upset that he looks like the subway guy? Wondering how women might react… 🤔🤔

  6. Claire Benoit

    Its not about not knowing or seeing. Its about having the empathy and humility necessary to work with human nature

    You cannot bully and threaten anyone into changing anything about themselves. This would only work for someone who has an exceptionally low will for self preservation.

    Everyone needs to feel safe in some regard. That happens when you meet them with curiosity, a promise of understanding, and a potential for acceptance & forgiveness. Thats what gets people moving. MLK knew that – although I appreciated Malcolm X more because he appeals to the fight instincts most of  us have.

    Still, when you engage a battle with the same spirit of your attacker – then you immerse yourself in their world. Harder to change it then.

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