Sunday Commentary: Condemning Floyd’s Death, Reisig Forgets about the Galvan Brothers

A 2011 press conference showed a poster with the extent of Ernesto Galvan’s injury

Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig last night put out a statement by the California District Attorneys Association condemning racism and bigotry—in so doing he conveniently forgot his own role in perpetuating the problems by failing to prosecute the officers who beat Ernesto and Fermin Galvan, Ernesto to a bloody pulp, a decade ago and then dragged the brothers to court for their minor criminal charges three times before finally conceding they would not be able to convict them.

With the death of Ernesto Galvan this year, albeit 15 years after the incident occurred in 2005, the incident becomes an officer involved killing—and yet there remains no effort on the part of Mr. Reisig or his office to hold those officers accountable for their actions that night.

Meanwhile, the California DA Association, criticized by so many for failing to support reform efforts, put out a statement saying they “strongly condemn racism and bigotry wherever it exists, in any form, in any uniform, by any perpetrator.”

They write: “We recognize that we have the profound duty and responsibility to use our extraordinary power in our respective offices to dismantle generations of inequity and to, with courage, continue to build systems of justice that represent a new way forward.”

The CDAA writes that “we offer our most sorrowful condolences to the family and colleagues of Mr. George Floyd and to the communities across this country so deeply wounded and suffering. We stand in quiet solidarity with the men and women of Minneapolis in their fervent efforts to forge a path to peace and justice.”

And they conclude: “As a poignant reminder of his senseless loss, we will continue our important work, alongside other leaders, to bring an end to the racial inequity, bigotry, and racism that has demeaned our justice system. As leaders in our communities and in honor of the legacy of George Floyd, our continued commitment is unwavering.”

But is it unwavering?

The Vanguard reported in February that Ernesto Galvan, age 41, the victim of a vicious beating in 2005 by two West Sacramento police officers, died in Guadalajara, Mexico, the victim of serious brain injuries sustained as the result of the severe beating.

The DA’s office has never had any inclination to investigate this matter.

The beating, resulting in his skull frontal plate pushed in 17 mm and a deep dent in Mr. Galvan’s forehead, left him disfigured and brain damaged.

The incident occurred in 2005.  It was the brothers, Ernesto along with his brother Fermin, and not the officers who stood trial—three times on charges of battery on a police officer and resisting arrest.  The first two trials hung 11-1 in favor of guilt.  The third one resulted in acquittal on one charge and a hung jury in favor of acquittal on the other five charges between the two brothers.

Following the third trial, the Yolo County DA’s office reconsidered the prosecution and declined to try the brothers for a fourth time.

In a statement, “We determined there is sufficient evidence to establish proof of each defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; that 27 of the 36 jurors who have examined the evidence have agreed with us that there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt as to most counts; and that the officers acted within the confines of permissible use of force based on the circumstances and the defendants’ actions.”

However, ultimately they were convinced that there was a decreasing likelihood of obtaining a unanimous verdict of 12 members of the community in this matter.

“Therefore, it is our intent to seek a dismissal of all charges and to not proceed to a fourth trial,” the statement concluded.

But over the course of the three trials, discrepancies emerged in the accounts of police officers—from initial statements in the field, to explanations under skillful cross-examination from Public Defender Martha Sequeira and private attorney Anthony Palik, who represented Ernesto Galvan in the first and third trials.

In a statement in 2011, Mr. Palik told the Vanguard, “I, personally, was very concerned during the third trial when one of the police officers claimed Mr. Ernesto Galvan was still wearing his boots at the time he was in restraints, and that being kicked by Mr. Galvan with his boots was the only way that officer could have torn his trousers during that incident.”

He continued, “This was especially concerning since the three officers who were actually involved in the altercation claimed steadfastly, through three trials, that Ernesto had kicked off his boots and took a barefoot ‘fighting stance’ prior to being subdued by the officers’ batons.”

According to the DA’s office’s version of events, on June 14, 2005, at approximately 3:33am, Officer Donald Schlie of the West Sacramento Police Department noticed a car parked on Riverbank Road in West Sacramento.

The release continued, describing that as Officer Schlie approached Riverbank Road, he noticed two men standing in the road.  Officer Schlie exited his patrol car and contacted the two subjects, later identified as Ernesto and Fermin Galvan.

Upon contacting the two men, Officer Schlie noticed Ernesto Galvan was sweating profusely, was fidgety, and would not look him in the eyes.  Officer Schlie suspected that Ernesto Galvan was under the influence of a controlled substance and attempted to detain him to conduct a further evaluation.

Ernesto Galvan failed to comply with his requests and Officer Schlie grabbed him by the wrist.

The release says that Ernesto Galvan pulled away, swung around and struck Officer Schlie in the chin.  Galvan fought Officer Schlie and another officer for nearly four minutes.  Officers were unable to stop the onslaught of kicks and punches from Ernesto Galvan. During this struggle, the officers attempted to gain control and compliance from Ernesto by verbal commands, take-down techniques, the Taser and the use of batons.

The DA’s version continues, stating that it was not until the officers used their batons that Ernesto Galvan stopped fighting.

Ernesto Galvan was charged with felony resisting arrest and obstructing Officers Schlie and Justin Farrington by threats and violence, and misdemeanor battery on the same two police officers.

Fermin Galvan was also charged with misdemeanor resisting arrest and obstruction by threats and violence against Officer Jim Reeder, and misdemeanor obstructing/delaying of Officer Schlie, who was struggling with his brother.

In our view, evidence that came out during the third trial, as well as the second trial, clearly contradicts this reading of events.

During his closing remarks, Mr. Palik cited testimony from the defense’s one witness, expert Dr. Steven Gabaeff, which suggested that Ernesto’s minor injuries to his extremities (mainly arms and hands) were more consistent with being handcuffed, and that the  extreme injuries to his skull could reflect lack of any defensive movements by his arms.

Moreover, there was the disturbing testimony from use-of-force expert Don Cameron, who is apparently very notorious for supporting virtually any use of force.

Mr. Palik indicated that a key moment occurred during Martha Sequeira’s cross-examination of Mr. Cameron.

“The best part was when she asked him whether he’d be able to testify against a police officer, because doing so would mean he wouldn’t get business for his training classes,” Mr. Palik told the SF Weekly. “I don’t think he had an answer for that.”

The SF Weekly captured an exchange between Mr. Palik and Mr. Cameron:

“What about two batons against an unarmed man with bare hands and feet? Are you saying that’s appropriate?” Mr. Palik asked.

“Yes, sir, I am,” Cameron replied.

“And you were saying that an unarmed man who is kneeling on the ground, that would be appropriate as well. Is that true?” Mr. Palik said.

“If the person was continuing to swing at the officers in an attempt to assault them, it’s perfectly appropriate,” Mr. Cameron said.

“And he’s not trying to get up from the ground. It’s still appropriate?” Mr. Palik said.

“Yes, sir,” Mr. Cameron answered.

Said Defense Attorney John Scott in an interview with the Weekly, “I don’t know if he’s ever seen a shooting or a use of force he didn’t like.”

Jeff Reisig may well join with the CDAA in mourning the loss of George Floyd, but when he had a chance to address unconstitutional policing, egregious excessive force, and the possibility of racism in West Sacramento that ultimately resulted in the death of Mr. Galvan, he has remained silent.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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