The Davis Police Department received a series of complaints from a Davis resident about the way in which the department handled complaints in an assault/vandalism investigation in which his sister was the victim.
In response, the Independent Police Auditor, Michael Gennaco, collected police reports and body worn camera footage and released the findings in his July 2020 auditor report.
The police were called to the scene after an individual used a crowbar to inflict significant damage on a vehicle belonging to the sister of the complainant, smashing many of the windows of the car.
When the sister and her boyfriend found the man in the process of vandalizing her vehicle, the man began shooting at the two with a pellet gun.
Upon arrival, the boyfriend fled the scene.
Officer: Can we tell the truth for just a few seconds? Can I tell you what I just saw from that car?
Writes Gennaco: “This exchange between the victim and the officer is not how one would expect an officer to respond to a person who has just observed her vehicle’s windows being smashed out by a known assailant and who then proceeds to shoot at her with a pellet gun.”
Gennaco finds the questioning troublesome in two respects.
First, when the officer asked the victim to “tell the truth for a few seconds,” “there was no reason to disbelieve the victim’s account.”
Furthermore, Gennaco writes, “More troublesome was the officer’s representation to the victim that the victim must have done something to him to ‘make him do that,’ suggesting that it was somehow the victim’s fault that caused the man to commit felony vandalism on her vehicle and then assault her.”
Gennaco notes that, as the encounter continued, “the officer’s tone and approach with the victim softens somewhat and it becomes more akin to an officer/victim interview.”
However, at this point, “even then the officer does not display a great deal of empathy toward the victim, particularly when asking her whether she wants to move forward on charges against her assailant.”
He concludes: “All in all, the victim interview on the sidewalk is not exemplary of a sympathetic police officer engaging a woman who had just been the victim of felony vandalism and assault.”
Gennaco would normally recommend that the department review the body camera footage with the responding officer to discuss how this could have been handled better, but he “has been informed that the officer is no longer with DPD.”
In a second incident there is a complaint about the handling of a theft investigation, in which a woman reported that she had left her wallet in the dashboard of an unattended van parked in the lot of a commercial establishment.
The police received a report that there was a recording that showed a male and female walk by the van which had its windows open.
According to the officer’s report, “the video further depicted the couple appears to peer into the van as they walked toward a vehicle parked next to it that appeared to be a car known to be owned by the boyfriend.”
However the recording ended before showing anyone in the act of taking an item from the van.
The complainant alleged that during the investigation, “DPD police lied to his sister about video evidence to obtain an admission from her.” The body worn camera footage shows the officer “repeatedly told the sister that there was a video of her and her boyfriend taking the wallet from the van, even though he had not yet reviewed what the video depicted.”
Gennaco writes: “A review of the encounter clearly demonstrates repeated attempts by the officer to obtain an admission of culpability from the sister, but as indicated in the police report, she did not admit or deny that she was involved in taking the wallet from the van.”
Furthermore, “During the interview, the mother of the sister informed the officer that as a result of past encounters the family had ‘zero trust’ in the police. While the officer told the sister that he would show her the video if she liked, when the mother indicated that she would like to see the video the officer said he would not do so.”
The family obtained an attorney who ultimately learned that the video did not show either of them taking the wallet and DPD did not pursue charges.
Gennaco notes: “Under the law, police can use ruses and exaggerate or mischaracterize evidence as part of a strategy to gain admissions from suspects. While the technique is legal, a growing number of criminal justice reformers question whether such strategies are generally advisable.”
He notes that “when the ruse does not work and the individual the ruse is used upon learns that the information alleged by the police was not accurate, it results in increased distrust of law enforcement by those upon whom the tactic is used.”
Gennaco here is critical because, as he writes, “it appears that the officer did not even know the strength of the video evidence against the sister prior to visiting her. Basic principles of investigation teach officers to review evidence prior to interviewing potential subjects but this was not done in this case.”
He adds, “As it turned out, by mischaracterizing the strength of the evidence against the sister, the officer did not obtain an admission from her and only increased the alienation and mistrust the family had in its police department after they learned that the video did not depict what the officer had said it did.”
He continues: “This result calls for re-examination for this officer in particular and DPD in general about the advisability of mischaracterizing incriminatory evidence during subject interviews.”
Once again, the officer is no longer with the department.
Finally there was an incident where the complainant alleged he was walking through a Davis neighborhood when he and his girlfriend heard a woman screaming. They called 911, stayed in the area, but never observed the police respond to the call.
A few days later, a DPD officer visited the family to talk with the complainant’s sister about her involvement in an alleged theft (the one detailed above).
As the officer was leaving the call, the complainant asked if he could discuss his concern about the alleged failure to respond to the call. The officer told the complainant “no, I am not here for you,” and walked away.
Later, the officer and another officer returned to the residence to investigate an alleged hit and run involving the sister.
The officer said that he did not know anything about it and that he could not begin to answer the question. The partner officer did engage the mother and complainant about their concern about the failure to respond to the 911 call. The officer said that “under current staffing, there were often only three officers to patrol the entire city.”
The partner officer said that he did not agree with “a lot of things that we do” but reiterated that he did not know the circumstances regarding the allegation of failing to respond to a 911 call.
A review by Gennaco found that DPD did respond to the 911 call. Two officers had parked down the street, walked to the residence where the woman said that she had gotten into a verbal dispute with her boyfriend and had been screaming as a result. The female no longer wanted to stay at her boyfriend’s residence and one of the responding officers then drove her to a relative’s house in Davis.
Writes Gennaco, “A review of the body worn camera footage also demonstrated a professionally handled defusing of a domestic situation and a sensible resolution to the conflict. While the handling of the underlying call was textbook, the officers’ response to the complainant was not.”
As Gennaco puts it, while the officers were there for other reasons, when an individual raises another issue, the response should not be “I am not here for you.”
The appropriate response would have been, “I really cannot respond to your question, but I can certainly contact a supervisor about your concern and ensure that he responds to them.”
Nor “was it appropriate for the partner officer to attempt to explain why officers may not have responded to the domestic violence call for several reasons.”
First, “the complainant was incorrect that officers had not responded to the call.”
Second, “it was really not the officers’ role to attempt to explain why there had been no response, especially when the officers had no first-hand knowledge of the situation.”
Writes Gennaco: “This again, is why the best response would have been to alert a supervisor to the complaint so that it could be handled by someone who could investigate the concern.”
Finally, “it was inappropriate for the partner officer to inform the complainant that he did not agree with a lot of things DPD did to ensure officer safety and reduce use of force.”
Genacco concludes: “The series of interactions reviewed here evidenced both optimal handling of a call for service and other communications that did not rise to the level of a need for a formal investigation and discipline but was more appropriate for a ‘course correction.'”
For the full report see here.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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