PACH organization dissolved

The volunteers for the Police Accountability Clinic and Helpline regret to announce that this organization is dissolved and we can no longer be reached for assistance. We have served the community of Santa Rosa since 2008 and hope that we have helped in some small way, to bring more attention to the issue of law enforcement brutality and to educate community members on their rights. We volunteers wish to thank those of you who have supported us, our friends and families and of course, you, the community members. We will each continue to serve the people and continue the struggle for justice and human rights with other organizations and as individuals.

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Gabbi Lemos, mother sentenced to jail in resisting arrest case

Gabbi Lemos, 19, and her mother, Michelle Lemos, 48, are escorted to jail by Sonoma County Sheriff bailiff deputies, Monday, Sept.19th, 2016, in Sonoma County Superior Court after being sentenced for their part of interfering with a deputy during a June 14, 2015 domestic dispute. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat) 2016

PAUL PAYNE

A Petaluma teen and her mother were sentenced Monday to 30 days in jail for their roles in a much publicized resisting arrest case in which they accused a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy of using excessive force but were later convicted of failing to cooperate with him, in part because he is black.

Gabbi Lemos, 19, and Michelle Lemos, 48, were handcuffed in front of a packed courtroom audience including more than a dozen uniformed deputies and ordered by Judge Gary Medvigy to begin serving their sentences immediately. Under state sentencing law, they could be eligible for release in two weeks.

The punishment was handed down after an emotional hearing in which the deputy, Marcus Holton, called for the maximum, one-year sentence.

In a halting speech he read at the sentencing hearing, Holton expressed outrage the women turned on him when he stopped at their Liberty Road house in June 2015 to investigate a domestic disturbance. And the 21-year veteran spoke of his relief to have been wearing one of the department’s new body cameras to document what actually happened.

The video captured the women shouting at Holton and wagging their fingers at him as he tried to question a sister who was drunk. Also, the women were recorded using racial slurs during jail phone calls to each other. Both were played for jurors, who returned guilty verdicts last month for each woman.

“I will tell you, Gabrielle Lemos, you delayed and resisted me throughout this incident,” Holton, 44, said, choking back tears. “I come to find out it was because of the color of my skin.”

Holton said the headline-grabbing allegations of police brutality took a personal toll. His mother died before he could be vindicated. And publicity from the case prevented him from participating in a daughter’s school functions “without parents looking down on me,” he said.

“Mom, I hope you can hear me,” Holton told the courtroom. “They were found guilty.”

Medvigy acknowledged Holton’s suffering, saying it shows police are “just as vulnerable as our citizens in a lot of ways.”

The judge called the actions of mother and daughter particularly egregious given the friction nationwide between law enforcement and citizens.

However, the judge said the womens’ lack of any criminal record coupled their apparent remorse justified leniency. Both issued brief apologies Monday.

“My actions brought us here today and I am very sorry,” Michelle Lemos told the court.

Medvigy handed down the 30 days along with community service and a $1,000 fine after Holton rejected the judge’s suggestion to have the Lemoses and the deputy participate in restorative justice. That alternative sentencing typically has victims and defendants speak publicly about the crime.

The judge denied a request to postpone the punishment until an appeal could be filed.

“This stands out as a horrible decision-making process by each of you on that night,” Medvigy said. “I’m hoping you really did learn from it.”

The Lemoses’ lawyer, Izaak Schwaiger, said his clients would post $50,000 bail each so they could go free while the case is appealed.

A separate civil lawsuit filed in federal court alleging excessive force was nullified by the conviction. Lemos, a Petaluma High School graduate, suffered facial bruising when she was thrown on the ground during her initial arrest.

The Sheriff’s Office said through its spokesman, Sgt. Spencer Crum, it respected the judge’s decision but had hoped for the maximum sentence.

Trial prosecutor Jenica Leonard called the sentence light but appropriate. In court, she described the Lemoses as “entitled” and urged they be ordered to attend anger management classes in addition to serving a jail sentence.“These two women need a time out,” Leonard said.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ppayne.

 
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Gabbi Lemos, mother found guilty of interfering

Gabbi Lemos shown at her graduation from Petaluma High School in 2015 (left) and two  days after being arrested a few days later (right).
PAUL PAYNE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | August 31, 2016, 4:23PM

A Petaluma woman and her mother were convicted Wednesday of resisting arrest in a much-watched case in which the family claimed they were the victims of police brutality.

After about two hours of deliberation, jurors found Gabbi Lemos, 19, and her mother, Michelle Lemos, 48, each guilty of the single misdemeanor charge stemming from the June 2015 incident outside their Liberty Road home.

The verdict came after about a week of testimony and the playing of a body-camera recording that appeared to show Gabbi Lemos interfering with a late-night domestic dispute investigation by Sonoma County sheriff’s Deputy Marcus Holton.

“This case is an example of the potential usefulness of body-worn cameras,” District Attorney Jill Ravitch said in a written statement. “The jury had an opportunity to view the video and compare it to the testimony of the witnesses. Their verdict reflects what the video showed – that the defendants violated the law.”

With the conviction, Gabbi Lemos is now prevented from pursuing an excessive force lawsuit filed against Holton and the county in federal court. Her lawyer said he plans to appeal the verdict based on pretrial rulings he said affected the outcome.

The two women declined to comment. They face up to a year in jail when they are sentenced Sept. 19.

“Obviously, the clients expected a different result,” attorney Izaak Schwaiger said. “So this is a difficult time for them.”

Judge Gary Medvigy denied a request by deputy prosecutor Jenica Leonard to immediately remand mother and daughter into custody.

Jurors leaving the courthouse also would not comment.

The Lemos case made headlines after the 5-foot, 105-pound teenager suffered two black eyes and facial bruising in her arrest outside her own high school graduation party.

Holton, who was on routine patrol, stopped to check out what he described as women yelling and a truck parked in the middle of the street. When he attempted to question an apparently intoxicated sister in the truck, Gabbi Lemos stepped between them, smashing into him, the deputy testified.
She retreated behind her mother and another sister, who began shouting at Holton and wagging fingers at him in a chaotic scene. At one point, Gabbi Lemos tried to walk into her house. Holton grabbed her and threw her to the ground when he said she resisted his attempt to put handcuffs on her.

Initially, the District Attorney’s Office said it would not charge Lemos.

But a day after she sued the county in federal court, prosecutors brought the resisting arrest charge, saying they had been planning it for weeks. Medvigy ruled the timing was coincidental.

In a rare move, the Sheriff’s Office then published the body-cam footage and an audio recording of Gabbi Lemos talking to her mom on a jail phone. In the phone recording, Gabbi Lemos uses a racial slur to describe Holton, who is black. Medvigy ruled it was inadmissible but changed his mind after finding race was a factor in their behavior.

Both Lemos women testified in their own defense. Michelle Lemos was charged with trying to pull Holton off her daughter. She expressed regret for her own racial comments but claimed her daughter never touched Holton.

The Sheriff’s Office said it was pleased with the outcome.

“The verdict rendered today helped reinforce our belief that the deputy was correctly doing his job that night in trying to protect a potential victim of domestic violence,” sheriff’s spokesman Spencer Crum said in a written statement.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ppayne.

 

 

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Sonoma County Sheriff Promotes Deputy Who Shot Andy Lopez

KQED NEWS  NEWS FIX    By  AUGUST 4, 2016 

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office has promoted the deputy who shot and killed 13-year-old Andy Lopez just outside Santa Rosa to sergeant with an accompanying pay increase, KQED has learned.

The promotion came in May, nearly three years after Lopez’s death in 2013. That case shook residents and county government alike, sparked massive protests and student walkouts and galvanized the local Latino community.

The shooting prompted investigations by local and federal authorities.

Sheriff Steve Freitas ultimately approved the promotion, which Gelhaus applied for, according to sheriff’s office Sgt. Spencer Crum. In his new role, Gelhaus will typically oversee eight to 10 deputies per shift. His pay increased 10 percent, from $49.19 to $55 per hour.

Gelhaus was paid more than $134,000 in 2015, including overtime, according to state salary records on Transparent California.

“The Sheriff is committed to following the law, rules and policy by promoting Sergeant Gelhaus,” Crum wrote in response to KQED. “He didn’t treat him any differently than the rest of the deputies who tested for the position. The sheriff knows there are some people who are upset by his promotion but he is convinced that the vast majority of the public wants a Sheriff who follows the rules. Providing opportunities for his members is not only a moral duty, it is also a legal and human right.”

Toy Gun Mistaken for AK-47 Rifle

Lopez was walking to a friend’s house near his home on Moorland Avenue on Oct 22, 2013. Gelhaus was on patrol with deputy Michael Schemmel, who was his trainee, when Gelhaus mistakenly identified the replica gun Lopez was carrying under his arm for a real AK-47 rifle.

He yelled to Schemmel something to the effect of “do you see that” and called for backup, according to the county’s district attorneyreport on the incident.

Gelhaus got out of the car, which was parked 30 to 60 feet from Lopez and ordered him to drop the gun at least once, according to the report. As Lopez turned around towards the deputies while still holding the replica gun, Gelhaus began to fire. Lopez was shot seven times, including in the chest, hips, buttocks and arms. Lopez died at the scene.

An autopsy later revealed Lopez had traces of marijuana in his system.

Gelhaus told investigators with the Santa Rosa Police Department that he feared for his life.

Investigations Clear Gelhaus

At the time, Gelhaus had been a Sonoma County deputy for 23 years and had worked in the gang enforcement unit. He was an experienced firearms instructor and a U.S. Army veteran. A month before Lopez’s death, Gelhaus had received firearms training on AK-47s. He knew that rounds fired by an AK-47 could penetrate the body armor he and Schemmel were wearing.

The Sonoma County district attorney determined criminal charges were not warranted because, given Gelhaus’s training and experience, “he believed he was faced with a ‘do-or-die’ dilemma.” The U.S. Department of Justice also cleared Gelhaus of civil rights violations after their investigation.

Lopez’s family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Gelhaus and Sonoma County in 2014. Sonoma County appealed a judge’s preliminary ruling, and the case is now before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Nearly three years after Lopez’s death, the case remains an open wound for many Latinos in the area, particularly young people.

“He was a good friend, and for him to just go like that, it’s not OK,” said Christian Hernandez Reyes, 15, who was born and raised in Santa Rosa. “I mean, he was still a little kid. He was 13. There was no reason to shoot him out of nowhere.”

Hernandez Reyes, who met Lopez through school, said Gelhaus should not be patrolling the streets.

“He could do that to another person, to another minor, where it’s going to be the same all over again,” he said.

Gelhaus has not been exonerated in the court of public opinion, and many local Latinos fear and distrust him, said Caroline Bañuelos, chair of a county task force that provided recommendations to improve community-police relations after Lopez’s death.

Bañuelos and a majority of task force members asked Sheriff Freitas to place Gelhaus in a desk job instead of returning him to patrol, she said. Gelhaus’s promotion, said Bañuelos, sends an unfortunate message for residents who feel Lopez was killed needlessly.

“That someone can kill a member of our community and there will be no repercussions or accountability, and on top of that they can be promoted, that’s a really negative message,” said Bañuelos, a Sonoma County resident for over 30 years.

Deputy Sheriff’s Association Backs Promotion

Deputy Mike Vail, president of the Sonoma County Deputy Sheriff’s Association characterized Gelhaus as a “rock-solid deputy” who deserves the promotion.

“We are proud of him,” Vail said. “He has a great reputation within our office for doing a good job.”

Vail added that Lopez’s death was a tragedy for everyone involved, including Gelhaus.

“I can’t even imagine what Erick must have gone through over the last few years dealing with what has happened,” Vail said. “The public scrutiny, the scrutiny by the office, his own personal conflicts with what has happened — it’s just terrible.”

Vail said his association fully backs Gelhaus’s actions the day he shot Lopez, and he acted within the scope of law.

“I don’t think anybody would have responded any differently based on their training experience,” he said.

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Sonoma County DA eases disputed body cam policy

Sonoma County DA eases disputed body cam policy

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Sonoma County D.A. clamps down on bodycam video access

 

Sonoma County District Attorney clamps down on body cam footage, riling defense lawyers
PAUL PAYNE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | July 13, 2016, 6:49PM

Defense attorneys and First Amendment activists are assailing a move by Sonoma County prosecutors to prevent the disclosure of police body camera recordings to the general public, saying it hampers accountability and transparency at a time of increased scrutiny of officer-involved incidents.

The District Attorney’s Office is now requiring criminal defense lawyers to sign an agreement before receiving body-and dash-cam recordings, promising, among other things, not to upload the videos to the internet.

District Attorney Jill Ravitch said the stipulations are meant to protect the privacy of uninvolved third parties including victims and children, whose images are sometimes recorded by the cameras.

Also, she said they will ensure the integrity of the legal process, which could be threatened by the release of “so much information through the body camera process.”

“We’re all trying to catch up to technology,” Ravitch said. “But we’re not trying to hide anything.”

But critics are crying foul, saying the blanket requirement is an attack on due-process rights and runs counter to public support for body cameras in the first place.

Catherine Wagner, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said protective orders should be sought on a case-by-case basis and granted only in rare instances such as an interview with a child sex-assault victim.

Otherwise, the records should remain open, especially if they involve allegations of police wrongdoing or use of force, Wagner said.

She called Ravitch’s policy “troubling.”

“It seems to me the effort from this particular district attorney to prevent the footage from getting out is another stumbling block to realizing the public’s interest in having body cameras at all,” Wagner said.

Some defense lawyers are refusing to sign, forcing judges to intervene and delaying the outcome of cases. Legal challenges could rise to higher courts.

Meanwhile, members of the county’s private defense bar have requested a meeting next week with Ravitch to air their concerns.

“It’s just one more mechanism to keep everything hush-hush,” said Santa Rosa attorney Ryan Wilber, who is seeking a police recording in a client’s drunken-driving case.

Another defense attorney, Walter Rubenstein, said prosecutors are allowing private lawyers to view videos without a signed order. But they must do it in the District Attorney’s Office and cannot take a copy, he said.

Rubenstein said in light of recent police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana, it “seems like the wrong time to do that.”

“People are calling for more transparency,” said Rubenstein, a board member of the Sonoma County Bar Association representing the criminal law section. “We should have a thoughtful, in-depth discussion about this.”

The prosecutor’s body cam agreement is part of an emerging area of the law and appears modeled on policies in Napa County and by the San Diego City Attorney’s Office. It is not clear how many other jurisdictions have followed suit.

In Sonoma County, it comes amid the release of several controversial police videos posted on the internet. In one, defense attorneys posted video of correctional deputies in the county jail shooting a man with Taser weapons in a brutality case that settled for $1.25 million. More recently, the Sheriff’s Office posted video of the arrest of a Petaluma teenager, Gabbi Lemos, that is the subject of ongoing criminal and civil litigation.

Under the law, prosecutors are required to turn over all evidence supporting criminal charges, including videos. Defense attorneys are barred from publicly disseminating information identifying victims or witnesses in things like police reports, 911 tapes or lab results. They also may not publish information subject to a judge’s protective order.

Ravitch said body camera videos should be treated the same way to ensure victims’ privacy rights.

Related Stories

PD Editorial: Lawmakers do little to protect public right to body cam videos

PD Editorial: A rolling debate: who controls body camera video?

Videos show confrontation between Petaluma teen, sheriff’s deputy
“We’re not preventing defendants from using this information in presenting their case,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Scott Jamar said. “The only thing we’re asking is that the statutory privacy rights of the victims and witnesses be protected and not disclosed for an unauthorized purpose, unrelated to the criminal prosecution.”

The stipulation contains seven provisions, including a ban on downloading videos onto any website. Also, it says the recording can’t be used in any other case, such as a civil lawsuit, and requires videos be returned to prosecutors within 90 days of a case’s resolution.

It is valid only after it is signed by both sides and approved by a judge.

Ravitch said it was rolled out earlier this year after being vetted by the court and Public Defender Kathleen Pozzi, who initially lent partial support to protect her clients’ privacy. Pozzi has since instructed her attorneys not to agree to certain provisions, including the return portion.

“Upon further research I feel she can’t do a protective order across the board on every case,” Pozzi said.

She said she would continue to discuss the issue with Ravitch to seek refinements.

The private defense bar was not consulted, Ravitch said.

The policy does not prevent defendants from seeking copies of videos directly from police agencies, she said.

“I think social media is being used more and more to litigate cases rather than presenting cases in a courtroom,” Ravitch said. “I’m trying to protect the privacy interests of those who should not be dragged into the public arena.”

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ppayne.

 

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Four join lawsuit claiming beatings at Sonoma County jail

PAUL PAYNE

Four more men have joined a federal civil rights lawsuit claiming they were beaten last year while inmates of the Sonoma County jail.

Their addition brings to six the number of men seeking damages from the county, Sheriff Steve Freitas and about a dozen correctional deputies allegedly involved in the May 28 incident.

Like the others, the former inmates of a jail high-security wing claim they were punched, kicked and thrown to the ground after complaining about the rough treatment of another inmate who refused to get out of bed.

Their lawyer, Izaak Schwaiger, said up to 20 inmates were beaten in a continuous round of assaults known as “yard counseling” that occurred over 5½ hours. He released two videos taken by guards that he said shows a portion of the violence.

Freitas has denied any wrongdoing, saying deputies were responding to a coordinated mass disturbance that threatened staff and inmate security.

U.S. District Court Judge James Donato will hear oral arguments Wednesday from county attorneys seeking to dismiss the case.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ppayne.

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Former Santa Rosa Jail inmates file lawsuit against sheriff over beating

http://abc7news.com/news/exclusive-former-santa-rosa-jail-inmates-file-lawsuit-against-sheriff-over-beating/1276469/

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Judge presses Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office on charging teen who sued

PAUL PAYNE

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Sonoma officials accused of retaliation in police brutality case

Gabrielle Lemos came away from an encounter with a sheriff’s deputy with swelling and bruising on her face.

Kimberly Veklerov

San Francisco Chronicle | March 21, 2016, 4:50PM

A Petaluma woman who suffered facial swelling, bruising and black eyes from an encounter with a sheriff’s deputy is accusing the Sonoma County district attorney’s office of retaliating against her for filing an excessive force claim.

The “unusual case and unusual proceeding,” as a judge called it last week, could put Sonoma County prosecutors on the witness stand as they answer for why they charged the woman, 19-year-old Gabrielle Lemos, with resisting arrest one day after she filed her lawsuit against the county — and weeks after they initially declined to file charges.

At issue is whether the misdemeanor charge against Lemos amounts to vindictive prosecution. While the criminal charge is pending, she cannot proceed with the civil suit she filed in federal court, according to her attorney, Izaak Schwaiger, who called the district attorney’s move to charge “unethical” and “a desperation play.”

Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch — who was not directly involved in the decision to charge Lemos — said the vindictive prosecution allegation, filed in Sonoma County Superior Court in response to the charge, was “baseless.”

The case dates back to June 13, the night of a party for Lemos celebrating her graduation from Petaluma High School, when she got between a sheriff’s deputy and one of her sisters, Karli Labruzzi.

The deputy, Marcus Holton, pulled up to the Lemos family home to investigate a possible domestic violence situation involving Labruzzi and her boyfriend, who were sitting outside the house in a truck. Holton questioned the boyfriend outside the vehicle and then, according to the federal complaint, dragged Labruzzi off the passenger’s seat.

Lemos ran up to Holton and said her sister’s rights were violated by being yanked out of the truck without cause, and demanded that a female officer be present, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit alleges that Holton then shoved Lemos backward and told her that no one else was coming. Family members tried to defuse the situation, and Lemos’ mother told her to get back inside the house.

But as Lemos was walking up the driveway toward the house, the lawsuit said, Holton grabbed her from behind, put her in a choke hold, then lifted her off the ground and tossed her face-first onto the driveway.

“Deputy Holton put his knee in the back of Gabbi’s head and began grinding her face into the gravel, despite her screams and her family’s pleas to stop,” the complaint alleged. “Deputy Holton yelled ‘Stop resisting!’ as blood pooled on the ground under Gabbi’s face.”

Deputy’s rebuttal

In court filings, Holton’s attorneys denied the characterization of the altercation.

Lemos was handcuffed, transported to a hospital, then jailed on suspicion of resisting arrest and battery on a peace officer.

Photos taken at the hospital and in the following days showed swelling and bruising to Lemos’ face.

Holton, who previously came under fire for shooting a man in 2011 because he suspected the man was reaching into his waistband for a weapon, remains on patrol as a deputy.

After three court appearances, the district attorney’s office declined to charge Lemos. In September, she was told the case had been rejected for filing.

But on Nov. 13, the day after Lemos filed her federal complaint — which named the county, the sheriff and Holton as defendants — the district attorney’s office filed one misdemeanor count of resisting arrest against her, putting the civil case on ice, Schwaiger said.

Ravitch said that members of her office made the decision to charge Lemos in early October and that there is a paper trail to back it up.

But Schwaiger alleged the criminal charge was a direct response to his client’s excessive-force complaint and not based on further investigation. The district attorney’s office admitted it received all the evidence in August.

“There’s no other possible reason,” Schwaiger said. “They had to reverse-engineer some justification.”

Judge’s action

Last week, as first reported by the Press Democrat of Santa Rosa, a Sonoma County Superior Court judge heard arguments in the vindictive prosecution claim, which the district attorney’s office attempted to quash out of concern that prosecutors’ work-product privilege would be violated if they were forced to testify.

Judge Gary Medvigy on Wednesday decided to allow prosecutors to testify under subpoena for why they charged Lemos when they did, saying the timing of their actions can’t be ignored.

“It’s a question of fact as to when the decision was made by the D.A.’s office, and why it was made, because that’s the crux of the defense motion, that it was made for vindictive purpose,” Medvigy said, according to a transcript of the hearing. “So I’m going to hear the evidence. I’m going to pierce the privilege.”

The district attorney’s office is now appealing Medvigy’s decision to a three-judge Sonoma County panel.

The proceedings have the potential to set a legal precedent in the county for the degree to which prosecutors can retain their work-product privilege, which shields materials attorneys use to prepare for litigation.

The next hearing is scheduled for April 13.

Kimberly Veklerov is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: kveklerov@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @kveklerov

Read the original article here.

 

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