Chief Acknowledges Errors in Handling of ‘Karen’ Case

Davis Police Car

Davis Police Car

A few weeks ago the Vanguard reported on complaints that Dr. Khoa Lam had in encounters with two residents of Moore Apartments in Davis which ultimately led to the police being called.

Among his complaints was the rather dismissive attitude that police officers had when they responded to the call—an issue that Davis Police Chief Pytel highlighted in a letter to Dr. Lam dated July 22.

Chief Pytel noted that the July 10 incident “offers valuable learning opportunities to those involved, and our community at large.

“It’s unfortunate that it comes at your expense,” the Chief writes.  “I do apologize for that.”

Dr. Lam had told the Vanguard that on July 10, he had been Facetiming with his wife in the parking lot of the Moore Apartments in Davis where his parents reside, and he was confronted by a woman.

“She said something like ‘you can’t be walking around here.’” She added, he said, “You don’t belong here.”

“What?” he said. “I’m visiting family.”

The encounter, caught on video, escalated, but the lady exited the scene.  A man then confronted Dr. Lam and, after an exchange, ultimately called the police.

Dr. Lam had just finished his fellowship in neuroradiology at the University of Washington at Seattle. He completed that work and had just landed a job in Dallas, TX, where he starts on August 3. In between, he has spent two weeks in Davis.

He came to the U.S. in 2000 from Vietnam, coming to Sacramento for a few years and moving to Davis a few years later.

Chief Pytel, having watched the body cam video of the encounter, noted, “Upon initial contact it was clear you were visibly upset because someone had called the police when, as it turns out, you were doing nothing more than talking on the phone.”

He added, “Although the officers did not know this, you did. It was apparent you wanted to fully explain what had happened, but that didn’t occur.”

The chief said that the police could have “devoted more time to active listening,” writing, “This would have also allowed you to clearly articulate why you believed there was bias involved.”

The chief continues: “A fundamental teaching of Procedural Justice (Principled Policing) provides that officers should allow for ‘Opportunities for Voice’ and ‘Fairness in the Process.’ That was not afforded to you when it should have been.”

The chief continues: “A very important part of conflict resolution, especially when a person is faced with a police encounter where no actual crime was committed, is to acknowledge any harm caused and offer an apology.”

He added, “I understand why this entire situation caused you distress and harm. The officers could have acknowledged that and they didn’t. They should have.”

The chief noted that an officer “attempted to use some degree of humor. While humor can be an effective tool in some circumstances, it must be used very carefully and sparingly. Clearly, you interpreted the officer’s humor as sarcasm. In the context of this event, humor should have been avoided; a more sympathetic tone should have been used.”

In addition, he acknowledged, “One of the officers gave the appearance that she lacked patience with you. A resemblance of understanding, sympathy and acknowledgement of harm and feelings should have been afforded.”

Furthermore, “It was clear you interpreted statements by the officers as threats. Requests are better than orders and their expressions came across as orders with consequences. That shouldn’t have been done. Further, both officers could have at least tried to work through the issue.”

Chief Pytel added, “There are many times that calls to the police later result in subsequent discovery of legitimate behavior misinterpreted by another. Humiliation, frustration, and anger are all common emotions in these circumstances. I have no doubt that this was an emotional and unsettling event for you. In the end, perfectly legal behavior resulted in a police contact, which was entirely unwanted by you.”

He concluded with an acknowledgment of “bias-by-proxy.”

Chief Pytel said, “Officers are familiar with the issue, but, as we spoke about, there haven’t been good training programs developed on the issue. Prior to this event I had already tasked two managers with developing a course on bias-by-proxy. This event serves as a reminder of how important it is to develop the curriculum, with urgency, and ensure that all Department members receive the training. We will be doing that very soon.”

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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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  1. Tia Will

    I am glad to hear that Chief Pytel spoke out on this issue and offered a clear apology. Now, what is most important is whether these proposed trainings result in significant change. I suspect they will not until there is a shift systemic shift in police training from the protection of property and property owners, to an equitable view of the rights of all citizens.

  2. Dave Hart

    A clear apology after the fact is what we have all come to expect as a good outcome.  An apology by the officers at the time would be an indication of a radically transformed police force.  Police are incapable of saying “I’m sorry” sincerely because it is not their job to be regular citizens like you or me.  No matter how well intentioned our police chief, the fact that officers viscerally don’t know how to say “I’m sorry” gets to the bottom of policing.  It’s not about what individual officers or their chiefs think or feel.  Policing is an institution with roots that go well back into U.S. history and it affects how policing is done everywhere, not just in our beautiful little Tiny Town.  Training can and will mitigate this kind of response but will not eliminate it.

  3. Ron Oertel

    “Sorry” for what, exactly?

    Showing up when they’re called? A somewhat inappropriate attempt at humor? “Not listening” to concerns regarding potential bias on the part of the caller?

    1. David Greenwald

      The article lays out exactly what they are sorry about.  Basically it is what I said two weeks ago, the officers didn’t recognize the situation and respond correctly to it.

      1. Ron Oertel

        What (other than what I listed – based upon your article) do they have to be sorry about?

        They’re going to be doing a lot of apologizing in the future, if that’s the new standard. (Regardless of claims regarding bias.)

        By the way, do you think this guy is “sorry” about following the woman up to her doorstep (while filming), and “demanding” that the police be called? (I don’t recall if he did the same thing with the guy who called.)

        Also, do you think he’s sorry about some of the comments left on his Facebook page?

        1. David Greenwald

          It’s interesting, I have known Pytel for 15 years, I have read a lot of his letters, this is one of the very few that I completely agreed with.  The biggest problem here is that Dr. Lam had committed no crime, he had to deal with law enforcement, and there was no recognition that he was treated with suspicion probably because of his race.  This would have been a perfect situation for restorative justice or an understanding of bias-by-proxy.  That’s the sum of it.

        2. Ron Oertel

          The biggest problem here is that Dr. Lam had committed no crime, he had to deal with law enforcement,

          Which he “demanded”.

          and there was no recognition that he was treated with suspicion probably because of his race.

          Certainly possible, but not by police.

          This would have been a perfect situation for restorative justice or an understanding of bias-by-proxy.  That’s the sum of it.

          “Restorative justice” when no crime has been committed?

          Are police in the business of providing counseling, now? Seems to me that the police understood the situation quite well. It also seems to me that this guy was going to be dissatisfied regardless of what the police did, when he demanded that they be called.

          Again, what do they have to “apologize” for, other than what I listed?

          And, when can we expect an “apology” from this guy for escalating the situation and enabling racist comments to be left on his Facebook page?

        3. John Hobbs

          It’s a matter of minding your own business instead of asserting privilege. “You don’t belong here” is not an offer of help and once the doctor indicated his parents lived there the first Karen should have said “Okay,” if neighborly added “I’m. Ms. …….” giving the doctor an opportunity to introduce himself, but “I’m calling the police.” was not neighborly and not necessary. The second “Kevin” was just a bigot. The cops, having been summoned should have first listened to the doctor and affirmed his right to be there and then informed the callers that they have nothing to worry about and that they have no expectation of privacy in a public area, especially when they confront the doctor, who wisely starts recording what must have been a most threatening encounter.

        4. Ron Oertel

          Actually, I agree with some of what Hobbs writes here.

          With the exception of his description of “Kevin” (which I thought was actually “Ken”, if used in this type of racist/derogatory manner).

          “Ken” actually seemed quite calm (and relatively factual), and the reason for the initiation of his involvement is not shown, as I recall.

          Nor do I think that following the woman up to her doorstep (while filming), and demanding that the police be called is the best option.

          But since this article is supposedly regarding the police response, I don’t recall that the police video has even been released.

          The “victim” in this case had every right to tell that woman to (figuratively) jump in the lake, in the first place.  (Or – to refuse to respond, or “ask” why she’s “asking”.)

          I also don’t attribute “fear” with “privilege”. Because that’s ultimately what probably caused the woman to be concerned, regardless of how unreasonable that fear might have been.

          The doctor is probably going to have a much more privileged life than that woman.

        5. Keith Olsen

          (which I thought was actually “Ken”, if used in this type of racist/derogatory manner).

          Yes Ron, and add to that I see the Vanguard is still using the pejorative term “Karen”.

        6. David Greenwald

          Yes Keith, I used other media coverage as guidance for the proper way to handle terminology here.  Across the board media is using the term, so that guided my use.

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