Sunday Commentary: Bringing Out the Worst in Ourselves

One of the arresting officers has his badge out when he has the suspect on the ground, but that badge was not visible on the video – it was tucked under his shirt

Just a few weeks ago I was having a discussion with a long-time reader about how land use issues and housing tend to inflame the passions of Davis residents.  But as heated as those can be, and I can’t put the last two Measure R votes in 2009 and 2016 completely out of my mind here, they are really nothing compared to the anger and nastiness that emerges when we have a major police incident.

I feel as though I’m reliving the 2006 Buzayan/ HRC issue again.

There were a lot of comments over that time that stick out, but the worst was the letter from James Hechtl that was published in the Davis Enterprise, where he referred to my wife and Dr. Jann Murray-Garcia in writing with, “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.”

I would later learn that these vicious and mean-spirited attacks were being coordinated right out of the police department by embattled police chief Jim Hyde.

In his resignation letter, he wrote, “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.”

The city would act, and it would disband the Human Relations Commission.

Flash forward 11 years later and here we are again at the center of a questionable police action.  And, while there are many positive changes that have occurred in this city in the last 11 years, the rhetoric coming out of the community is already getting overcooked.

I have to ask the question – is there a way that we can scrutinize and even criticize the actions of our police officers without being villainized?

The calls received by Mark Reichel and the Vanguard is illustrative of this issue.  It is easy to focus on the overtly racist tones, where the caller said that “people from Picnic Day would be fine if black people and gang members would stay out of Davis.”

She later added, “I hope your guys go to jail because you don’t attack an officer – if they didn’t want to get hurt, they should have stayed the hell out of the road – that’s how ignorant these stupid niggers are – they need to just (stay) out of the road and they wouldn’t have to worry about the problem.”

While the extreme and overt racist overtones here are unique, the underlying message is one I have seen repeated in the last two weeks.

The first is the notion of the outsider as problematic in Davis.  The notion is that people who cause problems in Davis come from outside of the town – West Sacramento, Vacaville, Sacramento, Woodland, etc.

When the incident first occurred, the police chief noted to me that there were a lot of drunk college students, but for the most part they were receptive to police officers telling them to go home, calm down, etc.  It was the out-of-towners that they found came back with attitude.

There is no doubt some truth to this, but lost in this rush to blame outsiders is the notion that Davis is in fact a town of outsiders, students who come from across the state and indeed the globe to come to school here, and many of them end up encountering hostility.

People of color regularly complain about racial profiling by police, and also disparate treatment in businesses and by community members.  Time after time, separated by years, I have heard from students of color that they simply are not made to feel welcome in this community.

The woman who called was no doubt more blunt about questioning why people from outside of Davis would come in and cause problems, but was not unique in the sentiment.

A second problem is that people, for whatever reason, take serious offense whenever police are questioned.

I’ll never forget in 2006, at the January 17 council meeting, in arguing against the need for police oversight, then-City Councilmember Ted Puntillo stated: “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 was so appalled by that comment, it got me involved in the community in ways I had never thought necessary before.  But the sentiment continues today.

Bob Dunning’s view of the incident was that the police acted completely appropriately, and yet he acknowledges we don’t have audio of what was said at the outset.  I can certainly find fault in the actions of the defendants involved in the incident, but there are key questions about the police’s initial aggressive approach on the scene, and what appears to be have set off Antoine Perry and his girlfriend Angelica was that the unmarked police van almost hit her as it did the u-turn.

What was exchanged verbally between Sgt. Steve Ramos and Antoine Perry would be important, as it goes to why the first punches were thrown almost immediately upon his exit from the vehicle – and then, of course, why they arrived in plainclothes rather than having uniformed police handle what appeared to be a large but peaceful crowd at the time of arrival.

These are all serious questions.  My concern at this point is that (a) we have a man investigating them who has a clear axe to grind, and (b) any time we ask a question, we get labeled “cop-haters” by the local columnist who has now drummed up resentment.

The day after the Mr. Dunning writes this column calling me a cop-hater, I get an angry phone call at 12:30 in the morning.  Is that a coincidence?  Perhaps.  But heating up the rhetoric here is not helpful.  I have tried to keep my columns as measured and analytical as possible as we sort out what is a very complex set of interactions with less than full information.

I know Mark Reichel has gotten a series of messages and calls that are fairly vicious in going after him.  Mark doesn’t need my defense, but googling him in the Sacramento Bee will show that he has defended a fair number of high profile cases and often has prevailed in them.

The lady on the phone stated, “I know you just want to get money, you ambulance chaser.”  There was a comment on Facebook on the Enterprise site to the same effect by a man (the comment has since disappeared).

This isn’t civil litigation.  Mark Reichel is not going to make a penny off this case – he is taking it, as I understand it, pro bono.  This isn’t ambulance chasing.  He’s taking it because he believes in the cause, not because he wants to get rich.

I don’t understand the need for people to attack defense attorneys – the accused have an absolute right to a defense, and the defendant he represents, Elijah Williams, is probably the defendant who is least culpable in terms of his actions.

I don’t see any reason to malign Mr. Reichel here.  In fact, he should be commended for his strong and passionate advocacy on the part of his client.

I’ve known Mark for about eight years.  I first met him on the Gang Injunction case.  Some might recall that Judge Kathleen White denied the defense team’s request to have appointed counsel.  That means that a number of good attorneys stepped up to the plate to volunteer to defend those under the gang injunction, without any compensation.  Mark Reichel was one of those attorneys.

This is not an ambulance chaser – just the opposite.  This is a guy who is an asset to his profession, not a detriment.  We need more of his kind – not less.

The truth needs to come out here – my biggest concern remains the barriers to that happening.  The council needs to appoint an outside investigator who can be seen by the vast majority of the community as fair and impartial.  That is not John McGinness.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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53 Comments

  1. Keith O

     the rhetoric coming out of the community is already getting over-cooked.

    The rhetoric coming out of the Vanguard is already getting over-cooked.

  2. Matt Williams

    David Greenwald said . . . “My concern at this point is that (a) we have a man investigating them that has a clear axe to grind”

    The investigation has barely begun.  What actions in the course of the investigation demonstrate that the investigator has an axe to grind?

    David, you often give the appearance that you approach police actions from the perspective of guilty until proven innocent rather than the reverse.

    1. David Greenwald

      Matt did you read my article from Thursday on the investigators’ radio show from two weeks ago?  Those are not the words of a guy who is going to impartially assess what happened?

      1. Matt Williams

        No, I did not read that article, and I would say that you are prejudging him as a person rather than judging the work he actually does in the investigation.

        It appears you do not trust Chief Pytel’s judgment in appointing him.  Is that the case?

        1. Tia Will

          Keith

          It was just a few articles back when you and I agreed that the reporting had been fair and balanced on this topic. I would maintain that the reporting has remained so. Opinion is by definition reflective viewpoint of the person writing. I do not believe that David has crossed the line in this case. Do you ?

        2. Tia Will

          Matt

          I would recommend going back and looking at the article and/or finding out more about the proposed investigator before judging David too harshly here. I don’t think it is always necessary to have the person complete an investigation prior to making an assessment of whether or not they will conduct the investigation impartially. For one local example, would you have felt that Marina was a good choice to conduct an impartial investigation of former Chancellor Katehi  ?

        3. Matt Williams

          Tia, the principal reason to do research about any investigator is if you don’t trust the judgment of the person who has appointed the investigator.  That is doubly the case here, because we have the Police Ombudsman position that will audit the investigation.

          Marina neither has the requisite expertise to investigate any University Chancellor, nor would have been appointed by Janet Napolitano.  That argument (while having some merit with a different example other than Marina) ends up being a straw man.

          Bottom-line, the issue for me is much, much less the individual named as investigator, and much more the overt distrust David has expressed for the person who appointed the investigator.  When we ask why the dialogue in our community is so polarized, public prejudgements like David’s (and Bob Dunning’s in return) are significant contributors to the rhetorical extremes that have become the norm.

