On February 7, 2006 Davis Councilmember Don Saylor concluded the Davis City Council Meeting with a long statement about his concerns about the Davis Human Relations Commission (HRC) including contentiousness, Brown Act violation, intimidation of fellow commissioners, and other acts of misconduct by members of the HRC. He recommended a subcommittee look into these allegations and make a determination. Councilmember Saylor’s allegations were never documented or proven, nor was he ever held accountable to explain himself. He and his colleagues were determined to reduce the power of the commission and its recommendations regarding civilian police oversight. The council did not like the HRC recommendations as well as the commission’s responsibility and duty to investigate and advise the council. Instead the council wished to dictate and control the commission’s work, direction, and recommendations. It was at this point, that the Davis Human Relations Commission was put on notice.
The bulk of these allegations and the ensuing long public campaign against the HRC resulted from a single issue–the issue of police misconduct and the HRC’s support and push for a civilian police review board.
In our last segment, on police oversight, we will spend much greater time chronicling the debate over police oversight. In this we will focus on the dynamics between the Davis Human Relations Commission and the Police Chief Jim Hyde that led to Hyde leaving for Antioch and the HRC being put on Hiatus.
The key time frame was that in the summer of 2005, the police issue heated up once again over the controversial arrest of 16 year old Halema Buzayan. What ensued were a number of private and public meetings between the HRC and Chief Hyde. Hyde quickly went on the defensive, refusing to acknowledge problems with his police force and then eventually refusing to meet with or work with the Human Relations Commission. This followed a series of contentious public meetings where the issue was raised before the commission and the city council by members of the public as well as civil rights groups.
The tide in this fight was turned prior to the January 17, 2006 Davis City Council Meeting. It was at this point when then Davis City Manager Jim Antonen came forth with his proposal for an Ombudsman as a preferred alternative to the civilian police review board. The HRC was largely kept in the dark about the development of this alternative plan and only found out about the item on the agenda a few days before.
The police chief however was not caught flat-footed. He and his staff organized a number of members of the local pro-Iraq war military community to come forth during public comment and support the police department. Chief Hyde did this because he knew these pro-war people were upset with the commission for having recommended that the city council adopt a resolution requesting that the President of the Unitied States withdraw our military from Iraq. Hyde knew these folks would be motivated to strike out at the commission as payback for advocating for the resolution and he was right. It was only through a public records request, that it was discovered how much coordination this involved under the direction of Police Chief Jim Hyde and his senior officers.
Chief Hyde enlisted Davis Police Lt. Dorothy Pearson to recruit supporters for police department who would attack the HRC and its chairperson.
In early January 2006 in an e-mail exchange between Chief Hyde and Lt. Dorothy Pearson:
Chief Jim Hyde: “FYI, calling in my cards. Are any of the military supporters willing to speak at public comment time … on the 17th at city council in support of the police department? HRC is pushing for there (sic) own police review commission.”
Lt. Dorothy Pearson: “I am already circling the wagons! I am trying to get as many people as possible to attend and possibly speak.”
On Jan. 12, Lt. Dorothy Pearson thanks James Hechtl [Davis resident, retired air force officer and pro-Iraq war supporter]. “The Chief called me last night after the meeting. He was singing the Military Family’s praises. … I can’t thank you enough for your help. I also sent Bob Glynn [Davis resident and pro-Iraq war supporter] a thank you e-mail and told him that you would keep the group posted on upcoming strategies.”
Hechtl responds, “What kind of availability do you and the Chief have this afternoon (Thur). I want to meet with both of you with (sic) and discuss some strategy.”
Hechtl and Glynn proceed to write numerous letters attacking the Davis Human Relations Commission and its Chair Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald.
This public attack on the HRC would continue in the newspapers with a series of very negative letters to the editor. This was all orchestrated by Lt. Dorothy Pearson, often on city time, using city resources to do it.
James Hechtl writes, “Ms. Greenwald and Ms. Garcia apply their racist views to every possible issue that confronts them. They look at the world through their prism of hate. … The mere fact that they support numerous frivolous and hate-based lawsuits against the city should be enough to invite them and the rest of the Human Relations Commission to practice their trade in a more appropriate city. I recommend Johannesburg, South Africa.”
