Why No Charges in Police-Involved Beating in SF?

Alameda Beating

Alameda Beating

By Jeff Adachi

Nearly 25 years after the Rodney King beating shocked the world, Stanislav Petrov lay writhing in a San Francisco alley, desperately trying to protect his head from more than 30 nightstick blows.

We’d like to believe we’ve come a long way since 1991. We hope our cell phones and security cameras hold officers accountable. We listen eagerly as law enforcement leaders pledge transparency. The reality is difficult to face: Eleven days after King’s beating, the Los Angeles district attorney filed charges against the officers following a grand jury inquiry, but nearly three weeks after Petrov’s beating, officials are still refusing to reveal the names of the deputies involved.

The incident report remains a secret. Authorities will not reveal whether the incident was captured on deputies’ body cameras. Officers reportedly prohibited Petrov’s mother from photographing her son’s injuries in the hospital.

On Nov. 12, Petrov was allegedly driving a stolen car when he refused to pull over for Alameda County sheriff’s deputies, leading them on a chase across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco’s Mission District, hitting their cruisers in the process. He got out and ran for a short distance before being tackled by a deputy in the alley.

It was then that two deputies took more than 30 swings with their batons at Petrov’s head. He never fought back. A motion-triggered security camera caught footage of the beating, which ended when backup officers arrived. It recorded the cracks of the blows to Petrov’s skull, the sound of him screaming. In the 15 minutes before medics arrived, Petrov repeatedly begged for help.

The camera, the ultimate objective witness, shows clear misconduct. As Petrov’s blood dried in the street, neighbors who spied the brutality from their windows came forward.

Yet despite both eyewitness accounts and photographic evidence, no criminal charges have been filed against the deputies. We still don’t know their identities. The Alameda County Sheriff Office’s officials will not comment on the existence of body-cam footage. Deputies wear body cameras but are allowed to turn them off at their discretion.

First, it is vital that the deputies’ names are released so we may review other criminal cases involving their use of force and credibility. Releasing body-camera footage, as well as the incident report, is critical to maintaining transparency and accountability. Did the backup officers note the brutality illuminated in their approaching headlights or capture it with their dash cam? Did the Alameda County deputies give an account to responding San Francisco police officers? Answering these questions is central to maintaining the trust of the community, whose concerns are routinely met with a blue wall of silence.

We must be held to a higher standard. Police do not get to decide what a citizen “deserves” and mete out violent retribution in darkened alleys. If law enforcement leaders respect those they are sworn to protect, then they will conduct their investigation into Petrov’s beating with transparency. And if prosecutors are committed to rooting out rogue officers, they will file criminal charges against the deputies.

Jeff Adachi is the San Francisco Public Defender.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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32 Comments

  1. sisterhood

    “If you want to cover San Francisco move there.”

    When David or a guest reports something you don’t like, that occurs outside of Davis, you suggest he move there?

    “It recorded the cracks of the blows to Petrov’s skull, the sound of him screaming. In the 15 minutes before medics arrived, Petrov repeatedly begged for help.”

    They need to identify the names of these brutes.

  2. Tia Will

    Propaganda has been defined as “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.”

    Several times recently we have seen posters using the word “propaganda” in protest to articles appearing on the Vanguard. It is unclear to me, and so I am asking as a genuine question, just what it is that is being objected to ? I can think of several possibilities, but am unclear from the wording of these protests.

    1. Is it that the subject matter is simply not of interest because it is not a Davis issue ? My thought would be that this is unlikely since these same posters frequently participate in discussions on events that occur at a distance from Davis without objecting to the articles. But this remains a possibility.

    2. Is it that they dislike the author or source of the piece ? The comment only seems to arise when the author or source is perceived as being left of center politically as in Mr. Adachi and the ACLU, so this seems feasible.

    3. Is it that they believe that the article is not factual or relevant ?  If this is the case, it would help to address the specific points of the article one believes to be biased, misleading or irrelevant rather than to simply throw out a derogatory label.

    I would genuinely like to know what is behind what would seem to me to be a form of attempted censorship which is in direct opposition to the position of the Vanguard which is to publish all submissions which meet the basic standards found in the posting guidelines regardless of ideology of the source.

     

    1. Barack Palin

      Is it that they dislike the author or source of the piece ? The comment only seems to arise when the author or source is perceived as being left of center politically as in Mr. Adachi and the ACLU, so this seems feasible.