  3. John Hobbs

    “is there a way that we can scrutinize and even criticize the actions of our police officers without being villainized?

    If you mean villainized by the mainstream press and cop boosters, not that I have found.  Reichel’s comments in the Enterprise re: Davis’ racist attitudes are on target.

  4. John Hobbs

    ” What actions in the course of the investigation demonstrate that the investigator has an axe to grind?”

    John McGinness is a cop. He has no objectivity in the matter.

      1. Matt Williams

        As I said, you have charged and tried and sentenced him “Guilty!!!” before he has even started.  If we used that standard to judge Earl Warren when he was appointed to the US Supreme Court and removed him because of his clear history of Conservative viwepoints, what would the history of the Supreme Court have been.

        1. Matt Williams

          You have perfectly crystallized the problem in that statement.  You start your journey by believing there is a rule, by looking for confirmation that your belief in the rule is warranted, and then impose your rule unilaterally.  Applying a self-determined rule without checking with other parts of the society . . . the conservatives like Frankly and Keith, or the moderates like Howard and me, or even the liberals like Tia and the three Alans . . . polarizes the community dialogue.

        2. Ron

          Matt:  I understand your point.  However, for what it’s worth, I’m not crazy about the choice of investigator, either.  (Based on prior comments/interviews.)

          I don’t know if I’m a liberal, conservative, moderate, or whatever.  (You once described me a Libertarian, which isn’t accurate.) On some issues, I’m quite liberal, on others, I’m probably more conservative.

          Other than this comment, I’m hoping to stay out of this.

  5. Michael Bisch

    I’m very much in favor of a series of broad community conversations around local socio-economic justice, inclusiveness, compassion & understanding. I have no expertise in this subject, nevertheless, I’m fairly certain this is not how one goes about it. I invite community members who do have expertise to weigh in. On the other hand, if the point of the excersize is to have a cathartic venting of anger, prejudices and bitter divisiveness, the combatants are doing a splendid job. Carry on!

    All you mom’s, have a terrific day.

  6. Don Shor

    Sheriff McGinness was appointed by Chief Pytel, and will very likely produce a very professional report that will be useful to Chief Pytel and the administration of DPD as to how they could have handled this matter better, and what changes they can make going forward. Sheriff McGinness’es report will probably not assuage the critics of the police department, and may not be intended for that purpose. If the Council wants to delve into this matter and try to address the issue, they can appoint a separate investigator or commission and seek a public report from them.

    I don’t have any problem with a former sheriff being appointed to review police practices. I just don’t think that is going to address all of the concerns that have arisen.

    I also feel that the rhetoric in the Enterprise on this topic has been appalling.

    1. John Hobbs

      “I don’t have any problem with a former sheriff being appointed to review police practices.”

      Got an excess of white-wash in the back room you’d like to get rid of?

      This is like asking Getty to investigate oil price fixing………

  7. Tia Will

    Matt

    I see that you did not appreciate that I was using the Marina example tongue in cheek ( mostly).

    However, I also see that you apparently did not know that there will not be ombudsman review of this report.

    With regard to Don’s comment. I think that this is a reasonable assessment, but I also think that we could save ourselves time, frustration and potentially money by the choice of an unquestionably neutral(or at least more neutral in appearance ) investigator in the first place.

    1. Matt Williams

      Tia, I know the person filling the Ombudsman position is in the process of changing, but won’t the new hire into that position be reviewing the report?  It would be very strange if such a review did not occur.

      Who do you feel would be an alternative that was/is more neutral in appearance?  Also, now that David has labeled Chief Pytel as untrustworthy, who should select that more neutral person?

        1. Matt Williams

          Howard, I could be wrong, but unless the Council has given the City Manager explicit instructions to eliminate the position, it is hard to imagine that the position won’t be filled.

