In many ways, without this next video clip, this blog would probably not exist. On the evening of January 17, 2006 I received a call asking me to record the City Council Meeting. This is not the first time I had done this; usually I popped in the tape, and went about my business. For whatever reason that evening, I left the TV on with the meeting going and as I was working on other things. And what I heard shocked and appalled me to the point where for the first time I started paying attention to Davis City Politics.
I had known about the police issue, I had heard about the Buzayan case from that summer, but I was not paying a lot of attention to it. There are two things on the video clip that made me pay attention.
The first was, and Don Saylor had said the same thing earlier that evening–they had thoroughly reviewed the complaints against the city and found them totally without merit. Puntillo added that this would be an eye-opener for many in the city. I had by this point known about the Buzayan case, and the specifics involved and I believed that this case had a lot of merit and was very troubling. This case is going through the legal process now and I think the city is going to take a huge hit on it.
The troubling part of that statement for me is what had they actually done in “reviewing” these cases? Did they conduct a separate investigation? The city council cannot give specifics of closed door meetings, but the sense I got was a very definitive no. So if they didn’t actually conduct an investigation what did they do? Well I believe they read the report from the internal investigator, just as (the City Manager) Jim Antonen had when he sent a letter to Dr. Buzayan explaining to him that his complaint was unfounded. That letter is at the very center of the reason why there was a push for a review board and that letter is the very reason why Mr. Aaronson now sits in the position he is sitting as Police Ombudsman. As far as I can tell, they read the investigation report and Antonen’s letter and came up with their conclusions. In other words, they took the police internal review report at face value. This is exactly why we need an ombudsman who is independent of the process and can conduct their investigations into complaints.
Puntillo voted for the ombudsman but he never supported the idea of oversight. Indeed, in emails to supporters that we have obtained as parts of public records requests, he consistently said the council would be “forced” to hire an ombudsman, but he assured them that Chief Hyde was okay with this and that neither he nor the council would never support an independent review board.
The stunning statement from Puntillo, and ultimately the one that forced me into action was his later statement:
“What I want are police officers out there that are using their training and their instincts, I don’t want them thinking about oh somebody’s going to be reviewing what I’m doing. I want them to do what they are trained to do and that’s protect us.”
That may be the most offensive and irresponsible statement I had ever heard from a public official. At that point, I realized that I not only disagree with these guys, but these guys were dangerous. The fundamental principle in the rule of law and government is that of accountability. Everyone, in every job, especially in the public sector, needs to be accountable for their actions. Everyone needs to know that what they do will be reviewed and scrutinized. That is embedded in our principal of checks and balances and the provisions of oversight granted in the constitution to Congress over the President.
That applies even more when the people in question carry guns and have the legitimate authority to use them under some very specific and controlled conditions. Even with no measure of police oversight, the police have a review process and are required by law to hire someone who is going to be reviewing what they are doing. It may be their supervisor, it may be the police chief, or it may be internal affairs. But they always will have someone.
The question of oversight focuses not on whether actions will be reviews, but rather who will do that review. The question of review itself is a given. And for Puntillo to make that type of statement, he shows himself to be ignorant and more importantly complicit in the problems that face this community.
I understand full well that Puntillo was far from the most polished person on dais–he was often extremely blunt in his assessments. That was at times both a strength and a weakness. Puntillo is no longer on the council. However, and this is the point I think that needs to be driven home today–not one person on that board, not even Greenwald, said one word about Puntillo’s statement in public. Not one of them. Silence is compliance.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting