Police withhold videos despite vows of transparency

But officers investigated in fatal shootings are routinely given access to body camera footage

Kimberly Kindy, Julie Tate

The Washington Post

Published Oct. 8, 2015

Autumn Steele and her husband, Gabriel, were fighting again, so he called 911. A police officer sped to their home, pulled out his gun and then — frightened by the family dog — opened fire, killing Autumn with a bullet to her chest.

Since the Jan. 6 shooting, Steele’s family has battled police in Burlington, Iowa, to see 28 minutes of body camera video recorded by the two officers who responded that day. Police have declared the videos confidential, saying the shooting was tragic but reasonable, given that the dog “attacked.” State investigators have released a 12-second clip from the videos, but Steele’s relatives say it raises more questions than it answers.

“I deserve to know what happened to my daughter. The public deserves to know,” said Steele’s mother, Gail Colbert. “How can they keep this from us?”

In the turbulent year since Michael Brown’s death sparked protests in Ferguson, Mo., and beyond, politicians, law enforcement officials and community activists have seized on body cameras as a vital reform capable of restoring transparency and trust to police interactions with the public. But in Burlington and elsewhere around the country, police and other officials are routinely blocking the release of body camera videos while giving officers accused of wrongdoing special access to the footage.

Nationwide, police have shot and killed 760 people since January, according to a Washington Post database tracking every fatal shooting. Of those, The Post has found 49 incidents captured by body camera, or about 6 percent.

Just 21 of those videos — less than half — have been publicly released. And in several of those cases, the footage, as in Burlington, was severely cut or otherwise edited.

Meanwhile, virtually all of the 36 departments involved in those shootings have permitted their officers to view the videos before giving statements to investigators, The Post found. Civil and human rights groups fear that access could help rogue officers tailor their stories to obscure misconduct and avoid prosecution.

“What point is there of even doing this if they are going to be treated this way? Why even spend the money on these cameras?” said Burlington Mayor Shane McCampbell, who has called on police to release video of the Steele shooting. He noted that police promised greater openness last year when they petitioned the city to buy body cameras.

If the videos “are going to be a secret, no one is being held accountable,” McCampbell said. “And that was the point.”

While individual police departments are adopting rules on the local level, police chiefs and unions are lobbying state officials to enshrine favorable policies into law. In 36 states and the District this year, lawmakers introduced legislation to create statewide rules governing the use of body cameras, often with the goal of increasing transparency.

Of 138 bills, 20 were enacted, The Post found. Eight of those expanded the use of body cameras. However, 10 set up legal roadblocks to public access in states such as Florida, South Carolina and Texas. And most died after police chiefs and unions mounted fierce campaigns against them.

Police officials defend that effort, saying overly lax rules could end up helping criminals. Jury pools could be tainted by the general release of video evidence, making it difficult to win convictions. Eyewitnesses and informants may be reluctant to come forward if there’s a chance they were caught on a video that may be publicly released. Other people caught on camera may file lawsuits claiming that police violated their right to privacy.

“If you have a kid who drank too much on his 21st birthday and the police are called, do you really want video of that kid, sick and throwing up, to be on YouTube for the rest of his life?” said Richard Beary, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and chief of the University of Central Florida’s police force.

Those arguments prevailed in Los Angeles this spring, when the city’s police commission adopted one of the most restrictive policies in the nation. Now, anyone who wants a body camera video from the Los Angeles Police Department will likely have to ask for it in court.

“A judge should be making this decision,” said Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the local police union. “They can listen to all sides of the argument, weigh everyone’s interests and determine if there really is a public interest at stake.”

Civil rights organizations say policies that restrict access subvert the promise of body cameras.

“If police departments and law enforcement become the sole arbiters of what video the public gets to see, body cameras will go from being a transparency and accountability tool to a surveillance and propaganda tool,” said Chad Marlow, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. “Are we going to let that happen?”

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Federal lawsuit over county jail beatings

When:  October 6, 2015 – Tuesday @ 11am

Where: Law Office of Izaak Schwaiger,

527Mendocino Ave. Ste. B

Santa Rosa, CA 95401

 Federal Complaint Charges Sheriff
Freitas & Sonoma County With five-hour Hour Beating and Torture
of Dozens of Inmates in Sonoma County Jail.

Demand Made for Immediate Federal Intervention.

Press kit distributed at Press Conference will include endorsed copies of the filed
complaint, detailed, handwritten letters by inmates beaten
and tortured in the May 28th incident, and a
letter to the Sonoma County District Attorney seeking a
criminal investigation into the events.

Inmate letters will be read aloud by family members of the
victims. ******
****** A federal complaint filed today (10/6) by the Law Office of Izaak Schwaiger
on behalf of two Sonoma County men charges the County of
Sonoma, Sheriff Steve Freitas, and other named Deputies with
violations of the U.S. Constitution for heinous and
inexplicable beatings of more than twenty inmates on May 28,
2015 in the Sonoma County Main Adult Detention Facility in
Santa Rosa, CA.

