Former Supreme Justice Reynoso Named To Head Up Independent Civil Rights Commission
Yesterday, the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office announced that they have completed their investigation and that the completed investigation will now be forwarded to the Office of the California Attorney General where it will be further analyzed and reviewed before any conclusions are announced. At this time, it is unknown how long this process will take for the Attorney General.
Said Mr. Reisig in a release on Wednesday:
“In order to strengthen public confidence in the handling of this matter, I asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to conduct its own investigation in this case. My invitation was accepted and the FBI began its own independent investigation some time ago. Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto concurred with the decision to request an FBI investigation as well.”
The news was greeted well by activists and civil rights advocates who have been pushing for such an investigation.
Retired California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso responded to the news at a press conference on the steps of the California Capitol in Sacramento.
“I applaud the DA for doing that,” he told a relatively small crowd of supporters and news reporters as he announced the formation of an Independent Civil Rights Commission that he will chair.
“I feel that I have no doubt that when we finish our own report, we too will forward that, in fact I think that is one of the purposes of fact-finding is to be sure that we have the facts and we can call upon the state and federal justice departments to do what they’re supposed to do. Nonetheless, we know that the DAs have to work closely with the police department. Sometimes they’re a little bit constrained in terms of what they can say. I’d be very interested in reading that report as soon as it goes public, but it does not at all restrain the value at citizens looking into what happened.”
The Commission will be an NGO according to sponsors of the event, and will take testimony directly from persons who have been subjected to racial profiling and gang injunctions.
According to the release,
“It’s purpose is to seek to improve the administration of justice: by improving police-community relations for safer neighborhoods in a spirit of cooperation, and by providing input for clearer, more understandable procedures for the Sheriff’s and DA’s Offices.”
Justice Reynoso told the crowd that the immediate motivation of this group was the killing of Luis Guitierrez.
“The purpose principally will be fact-finding. The immediate motivation is the killing of a young man that we’ve all read about in Woodland by three un-uniformed officers apparently part of a task force that deals with gangs in that community. Sad to say, the announcements from officials following that killing have often times been contradictory, have often times not been very fulfilling to the families and the loved ones of the deceased.”
Justice Reynoso has a long and esteemed career as an organizer and a civil rights attorney before being named to the California Supreme Court by Governor Jerry Brown.
“I’ve been in this business for just a little bit over 50 years. I’m influenced in terms of accepting this assignment by the fact that I served on the US Commission for Civil Rights for twelve years and I have seen the value that is contained from independent citizens looking into a situation without the pressures that government officials have.”
President Clinton awarded him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor and joined the faculty at King Hall at UC Davis in 2001.
One of the organizers was Art Apodaca, who said this commission has been a long time in the making.
“I have been working as a volunteer, we had talked about a commission when we helped the women in the fields in 2005 when they were beating the workers, at that time we had discussed a commission.”
When the recent killing occurred, he said they approached Justice Reynoso and asked him to chair the commission.
Justice Reynoso told the Vanguard that he had been approached by a number of folks and had agreed to chair as long as there would be a good amount of volunteers willing to serve and perform many of the takes.
“I mentioned to them I just didn’t have that much time to chair the commission – I said sure I’ll chair it, as long as we have volunteers to be doing the interviewing, etc. I was assured that in fact that was going to happen.”
Justice Reynoso said,
“as I read about happened, it reminded of me of other issues that had come to our mind when I was with the US Commission on Civil Rights. Somehow these issues don’t go away. They come up in different ways and this was a pretty outrageous situation where a police officer not in uniform approached folk.”
Justice Reynoso said that they do not expect this to be a fast process.
“The hearings I hope the first one will be within a month. But I think we have far more interest in finding out what the facts are rather than being fast with this commission. It may be that we won’t even find out until the lawsuit is final whether officials can be questioned under oath. I understand no lawsuit has been filed yet. This is a serious civil rights matter but I’m certain I can find some of the civil rights lawyers to take this action. One way or another we’re going to try to find out what happened.”
The formation of such a commission is undoubted going to create an air of distrust from many involved in the process. Justice Reynoso was asked whether he was concerned if they could get buy-in from law enforcement.
“That’s a concern actually, because we will no doubt ask some folk who are in the field to be part of the commission. I will encourage law enforcement to get involved, they might not want to do that, but if they don’t we will still proceed. If they do, so much the better.”
He pointed out that many of these matters have a way of becoming partisan even though they do not start out that way. He believes that police just as often can be victims in the process and told a story of young officers who were not properly trained or supervised taking the fall in situations that arose during his twelves years of work on the Civil Rights Commission.
From his perspective this is about finding out what happened, not scapegoating anyone:
“At least my point is that we’re not trying to scapegoat anyone, we’re asking the question, why did it happen, in this case it’s particularly egregious in that we happened and we can make suggestions as to how it can be prevented in the future. That’s going to be our focus.”
Art Apodaca believes that this group will have the strongest authority, “moral authority.”
“Citizens will come before that commission, so what it has in its hands both orally and in writing is not second hand information, it comes directly from the individual to the commission. The idea of producing a white paper at the end of it all is so that what was found by the commission, analyzed , studied, recommendations those are the things that will be forwarded to the federal and state level.”
According to him, they hope to conduct most of these hearings in public, but they are mindful that some of the issues are sensitive and that people may be reluctant to come forward in public.
In the meantime, District Attorney Jeff Reisig told the Sacramento Bee on Wednesday:
“We’re absolutely committed to transparency in this process as much as the law allows. I invite review by any and all agencies in the system.”
DA Reising declined to comment on the activities of Justice Reynoso’s group, citing a lack of information.
There is little doubt that without the consistent pressure from citizens, that the District Attorney’s office would not be forwarding this case to the FBI for review. This can only be viewed as a very positive step in right direction for an otherwise very tragic event.
—David M. Greenwald reporting