(Dr. Jann Murray-Garcia is a Davis resident, parent, pediatrician and president of BECA (a Davis civil rights group) who worked with the commission on researching and drafting a report on racial profiling and recommending a proposed civilian police oversight review commission. )
Bob Glynn writes on May 5, “Davis must rid itself of this antiquated, racist commission and its bully chairperson, Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald.”
This public campaign against the HRC and its chair Escamilla Greenwald was extremely effective. The city council, used this to their advantage, tightening the screws on the commission. Following the February 21, 2006 meeting where the council rejected the commission’s recommendation for a civilian review board, the council would install several measures for additional training giving the directive that any public communication must be premised on the fact that the individual was speaking as an individual rather than as a member of the commission. Part of the problem here was that Escamilla Greenwald was a very visible and articulate spokesperson, who along with many of her colleagues were heavily involved in the movement for oversight even as a private citizens and identified as speaking only for themselves. Eventually the council would suggest that even this distinction of a citizen speaking for her/his self was not enough, that any public statement against the actions of the council was grounds for removal.
The spring of 2006 would eventually pave the way for two events. Chief Jim Hyde was a focal point of the problems in the police department. But it was the Buzayan case that really brought the issue to the public light. Chief Hyde made the calculated decision that he would back his officers regardless of the propriety of their conduct and support only the council actions for police reform. This made him a rallying point for those defending the Davis Police Department. However, he was clearly under tremendous pressure during this entire episode as was the department as a whole. There was a higher than average transfer rate out of the department, resulting in a lot of vacancies and now a number of new officers.
Following the June 2006 city council elections, Chief Hyde abruptly resigned and put a large amount of the blame for his departure on the Human Relations Commission as well as its chair Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald.
His resignation email was short and to the point:
“The destructive and divisive behaviors of the Human Relations Commission and in particular, their chairperson, have limited my effectiveness to work with this fine community. Despite the great work of the members of this police department, the HRC has divided the community along race and religious lines to fulfill a self serving political agenda. In my 27 years of government service, 10 years of clinical psychology, and 16 years of working with non-profit organizations, the HRC is the most dysfunctional and incestuous group I have ever witnessed. I hope that City Council will correct this community problem.”
Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald would respond and point out to the public that in fact there had been a large breakdown in communications between the police department and the HRC. Much of that was due to the public campaign that Hyde had been running against the HRC.
“The police chief has resigned and thrown a large amount of blame in the direction of the Human Relations Commission and myself. After many months of hearing from members of the public, last summer we met with the police chief over concerns about the growing number of complaints about police misconduct. These meetings and interactions quickly turned adversarial as the police chief became defensive. Instead of engaging in public dialogue over these very serious issues, Chief Hyde retreated–he cut off communications with the HRC, he pulled his liaisons to the commission, and began a concerted public campaign to discredit the efforts of the HRC to reach common ground on reforms that could be done within the department.
“Sadly this did not have to be the case. But it serves as another reminder that many of the events that the public has witnessed in the last year have been unnecessary. The Buzayan family was more than willing to go through the process of review within the department until it became clear that no satisfactory result could be achieved. Recently, the young African-American students who marched on the Police Station made multiple efforts to meet with Chief Hyde and his staff. Assistant Chief Pearce went as far as to overtly discourage other police departments from participating in Statewide Campus events aimed at achieving dialogue and understanding on police-minority relations. Finally in frustration they marched on the police station, only to have Chief Hyde’s staff stand behind protective glass windows, gawking and laughing at the protestors, many of whom had personal accounts of profiling.
“During the past year, the Human Relations Commission, after hearing repeated accounts from credible citizens in our community, recommended the formation of a Citizen’s Review Board of the police department. The Police Chief reacted negatively and with attacks upon the HRC as well myself and members of the community for even suggesting such a body. Once again, Chief Hyde reacted defensively and inappropriately instead of working with the community to resolve these problems.
“Chief Hyde’s departure does not solve the problems of the Davis Police Department. We need to hire a new chief that can work with community groups like the HRC and others to establish meaningful dialogue that can produce common ground results.
“Unfortunately, Hyde’s parting words will serve to further polarize this community and breed contempt rather than understanding. I urge the City Council, no matter what steps they deem necessary, to seek to open a sustained and meaningful dialogue between segments of this community and the police department.”
The Davis Human Relations Commission and its Chair Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald became the focal point for the police chief’s departure and were blamed for creating animosity rather than a climate of tolerance and understanding. Chief Hyde would take a higher paying job at the larger city of Antioch Police Department as their police chief. But his public resignation and blame for it would push the Davis City Council into action once again, this time on June 27, 2006. Davis City Councilmember Ted Puntillo the prior week had requested be placed on the city council’s next agenda a discussion on the future of the Davis Human Relations Commission.
As we have come to find out, Chief Hyde had a number of problems within the department that also led to his departure. However, the public scrutiny constructed by the chief, the city manager, and the city council fell solely on the Human Relations Commission and its chair Escamilla Greenwald.
The June 27, 2006 meeting would be loud and contentious. With the council chambers packed with citizens, over 40 community members, several of them past chairs of the HRC and a number of past and future elected officials spoke on behalf of the HRC. The police had their usual cadre of defenders at the meeting, but in the end, it did not matter.
Davis Councilmember Stephen Souza summed up his objections to the HRC’s conduct with a parable of his own both read during the meeting on June 27 and in the paper.
From the July 16, 2006 Davis Enterprise: “Souza himself was a member of the Human Relations Commission from 1989 to 1996. An alleged rape and several other crimes against women spurred the then-Human Relations Commission to recommend a hate-crimes ordinance to the City Council.”We pushed the issue three times,” Souza said. “The council said ‘no’ two times. Two former mayors came to the commission and said ‘We are the policy-making body. You are the advisers.’ “Although Souza said he was miffed at the time, now that he’s a councilman, he understands where the two former mayors were coming from.”
But what the article failed to point out is that Souza was not kicked off the commission for his actions and the city council did not disband the commission for their actions. And that was the big difference, this council decided to disband the HRC because the commission advised on an issue and made recommendations against the wishes of the city council’s majority.
The chief complaint by council was that the HRC overstepped its authority as an advisory board. But as we would find out in the fall, the HRC actually under the City of Davis anti-Discrimination Ordinance had much greater power than was generally acknowledged in the June 27 meeting.
Section 7A-15(C) of the Davis anti-Discrimination ordinance reads:
“Any person who believes he or she has been discriminated against in violation of the provisions of this ordinance may file a request to have the Human Relations Commission investigate and mediate his or her complaint. The Commission may adopt rules of procedure to accommodate the needs of such investigation mediation. A complaint to the Commission shall not be a prerequisite to filing a civil action under this section, and the findings and conclusions of the commission issued in response to such proceedings shall not be admissible in a civil action.”
The HRC had acted within its authority by investigating these complaints and making a recommendation to the city council for changes.
In the end, Councilmembers Puntillo, Souza, Saylor, and Asmundson all voted to disband the commission, put it on hiatus and take new commissioner applications in the fall. Only one member of the commission, reapplied, John Pamperin. No one else chose to do so. The commission that was reconstituted in the fall was safely filled with new members who will do as they are told and the commission was neutered. The council has also stripped it of much of its investigative power.
As we saw with the contrary results of the Senior Citizens Commission, there was something else at work here. It was not merely the actions of Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald, for Davis Senior Citizens Commission Chair Elaine Roberts Musser was certainly no less assertive or brazen in her criticism of the council than Escamilla Greenwald. At the end of the day, the HRC represents the minorities in Davis, a small group of people who are somewhat isolated and politically weak.
The Police Chief and his supporters were able to prevail in the end by stirring up public sentiment against the HRC and creating a climate of fear that the police would be hamstrung by the process of civilian police oversight and unable to protect the residents of Davis. The irony is that the police chief ended up doing many of the same things that the HRC was accused of doing, but they got away with it.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting