By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – The City Attorney and the Sacramento City Police Dept may have misled a Superior Court judge in May when they failed to provide complete information about a complaint record of an officer involved in a suspected “driving while Black” case, according to a filing by the Sacramento County Public Defender’s office this week.
“The defense has a good faith basis to believe that the City Attorney and/or Custodian of Record for the Sacramento City Police Department failed to provide the court with all the relevant requested materials,” according to a pleading by assistant public defender Eliza Hook, who represents Caleb Macon.
A hearing is set on the matter in Dept. 28 at 10 a.m. on Aug. 30. Macon’s trial has been postponed.
Macon, who is Black, was arrested for “obstructing” a peace officer about a year ago when Sacramento Police Officer Mustafa Mohammad – a subject of the PD’s so-called Pitchess Motion – stopped Macon in South Sacramento.
Macon faces years in jail after the simple traffic stop morphed into something much bigger. Rather than just being cited, Macon was handcuffed, and arrested, along with his wife and brother.
Black Lives Matter Sacramento maintains Macon and his family, including his daughter, were “brutalized” by the Sacramento Police Dept. in yet another example of the SPD’s targeting of Blacks in the community, noting the high number of Black men – including Stephon Clark, who was unarmed – killed by Sacramento city police or county sheriff’s deputies.
A dramatic video of the Macon incident provided by “Cop Watch” – and obtained by the Vanguard – appears to show SPD officers making the arrest of Macon, and then arresting his wife and brother, all while a child cries, “Don’t touch my Mom. They’re arresting everybody.”
PD Hook convinced a judge in May to look at the files of officers involved in the Macon arrest to see if they might have a history that could be presented during trial. But the in-camera review by the judge supposedly produced nothing relevant for disclosure in the coming trial of Macon.
Or so it seemed. It turns out the judge didn’t see everything in Mohammad’s file.
Very shortly after the finding of the court, according to the pleading this week, “counsel for defendant became aware of a complaint that is qualified as relevant and should have been disclosed during in camera review.”
Apparently, a “private citizen” filed a complaint in mid-March with the City Office of Police Safety and Accountability against Officer Mohammad involving a different traffic stop in South Sacramento.
Mohammad, said the citizen complaint, “forcefully knocked” a cell phone out of the hand of an individual, also a person of color, “causing screen damage” to the phone, and bruising the wrist of the individual when handcuffs were applied by the officer.
Sacramento Police Dept. Internal Affairs, told the citizen complainant on April 12 – well before the SPD turned over Mohammad’s files – that it had upheld the complaint against the officer.
“Your complaint of misconduct involving members of our Department has been thoroughly investigated. The investigation revealed improper conduct by the employees and appropriate corrective action has been taken,” wrote Internal Affairs.
Based on that information, including the citizen complaint and the decision by the SPD to discipline Mohammad, that conduct should have been provided the judge during the review because, according to this week’s filing, it “fits squarely within the scope of defendant’s Pitchess motion.”
In addition to asking for the court to order the City Attorney to “bring all documents” for a new full review of Mohammad’s files, the PD office notes “the defendant asks the court to demand an explanation from the custodian why he or she did not comply with the court’s original order.”
Many defense lawyers believe a Pitchess motion is a valuable tool, and should be filed whenever a resisting arrest charge is leveled – as it has been against defendant Macon – because often those charges are filed largely to ensure the defendant will be precluded from bringing a civil rights action against the officer for violation of the defendant’s rights.
It’s a low threshold to achieve for defense lawyers normally, and while judges generally find good cause to peer into the officer’s files, defense lawyers said it’s exceedingly rare that those same judges rule that the evidence of complaints and other wrongdoing in the officer files, such as fabricating evidence, can be used in court.
The Public Defender’s Office motions haven’t been shy about suggesting officer Mohammad could be a problem cop, noting that he and partner Jaguar Helper used excessive force and made a false arrest. And lied about it.
The officers were “untruthful” in their versions of events, the defense claims, and the information in their personnel files could contain “complaints of a similar nature by other citizens (and) would establish a habit or custom on the part of these officers to provide false information and/or testify falsely.”
The motion argues that complaints had been made previously about the two officers, and that “officers committed acts of unnecessary or excessive force, acts of bias and prejudice, illegal arrests, unlawful search and seizure and other alleged acts involving moral turpitude.”
“Caleb Macon was brutalized and arrested. His wife was brutalized and arrested. His brother was brutalized and arrested. His daughter was pushed to the ground while being traumatized,” said Tanya Faison, of BLM Sacramento at a news conference in front of the City of Sacramento’s City Hall last May.
Faison and BLM Sacramento released a list of demands, including a demand for all SPD audio and video, including body-cameras of the SPD officers involved, all video and audio of the Sacramento Sheriff’s department’s officers and helicopter and the names of all the officers involved.
“We demand that the Sacramento Police Department stop terrorizing Black families that have members that are on, or have been on parole or probation (and) stop using infraction and misdemeanor stops to criminalize Black community that are in, and outside, predominately Black neighborhoods,” said Faison.
“Officers found to have engaged in abusive behavior towards Black people in the community they patrol should be immediately removed and barred from any further engagement in that community,” added Faison.
Black Lives Matter Sacramento is also asking that “when abuse and trauma has been inflicted on the members of families, particularly children, compensation should be provided for mental health treatment either directly funded by the Police Department or the City of Sacramento.”
Black Lives Matter Sacramento also demanded that all charges be dismissed “when the original arrest was never warranted…it’s a violation of Caleb’s civil rights.”