      Nope, it’s not just left of center sources as evidenced by those on the left continually trying to shoot down articles or studies that were written or conducted by right of center sources.  It goes both ways.

  3. Tia Will

    BP

    I agree that this occurs from both ends of the political spectrum. But that does not address the question that I was asking which was about the specific motivation for the recent complaints about Vanguard articles even existing, not their specific content.

      1. Davis Progressive

        i don’t think mayor lee is cut from the same cloth as emanuel.  emanuel is going down on this, they cut 83 minutes off a video at burger kind and got caught on tape (the police, not the mayor).  but this is pretty bad.

    1. Davis Progressive

      i agree – zaqzaq threw the entire discussion off track, why does don let him do that?  it’s off topic and not conducive to the discussion.

      the real point should be, why isn’t sf’s da prosecuting the police?

  4. Tia Will

    I would actually like to see a different resolution than criminal prosecution and incarceration for police who use excessive force. I would like to see their immediate removal from a public contact position with the police force. Use excessive force, end of policing on the street. Desk work or dispatch ok. No direct contact with the public….ever. The goal of the police is to provide protection. We should not have to be protected from them. But I believe there is room for redemption and that their life and the lives of their families do not have to be ruined because of an act of brutality. It is protection that is needed and a societal intolerance for brutality whether or not the perpetrator wears a uniform.

    1. Biddlin

      “But I believe there is room for redemption and that their life and the lives of their families do not have to be ruined because of an act of brutality.”

      Why not? They certainly destroyed some other families lives.  They in fact, should be made examples of with much public humiliation and scorn.

      1. Tia Will

        Biddlin

        Why not? They certainly destroyed some other families lives.  They in fact, should be made examples of with much public humiliation and scorn.”

        Because I do not believe in the “an eye for an eye” school of retribution mistaken for justice.

        1. Biddlin

          What eye for an eye? I didn’t say we should tase, beat or shoot them, I advocated for the same penal and social sanctions visited upon any other criminal and their equally undeserving family.

          No pedestal, indeed. roflmao

  5. tribeUSA

    There was a beating even worse than this one (also of a white guy) around Santa Barbara foothills last year–I believe an out-of-court civil settlement was reached for a few hundred K$.

    I suspect in this case the cops were angry at this guy since he was running after ramming a police car with a car he was driving (?stolen?), and side-swiping a cop on foot outside the cop car (doesn’t justify the beating, but to understand the frame of mind of the cops).

    1. David Greenwald

      Understanding the frame of mind of the police, in my mind opinion, is part of the problem. Police are trusted public officials. We count on them to exercise professional judgment. And so when they react to a criminal act with unjustified and illegal violence, it completely undermines our faith, or at least my faith, in their ability to do a professional job.

      1. Biddlin

        ” Police are trusted public officials.”

        There’s your problem. You put police on a pedestal. They’re not civil servants. (who actually perform quantifiable duties on a set schedule, as opposed to cruising in a car until they get a call.) They’re “trusted public officials.”

        Amazingly naive.

        1. David Greenwald

          How so? Implicit in my comment is that they “should be” trusted public officials. When they act as they have in some publicized cases, they have violated that trust. I fail to see that as naive.

    2. Tia Will

      tribeUSA

      (doesn’t justify the beating, but to understand the frame of mind of the cops).”

      I think that we can all understand the “frame of mind of the cops”. I doubt there is anyone amongst us who has not experienced anger. Their frame of mind has no relevance to the discussion except to be used as justification. No one would suggest that if a parent beat a child this way,” frame of mind” would count for anything regardless of the infraction. Anger and frustration are simply not relevant in discussion of the behavior of those who we pay specifically to protect us from these kinds of behaviors.

  6. Tia Will

    Biddlin

    You put police on a pedestal.”

    I do not speak for David. There is no pedestal involved in my thinking. We pay the police to do a specific job. That job is the protection of the members and property of the community. If a dangerous subject is fleeing, I would anticipate that they would use force as needed to apprehend that suspect. Just that much, and no more. We do not pay them to inflict punishment. Only to apprehend. I frankly do not care what their “mood” is at the time of the apprehension. I expect them to do the job for which they are paid.

      1. David Greenwald

        Out of curiousity, where do you derive the figure of 99.5? How do you factor in the pervasive problem of the failure of police to bear witness to misconduct and report tragressions? For instance, one officer in Chicago shot and killed MacDonald, but several witnessed it and said nothing, several others actually erased evidence.

