By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – Hours before the Labor Day holiday began Friday, things got more than a little testy in Sacramento County Superior Court here between Deputy City Attorney Emilio Camacho and Assistant Public Defender Eliza Hook.
Camacho protested long and loud when Hook insisted that excessive force complaints against a possible dirty cop were missing from a city personnel file handed over to a judge last May.
The judge said nothing was in a personnel file that would help Hook and her client, but Hook argued Friday that the judge couldn’t rule on something that wasn’t there when he saw the file in May – so she’s asked in a motion to compel that the city provide all information, including missing complaints, to the judge this time.
Hook said 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.
“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 Hook, who represents Caleb Macon.
Macon, who is Black, was arrested for “obstructing” a peace officer, a felony, about a year ago when Sacramento Police Officer Mustafa Mohammad – the subject of the Pitchess Motion – stopped Macon in South Sacramento. Now 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.
At the hearing Friday, just before the Labor Day weekend, Camacho – notably – didn’t exactly deny that the city had, purposely or not, excluded excessive force complaints that Judge Richard K. Sueyoshi reviewed in May.
Camacho instead argued – full-throated – that the filing by Hook was improper.
And, upping the ante, Camacho asked the court for money sanctions against Hook for electing to “drag everyone to Court for a third time under unfounded assumptions” with “an improper and frivolous motion.”
Judge Richard K. Sueyoshi, however, disagreed with Camacho. He acknowledged that Hook’s motion is “unusual,” but proper. He explained that the defendant wasn’t asking a higher court to overturn him, but to determine if the city has fully complied with the terms of the motion.
“The court did not have the full personnel file,” maintained Hook, adding that information exists that the city took “corrective action” against Mohammad in another excessive force case, and that information should have been in the file the city attorney gave the judge.
“Something is amiss. Why was that complaint not in the file? The goal is a fair trial,” Hook said.
In the end, Judge Sueyoshi agreed to take yet another look at Mohammad’s file Friday and would have an answer in time for lunch.
But the judge – in yet another curious twist – announced that after an hour of reviewing the file, he needed more time to analyze what he saw. He said he’d have an answer by Friday of this week, after a holiday break.
All of this appeared to unsettle Camacho, who argued in his brief that Hook was “misusing the discovery process and causing this Court and the City to unnecessarily waste time and resources.” He referred to Hook’s communications with him as “cryptic,” and “evasive.” And the motion as “baseless.”
He even told the court the motion was a waste of his time – and that he earns $99.27 an hour, or about $4,000 a week, more than $200,000 a year.
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.
But Hook argued Friday the judge didn’t see everything in Mohammad’s file.
Very shortly after the finding of the court in May, according to her pleading, she “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 said that the officer “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 to 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.”
The Public Defender 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.”
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.”
“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.