By David M. Greenwald
The Grand Jury heavily called into question the decisions by the Police Accountability Commission (PAC) to limit participation by the police at their meetings as well as the police press release on the April 2017 Picnic Day incident.
The Grand Jury issued its report which included a roughly 40-page analysis of of the PAC, SB 1421 (on release of police records) and questions from the 2017 Picnic Day incident.
The Picnic Day incident in 2017 helped to launch new mechanisms of oversight, but members of the public attempting to get access to the original report under SB 1421 have been repeatedly thwarted by the city. The Yolo County Grand Jury investigated these incidents as well as the overall effectiveness of police oversight bodies.
The report was critical of the PAC’s lack of involving leadership from the Davis police due to “the PAC’s sensitivity to a limited number of individuals” which they believe has “outweighed the claims of the larger community to benefit from hearing the insights and perspectives of the DPD.
“The PAC’s adopted practice of excluding DPD leadership and police officers from its meetings restricts candid dialogue between the PAC and the DPD,” the report said. “This practice also limits the PAC’s ability to obtain the specialized knowledge it needs to make recommendations to the Davis City Council.”
The report was also critical of the PAC for “not meeting its responsibility to provide annual written input to the Davis City Manager and City Council on the effectiveness of the IPA.”
The Grand Jury recommends that the PAC provide such input on a timely basis.
It further believes that the PAC should not be limited by the non-action of the city council at its July 30, 2019, meeting and that “[t]he PAC is authorized to inquire into departures from DPD policy, procedure, and planning during and following the Picnic Day 2017 Incident.”
The Grand Jury also believes that “during the internal affairs investigation of the Picnic Day 2017 Incident, there was a failure to follow proper procedures under the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights.”
The PAC, the Grand Jury argues, should “identify the consequences of the failure to follow proper procedures during the investigation of the inaccurate and misleading press release of April 24, 2017.”
The report is also critical of the PAC for “lack an understanding of how internal affairs investigations are conducted, how departmental findings are made, how SB 1421 requests should be presented, and how the DPD responds to SB 1421 requests.”
But they were also critical of the DPD for misrepresenting “its decision-making process to the public when it refused a request by a group of citizens related to the investigation of the Picnic Day 2017 Incident.”
One of the critical questions that emerged from the report by the Independent Police Auditor (IPA) Michael Gennaco, after the city determined it could not publicly release the report by McGregor Scott, was the extent to which there was “dishonesty” in the dissemination of an inaccurate DPD press release two days after the Picnic Day 2017 Incident.
On July 30, 2019, the city council declined to act on PAC recommendations directing Gennaco to investigate whether he could make that determination.
The PAC asked that the IPA “review the events surrounding the April 24, 2017, press release and statements to the press, the decision not to correct inaccurate public information in a timely manner, and any other official statements related to the criminal investigation.”
The Grand Jury noted that the “credibility of the initial press release was challenged within a day of its dissemination.” And that, “The DPD and the public had further reason to question the credibility of the initial press release when a dashcam video recorded by a member of the public was submitted to the DPD three days after the altercation.”
Russell Blvd. was “not gridlocked” at the time of the incident. The unmarked police van “was never surrounded by the crowd on the corner.” The video “did not show a large hostile group of people. The hostility was limited to the officers and a few people on the street, some of whom were subsequently arrested and charged.” Moreover, “There were no hostilities among the people on the street until the unmarked van approached at close range.”
Further, “The two front seat occupants of the van were not wearing any police tactical gear. Neither front seat occupant had a police badge or identification visible at the time they exited the unmarked van.”
The Grand Jury noted that the press release violated stated policy.
They wrote that the author of the press release “received an internal directive to have the press release reviewed before dissemination.” But that never occurred.
Moreover, “The DPD now acknowledges that the initial press release was written to include ‘facts’ to justify the actions of the officers. The DPD also acknowledges that the initial press release was written more as an explanation of the actions of the plainclothes officers than as an objective explanation of events.”
The DPD concluded that “the ‘inaccurate’ statements in the press release did not violate Policy 1.30-A.” But they failed to draw a conclusion as “to whether the lack of objectivity in the press release was a violation of Policy 1.30-A.”
A request for release of the report was denied on the basis that “there was ‘no finding of dishonesty’ in either the McGregor Scott or Gennaco reports.”
However, the Grand Jury concluded, “The response was incorrect, however, when it stated that the DPD violation of its press release policy ‘does not meet the definition of a sustained dishonesty finding under Penal Code section 832.7(b)(1)(c).’ It is incorrect because there is no definition of dishonesty in the California Penal Code.”
The Grand Jury notes that the failure of the DPD to follow its own policy on communications with the media “effectively allowed itself to release a non-objective, inaccurate, and misleading press release where no individuals put themselves in a position to be ‘dishonest.’”
But ultimately there was a legal determination made by the Davis City Attorney which the Grand Jury argues will stand “until SB 1421’s use of the term is clarified by additional legislation or by a court ruling to the contrary.”
The report was also critical of the lack of police leadership presence at PAC meetings.
They note, “At present, monthly PAC meetings are not attended by the Davis Police Chief or his designee. The claim is made by a small number of attendees (fewer than a total of 10 individuals observed during the eight months of meetings attended by Grand Jurors) that the presence of any police officer at the meetings would so traumatize them and others they claim to represent that they would be prohibited from attending the meetings.”
The Grand Jury concluded that this practice “limits candid dialogue between the PAC and the DPD.”
They add, “The practice of excluding DPD leadership and officers from meetings of the PAC limits the PAC’s ability to obtain the specialized knowledge it needs to make recommendations to the City Council.”
Among the recommendations is that, by the end of the year, “the Davis City Council should amend the PAC’s authorizing resolution to provide that one or more members of the DPD be designated by the Police Chief as liaison(s) to the PAC to attend all meetings.”
The city of Davis is required to respond within 90 days. In a statement from the city, the city said, “The City will provide a written response to the report to the Yolo County Superior Court within 90 days as required by law.”
“The City Council and City staff will carefully examine and consider the findings and recommendations of the report and respond thoughtfully to the court. We thank the Grand Jury for its service.” said Davis Mayor Gloria Partida.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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