        2. Howard P

          Clumsy me… but easier to put a “place-holder” in, than coming back for a “budget adjustment” later (with attendant, perhaps unwanted, scrutiny)… absent an indication it is a position/program to be eliminated, moving forward, one would assume given,

          they have not decided what to do with the position

          that it would be “funded”, but the CC/CM could always choose not to fill, delay filling, etc.  If they didn’t fill, that would be within ‘budget’ and help any ‘surplus’.

          Elimination and starting again would have budget and procedural ‘considerations’… give you 2:1 odds on this, but not necessarily labelled as such… might even be “professional services, other” in the CM or CC budget… let me know if you want to take the bet… (offer restricted to Matt, and he can guess the the other terms)…

      1. Tia Will

        Matt

        I do not know enough about the individuals who do have the qualifications to have an opinion. David has stated his opinion on this.

        However, I really do want to take exception to your comment : David has “labelled Chief Pytel as untrustworthy”. I do not believe that David has done any such thing. I believe that it is entirely possible to disagree with a single action, or choice, of any individual without impugning the character of that individual.

        However, I am glad that you brought the subject of trustworthiness up. It seems to me that what some see as “attacks on the police” are based on the false assumption that almost any criticism of the actions of a police officer are either biased, unjustified, or at the most extreme, indicative of hatred of police. From my perspective, putting on a uniform and badge, and taking an oath do not exempt an individual from the strengths and foibles of the human race. It is the specific action, not the title or position of the individual that is usually being critiqued. Also, while it is sometimes that actions of an isolated individual or team that is being criticized, it is often a systems problem being highlighted. In this case, much of the criticism has not been about these officers at all, but rather around a practice of sending out plain clothes officers when a uniformed presence and marked vehicle would probable have prevented the problem entirely.

        1. Matt Williams

          Tia said . . . “I really do want to take exception to your comment : David has “labelled Chief Pytel as untrustworthy”. I do not believe that David has done any such thing. I believe that it is entirely possible to disagree with a single action, or choice, of any individual without impugning the character of that individual.”

          David hasn’t impugned Chief Pytel’s character.  What he has impugned is Chief Pytel’s judgment.

          If this really is a single action situation , then a more measured response by David would appear to be in order rather than a public flogging.  David could have sought out Chief Pytel, and had a one-to-one conversation with him about David’s concerns about McGuiness’ past comments.  That would have matched the “single action” nature of the Pytel choice with the “single action” nature of a one-to-one conversation about that choice.  By writing not one, but a series of articles, David has matched “single action” with “multiple response.”

           

           

          If this were an investigation of a racial profiling incident, then I would be 100% with David, but as best as I can see it isn’t. One of the questions I asked myself was whether prior to publishing his first McGiness article, did David dialogue with Chief Pytel about his choice of investigator?  If yes, what did Chief Pytel provide as his rationale for the choice?  That would have been an interesting story . . . why Pytel felt McGuiness was the best choice for this police procedure investigation.  Same issues, different tone.

          With that said, as I have said to David in other correspondence, David’s articles have focused on McGuiness’ past history of racially insensitive comments.  If the issue at hand had to do with racism, then I would agree with David 100% that McGuiness is not qualified.  However, this investigation has nothing to do with racism, explicitly or implicitly.  It has to do with police procedure, specifically, the way the officers approached the crowd in the street.  It isn’t even an excessive use of force issue, although executing a u-turn so that you don’t cause people to fear being run over by a vehicle could be seen in that light.

          The issue that sparked the altercation was whether the unmarked van, in executing its u-turn, almost ran into the assembled group of people.  In the time between the van door opening after the van came to a stop, and the brawl beginning, there wasn’t time for anyone’s brain to conduct a racial profile.  Therefore, for me, any past McGinness comments about race are introducing a non-event (non-procedure) issue into a procedure investigation.

           

           
          I will freely acknowledge that Chief Pytel could have chosen a person with a less problematic public statement history, but I don’t pretend to know what Pytel’s options were regarding the speedy acting on choosing and announcing a police procedure investigator.
           

