In the middle of the week, protesters in Sacramento blocked portions of J Street in Sacramento, protesting the decision by the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office last Friday to clear the officers in the shooting death of Joseph Mann.
This was not an isolated incident. A few weeks earlier, the Sacramento County DA failed to prosecute police officers in the death of Dazion Flenaugh, despite the fact that audio caught the officers calling the mentally ill man a “freak” and imploring a citizen to beat him with a baseball bat.
A dash cam that showed officers in pursuit of Joseph Mann, attempting to hit the African American with their vehicle, apparently was not enough to convince prosecutors to charge the two officers, John Tennis and Randy Lozoya, with murder.
The video shows the two officers who end up shooting Mann saying, “I’m going to hit him.” His partner says, “Ok, go for it.” After that, the two officers, John Tennis and Randy Lozoya, exit their vehicle, engage in a brief foot pursuit and then open fire.
Records showed both officers had trouble in their department before.
Richard Owen, one of the co-chairs of LEAD (Law Enforcement Accountability Directive), said they have been working with the local leadership to change policies and procedure and, while they are proud of what the city council has done to date, “it’s not nearly enough.”
He said, “Once again this is an example of the fox guarding the chicken coop. The District Attorney is an arm of the police department, name one case in the state of California, just one where the District Attorney has ruled against the police in the murder of a black man.”
“It hasn’t happened,” he said. “It’s not going to happen because our officers are protected by California’s Officer Bill of Rights, which needs to be changed.”
Mr. Owen is not the first person to question the California Peace Officer’s Bill of Rights law. Back in 2012, former Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso lamented the fact that POBR led to delays and also lack of access to police officers in their investigation into the pepper-spraying incident at UCD.
ACLU staff attorney Michael Risher in 2012 lamented the state of the law, which in California goes much further than any other state in not only protecting the rights of peace officers, but also seeming to hide their misconduct from public scrutiny.
“Police officers in other states don’t get these types of incredible veil of secrecy for everything related to disciplinary proceedings,” Mr. Risher told the Vanguard. “Police officers have enormous authority as they walk the streets – they carry guns, they can arrest us, they can toss us in jail. We the people of this state should have the right to know which police officers are abusing their authority, and which officers quite frankly are carrying out their duties without generating any complaints.”
Michael Risher argued that these codes “create a veil of secrecy with anything having to do with police officer discipline, complaints against police officers, or how police officers have abused their authority.”
However, the biggest problem might be the other point that Mr. Owen made – the “fox guarding the chicken coop.”
Since 2014 with the Ferguson shooting of Michael Brown, it has been rare even with sustained public scrutiny that officers get charged with criminal offenses.
Sure, there has been the rare incident when the DA, such as the case in Baltimore, pushed forward a case that was unlikely to gain conviction. There is also the hung jury in the relatively clear-cut Walter Scott shooting in South Carolina, but, for the most part, the problem has been that DAs are not willing to prosecute.
In both the Flenaugh and Mann cases, you have officers making comments caught on mic. In the Flenaugh case that was the “freak” and “baseball bat” comment, and in the Mann case it was the comments about “f- this guy” and the plan to run him over that demonstrated a level of animosity and disdain from officers who are supposed to be erring on the side of preserving human life.
The DA in both cases felt that the police were ultimately justified in the shooting, but simply failed to deal with the escalation of the crisis to the point of shooting.
There may be a better way, and perhaps Assemblymember Kevin McCarty will have the answer.
Assemblymember McCarty released a statement, “Like many Sacramentans who saw the video, I question the conclusion by the D.A. that police acted within reason in the shooting and killing of Joseph Mann.”
He said, “For far too long, there has been distrust surrounding police shootings and the decisions by local D.A.’s that work closely with police officers. This decision, coupled with the decision of Ezell Ford in Los Angeles, is yet another example of why we need an independent investigation for an officer involved shooting where a civilian is killed. California needs a better process to investigate these incidents, like the states of Wisconsin, New York, and Illinois.”
He added, “Next week, I’m introducing common sense legislation to create an independent process to rebuild public trust between the police and the community.”
The Vanguard has long believed that issues of police shooting need to be taken out of the hands of local prosecutors, who must work hand in hand with local law enforcement in order to prosecute crime, and put it into the hands of an independent body that has the expertise and independence to make the call.
While we support the Assemblymember’s efforts, we hope that there is both a criminal and also a civil mechanism involved in his planned legislation. What needs to change, in addition to consequences for officers, is better training, oversight, rules and regulations to hopefully prevent future shootings from occurring.
This afternoon at 4 pm at the Sacramento Convention Center, we will bring in John Burris who, in addition to representing the Joseph Mann family, has also represented the families of Oscar Grant and Mario Woods in other infamous Northern California police shooting cases.
Tickets are available online. And you can make a contribution at the door as well.
—David M. Greenwald reporting