After getting burned with the hiring of John McGinness, the city of Davis went big to try to get an investigator who would be seen as fair and impartial. They went to the large firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP and a former United States Attorney for the Eastern District of California and former District Attorney of Shasta County for McGregor Scott.
They will pay $500 an hour for his services, but the hope is that he can bring credibility to the investigation, credibility that the first hire, former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness, clearly lacked.
The problems surrounding the hire of John McGinness are said to have caught Chief Darren Pytel off guard. Mr. McGinness was said to have a solid reputation, but it was pretty clear from the Vanguard’s reporting that the former sheriff was not only quite conservative but also heavily biased in favor of law enforcement.
While his statements regarding the Civil Rights Act led to his dismissal, his comments about racial profiling data should have been a huge red flag.
For the selection of Mr. Scott, the city clearly hopes to avoid the problems that beset his predecessor. Where Mr. McGinness seemed impulsive and almost naïve politically, Mr. Scott has had to operate in far more high profile roles, such as the Lodi terror investigation.
That investigation might be seen as a giant red flag in and of itself. After all, the FBI initially claimed the targets of their investigation had direct ties to Al Qaeda. From the start, the Lodi investigation seemed to be something of a witch hunt and it was disconcerting for many to see Hamid Hayat sentenced to a 24-year prison sentence in 2007.
Mr. Hayat confessed to FBI agents that he had attended a terrorist camp and was accused of coming back to the U.S. to commit violent jihad and of lying to federal agents.
The key evidence was a lengthy and exhaustive interrogation that led to a contested confession.
The LA Times noted, “During the initial days after the arrest of Hamid Hayat, federal law enforcement officials repeatedly boasted that they had uncovered an Al Qaeda terrorist cell in Lodi, 35 miles south of Sacramento.
“But the facts of the case ended up far narrower in scope. Scott, the federal prosecutor, said he never personally made a declaration about a terrorist cell, but he apologized nonetheless.”
“To the extent we may have created false expectations, I regret that,” he said.
There is also his involvement in Orrick’s investigation into former UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi – a report that led to her August 2016 resignation as chancellor to the university.
There are those who will point to his background as a prosecutor with some measure of suspicion. There are those who fear that someone who has prosecuted crimes will automatically side with the police. Those concerns are valid.
Moreover, it was a little concerning to learn that David Spencer, an attorney at Orrick, is working with the Yolo County DA’s office to get trial experience by prosecuting cases while on the payroll with Orrick.
Given that the Yolo County DA is prosecuting the five Picnic Day defendants with felonies, it seems like a potential legal conflict of interest.
People need to understand that the legal threshold for conflict here is such that a public defender’s office cannot represent multiple defendants in the same trial and therefore we have a separate conflict panel of private attorneys who are contracted to represent co-defendants in a trial.
Nevertheless, there are strengths here that make McGregor Scott potentially a good fit for what Davis needs.
The CAB (the Community Advisory Board which advises the police chief), which Chief Pytel asked to help vet candidates, believed that the city should not use a prior police officer. While there are many police officers that I think would do a very good job, I think the CAB’s thinking here was sound, and certainly so from a public relations perspective.
Having an attorney who knows criminal law was seen as the best approach.
Mr. Scott has a reputation for professionalism that sets him apart from other candidates.
There is one further advantage to Mr. Scott and that is that he and his firm are not beholden to working with law enforcement groups for their normal business. That can allow a person like McGregor Scott to be scrutinizing evidence without fear that it will cost him business down the line.
That is the advantage a big firm has over, say, a private consultant like John McGinness.
Still, I would have preferred someone like Ken Williams, a use-of-force expert who is a former homicide detective in Boston. And yes, ironically a former police officer.
He appeared this weekend on Investigation Discovery’s “Black and Blue,” described as “an urgent and timely exploration of the current state of police affairs and race relations.”
I highly recommend you watch the entire segment, but most telling is his breakdown of the video of the shooting of Mario Woods and explanation of what the police did wrong in that shooting. Later he compares it to a situation in Camden, NJ, where the police were able to avoid a use of deadly force in a very similar incident.
See the video here: https://www.investigationdiscoverygo.com/black-and-blue/black-and-blue/
For Davis’ Picnic Day incident, the key questions are going to focus on how the incident started, whether the plainclothes officers violated department policy, whether their approach instigated the incident, and why the incident turned violent.
In the end, we shall see if McGregor Scott can give this incident the scrutiny that it needs. At this point, until I have evidence to the contrary, it seems necessary to give him the benefit of the doubt.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
Vanguard Monthly Conclave: Creating a Workable Model For Police Oversight in Our Community
Wednesday, June 28 at 6 PM – 8 PM
Sophia’s Thai Kitchen
129 E St, Davis, California 95616
The Vanguard Monthly Conclave in June features a pertinent discussion on police oversight – what we are doing now, what models are available, and why we need it.
Discussion will feature:
Nora Oldwin, People Power, Davis
Darren Pytel, Davis Police Chief
Aaron Zisser, Police Oversight Consultant
Event will be held at Sophia’s Thai Kitchen in the patio
Doors open at 6 pm, event starts at 6:30
Admission is free but there is a suggested sliding scale $15 to $50 donation
A portion of the proceeds at the bar will go to the Vanguard