           

          David focuses on racism and/or the appearance of racism anywhere it might crop up.  I don’t know whether David (or you) felt there was racial bias in how the police officers executed their u-turn.  I don’t know whether David (or you) felt there was racial bias in how the police officers brought the van to a stop.  I am open to hearing an explanation of how this incident was racist.

  8. Tia Will

    Matt

    If this were an investigation of a racial profiling incident, then I would be 100% with David, but as best as I can see it isn’t”

    Without audio, and without full reporting of the concerns of the people who were the recipients of the police apprehension, how do we know that there is not a differential treatment issue based on race involved ?  This would seem to be an assumption on your part which I see no reason to prejudge one way or the other.

    Also, David obviously did have to speak with at least some member of the police department in order to obtain the initial tape that he showed. I do not know that this did not include a conversation with Chief Pytel, do you ?

    Finally, I think that regardless of whether or not there is a question of racially based differential treatment, I think that continuing with Chief Pytel’s first choice after clear demonstration of concerning bias in his own words would not be a good approach. I take no stand with regard to Chief Pytel’s judgment since I have no idea of whether he had any idea of this individual’s beliefs as expressed in his program. To stick with this choice in view of this information would however indicate to me a lack of good judgement in this particular case.

    1. Matt Williams

      Tia, the video appears to be pretty clear to me.  The response from the young man that escalated the incident began immediately after the van door was opened and the officer stepped out.  Audio isn’t going to change that reality of timing.  The young man reacted to the fact that the van put his female companion into physical danger.  What racism do you believe occurred prior to the physical interaction started? The focus isn’t on any apprehensions, but rather with the escallation itself.

      If David spoke to Chief Pytel, then the tone of the story would have been reporting the reasons Chief Pytel gave for the selection he made. That story would not have been accusatory, but rather a sharing of information, and assessment of how the strengths and weaknesses of the selected individual matched the realities of the incident.

      1. Colin Walsh

        Matt, Do you think there is anything about this incident on Picnic Day that is worthy of an investigation that would include scrutiny of the actions of the officers involved?

        1. Matt Williams

          Colin, I’ve already answered that question.

          I believe there is absolutely no question that the actions of the officers while executing the U-Turn with their van on Russell warrant close scrutiny.

          I believe at a minimum the officers caused the assembled crowd to believe a pedestrian-vehicle collision imminent.

          I believe, at worst, driving the van as the officers did, actually put lives at risk.

          I also believe that I have neither the knowledge nor the experience needed to objectively conduct an investigation of how the officers drove their van.

          My suspicion is that if the officers had used better judgment in driving the van to its ultimate resting place on westbound Russell, none of the subsequent events would have transpired.

        2. Karl Liebhardt

          How much of the “kid gloves” do you expect the police to use?  True…they could always be a bit “softer.”  You refer to the boyfriend being “concerned” about his gal’s safety when the van pulls up as they stand their illegally in the street, blocking traffic.  I admit what the police did, was provocative, but the nerve of this group to literally stand there so cars have to drive around them is outlandish and underscores the mindset of someone who seems accustomed to such behavior.

  9. Antoinnette

    Indeed, David, you have little clues about what really happened….my good friend was beaten by thugs, who, if you suffer deeper, would know one has a gun and ammo. Of course the gun was gotten rid of quickly but he was also kicked in the face by the girl while on the ground…unbelievable.

     

    I’m all for equality but I More for the truth and so far, you are way off.

    I hope these folks get punished to the fullest extent of the law!

     

    I’ll leave it there…

    1. Keith O

      Very interesting Antionnette, I take it you’re referring to the plain clothed police incident in question.  You are/were also a reporter for the Vanguard if I’m not mistaken.  I would like to hear more of what you know about what actually occurred.  Please follow up.

  10. Antoinnette

    Oops, “searched deeper,”  “had a gun,”

    And all this happened while they chanted,”f—–the police! Shoot them!”

     

    Yes, let’s stand behind this atrocious behavior!!! NOT!!

    I’d like to think we DO have some good cops in our city/county and I can’t wait to see this unfold and the Whole Truth, comes out.