  7. TrueBlueDevil

    I give police the benefit of the doubt, but this smells to high hell. I understand the thinking that you need wolfhounds (not angels) to protect us from the wolves, but this ain’t a broken arm or black eye.

    1. I haven’t watched the tapes, but if there were 15-30 deliberate blows to his skull, why not consider trying the Alameda police officers with attempted murder?

    2. If San Francisco PD didn’t report their observations, are they guilty of a cover up?

    3. No one here has commented on the alleged history of Alameda police. Alameda sits next to crime-riddled Oakland (worse crime now proportionally than New York), connected by a few bridges, and has a different citizenry and culture. It’s known for being a bit funky, and law-and-order. Over the years I have heard rumors and allegations that the police in Alameda ran / run a very tight ship, and part of this was an attempt to keep the Oakland criminal element out of Alameda. These are the allegations. I like Alameda, it is cozy and historic. I also believe it used to house a major military (Navy) base, which also may have influenced the law-and-order culture.

    4. Where are Governor Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris? Where are the press and media? Is this not a perfect example that police brutality can be equal opportunity – that it isn’t a race issue? Maybe this is more proof that the national media gets its focus from Media Matters, George Soros, and Eric Holder / Al Sharpton?

    5. Maybe Mr. Coleman and Davis Progressive can enlighten us how Alameda and San Francisco can stonewall us on public information?

    P.S. A friend claims the victim wasn’t lying prone on the ground so still is a threat. I don’t see that.

  8. PhilColeman

    “Maybe Mr. Coleman and Davis Progressive can enlighten us how Alameda and San Francisco can stonewall us on public information?”

    Davis Progressive can speak for him (her) self, but I’ll take a stab at the challenging burden of providing enlightenment.

    Alameda PD was not present during this incident. And their military presence disappeared decades ago when NAS Alameda was shut down. I’m very familiar with the Alameda military culture, having served in the Navy Reserve there for 6 years.

    I’ve not heard of any efforts by Alameda PD creating check points for criminal elements from Oakland entering their city. Not to say many citizens of Alameda would not be attracted to the notion, but that darn Constitution prevents them from doing it.

    Point 1. Recognizing and matching the qualifier “if,” the answer is yes. A prosecutor could allege repeated blows to the head of a prostrate and non-combative suspect meets the legal standard of attempted murder. A prosecutor could, but can also may not, for many reasons articulated and otherwise. The prosecutor’s decision is discretionary with him/her and has no appeal option in California.

    Point 2. If it can be shown that any member of the SFPD did witness the damming parts of the video presentation, and they failed to report their observations, they could be administratively charged with dereliction of duty or similar phrasing. They could not be charged with attempted murder from the known facts we have now.

    Point 4 has far too many political overtones to warrant my feeble comments, supported by my calculated ignorance on partisan politics.

    Point 5. From all appearances, if there were attempts to stonewall the public, I’d submit that it failed in the largest measure possible. Note the word, “if.”

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      Sorry, I guess it was Alameda Sheriffs who administered the beating?

      Do you think the physical force used was possibly or likely excessive, based on what we can witness on this tape? (I understand if there is not enough information here for you to make a judgement.)

  9. Frankly

    Maybe we need a policy that limits the number of cracks from a baton a police officer can administer.   Would have five or six been considered reasonable?

    I know that we don’t want the police to administer justice, just enforce the law.   But police are also sworn to serve and protect the public.  Wouldn’t it be fair to assume that a guy that would steal a car and take cops on a chase that included crashing into other cars would be a threat to public safety?  I would guess that knowing he would be cracked with a baton several times after doing what he did would be a disincentive to do it again.   And if the cops helped convince him that he should not do it again, they would in fact be doing their job to serve to protect the public.

    Again, maybe five or six cracks would be enough.

  10. Tia Will

    Frankly

    But police are also sworn to serve and protect the public.”

    And what member of “the public” was being threatened in any way once he was tackled, down on the ground trying to shield his head ? It is not the job of the police to “help convince him that he should not do it again”. Their job is to protect, not to punish.

    “maybe five or six cracks would be enough.”

    There are no number of “cracks” that are appropriate once he is subdued.

    If I am wrong on this point, perhaps Phil Coleman could enlighten me with the appropriate portions of the police training instructions that teach them to bash or otherwise physically abuse a prisoner sufficiently so that in their judgment “he will not do it again”.

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