  11. Antoinnette

    One last comment, my friend took a beating but we believe he may have saved the lives of innocent people that day. Although I dislike assumptions, my guess is that a person who takes a loaded gun with ammo in his pockets was not just there for an innocent good ol time…right…sure you’re smarter than that.

     

     

    But in no way do I support the gals racist comments,  that’s unacceptable too.

    Imho

      1. David Greenwald

        I have nine seconds of video that has audio and there’s nothing on there to suggest any sort of chanting, mostly it just happened too quickly.

        1. Keith O

          A whole nine seconds?  That doesn’t mean there wasn’t chanting.  How about the gun and the ammo?  How about her friend being beaten by thugs and getting kicked in the face?

  12. Keith O

    Antoinette, being that you are/were a writer for the Vanguard maybe you could submit an article with your’s and your friend’s experience and input on what actually occurred in this incident.

  13. Antoinnette

    I cannot say anymore at present, Keith, but it’s truly NOT as it seems. I definitely would love to but it’s strictly confidential until I’m given the “ok,” to print.

    But I will tell you,  it’s bothersome that our public sees one side right now and have been in uproar over a mere piece of this pie.

     

    I can say this,there’s plenty of evidence against these men/women.

     

    Asking for them to get a “get out of jail card,,” is absolutely horrible.

     

    Yes, I’ve been a writer, still on occasion do and want to be clear, I’m not arguing with David, just making it known he does not have the Whole story, which he points out that in his piece.

    But too, David and I can admit, we agree to disagree on occasion.

    However, I do also know that once I can write on it, he will surely give me the opportunity if all my facts are true and in order.

    It’s disappointing that people believe everything they hear without trying the facts/evidence not to mention giving fair opportunity for our police chief and officers the benefit of doubt til trial.

    We constantly hear in court trial how a defendant should be deemed innocent til proven guilty, yet in any case against a cop, people automatically assume it’s racial driven and/or they are the guilty ones? Is this fair?

    I’m aware of the bad ones and the cover up and/or dismissal of their actions (cops) but this case is not that.

     I hope this helps Keith.

    1. Keith O

      Thanks for the reply Antoinnette.  I hope you persue this and stick with it.  The whole story needs to come out and I hope your friends give you their permission to get to the truth.   It might be Pytel’s and some of the other officer’s reputations and jobs you save.

       

      1. Antoinnette

        Keith, you can bet I’ll be doing everything I can and am allowed to do in support of my friends in law enforcement. Not just because they are cops but because they are decent men and deserve the benefit of the doubt.

        But I need the green light and I’m not sure if I can get it until trial.

         

        However, I’m trying to see if there’s a way to put a piece out with at least a minimum amount of information in defense of the officers. Again, must get permission.

        As for Chief Pytel, it would be unfair to lose him too. He’s done nothing but be cooperate with the Vanguard and with sincere kindness. Always willing to be proactive for the betterment of our community.

        I don’t know much about Mguiness or what point he was trying to make in some of his off the wall comments but I don’t believe we have enough information to assume he’s a marked racist?

        It may have been an honest mistake to appoint him in charge of the investigation?

        Just don’t know…David knows more on that one.

        I’ll keep you posted Keith with what develops, hopefully in written article, here or Democrat.

         

        Thanks for comments and your support!

         

         

         

         

    2. Keith O

      To David Greenwald,

      since I know you want to get down to the whole truth on this incident are you reaching out to Antionnette who seems to have some very interesting information?

  14. John Hobbs

    I wonder if the officers involved were drug tested after the incident? That would be a normal procedure if a public works driver is involved in an accident. Certainly it should be in this kind of matter.

    Sorry Antoinette, but one of the cops looks intoxicated to me.

    1. Antoinnette

      None were that I know of, John, but one for sure, was not. He’s the one who took quite a beating. I’m glad he’s doing ok. He’s a loyal friend and good cop. I’ve heard at least three defense lawyers during a closing argument comment on his trustworthy testimony and that speaks volumes about his character even though he’s solely a witness for the prosecution.

       

       

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