The allegations set forth in the complaint describe in minute specificity
the unconscionable events of May 28th, perpetrated by Sonoma County Deputy Sheriffs and ratified by Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas.

“They grabbed Montes and threw him to the ground, handcuffed him,
then slammed his head into the floor, striking several rapid
and violent blows about his head, shoulders, neck, and back.
One deputy kicked Montes in the head. Another deployed a
taser against the inmate. Deputies then removed Montes from
the unit to administer “yard-counseling,” a practice
that is common in the jail and routinely involves the
application of physical violence to inmates. Deputies
dressed in all black wearing ski masks dragged Montes to the
shower, ordered him to strip naked, and told the inmate he
was their “bitch.” While naked and defenseless, deputies
threw Montes to the ground and began another round of savage
beatings…” “…deputies then began a third round of violent beatings, punching and
kicking Lopez and smashing his face into the concrete. As
the beatings continued, the lieutenant told Lopez that he was to blame for the violence. Lopez cried that they were treating him worse than an animal. The response from the
deputies was swift. Lopez felt an unknown deputy punch the back of his neck and other
deputies began punching, kicking, and body-slamming Lopez to
the point of involuntary defecation. They placed shackles around Lopez’s feet and attached them through his handcuffs to a chain secured around his waist. A mask was
put over his head and Deputy Medeiros began bashing his face
into the floor. The deputies dragged Lopez to the mental
health unit and stripped him naked. Covered in his own
feces, Lopez pleaded for toilet paper. The deputies ignored
his pleas, laughed at him, and locked him naked in isolation
covered in his own feces for two days…”

“…Martinez repeatedly called for medical assistance for over an hour
with no response. Due to his injuries, he was unable to pick
himself up off the floor where the deputies left him. For
two more hours he listened to screams of pain and torture
from the other inmates as jail staff proceeded down the
tier, removing each individual from his cell and subjecting
him to similar beatings. Lying on the floor unable to move,
Martinez heard his door open again. Hoping that it was the
doctor, the inmate looked up just in time to see the SERT
team returning to his cell wearing all black, with their
nametags removed and ski masks covering their faces. They
entered his cell and attacked him with overwhelming force,
kicking, punching, and kneeing him and knocking his head
into the floor.  They called him a “bitch” and “a
piece of shit.” They spat on him and threatened to
continue the beatings if he were to ever yell out again…”

“While the housing module filled with the screams of other inmates,
Daniel Banks, lay face down on his mattress with his hands
behind his back. For hours he had listened to the beatings
all around him. He hoped that by his show of submission he
would avoid being beaten as well, but the deputies merely
saved him for last. His cell door opened and four deputies
wearing black entered the small cell. All but one was
wearing a ski mask. The four deputies jumped on top of him
and began kneeing and punching him in the back and wrenching
his arms above his head, causing him excruciating pain. The
deputies yelled, “stop resisting!” and smashed a pair of
handcuffs around his wrists, causing the metal to cut into
him and leaving him with bruising, swelling, permanent nerve
damage and pain. Though face down, Banks turned to see his
tormenters, and observed that one was not wearing a ski
mask. He brought his face close to Banks’ and yelled,
“That’s right – get a good look at me, you punk bitch
– This is our house!” and spit in his face. The deputies
brought Banks out of his cell, down the stairs, and into the
yard where the beating continued…”

Santa Rosa criminal defense and civil rights attorney Izaak Schwaiger
received more than twenty letters from inmates following the
beatings. A former prosecutor and Marine Corps veteran of
the Iraq War, Schwaiger called the systematic assaults on
the prisoners “gut-wrenching” and “beyond the pale.”
Schwaiger’s early investigation reveals that jail staff
videotaped a large portion of the beatings, and that those
videos are in the possession of the Sonoma County Sheriff.
“This is like a horror movie,” said Schwaiger. “And we
have reason to believe this was not an isolated
incident.” The complaint seeks unspecified damages and injunctive



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Forestville man seeks $3 million from Sonoma County in excessive force lawsuit

Santa Rosa Press Democrat report on lawsuit on behalf of Esa Wroth (includes video)

Further on Esa Wroth’s case — the report he filed with PACH Jan. 6, 2013, updated Jan. 21 and Jan. 26.

Time and place of Incident: 6 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, inside detention center at Sonoma County jail.

Name: Esa Wroth, Age 26, male

Race/Ethnicity white

Nature of Interaction: Arrested, booked, held at county jail till bailed out.

Victim charged with: Two felonies — assaulting custodial officer and resisting a superior officer, plus DUI.

Description of incident:

Wroth said he left a bar at 12:30 a.m. and was a passenger in a car that was involved in an accident in Forestville. He may have blacked out because he doesn’t recall what happened till he phoned a friend at 2:30 a.m.

(On 1-26-13 he said he now believes he did NOT black out after the accident and that CHP arrived shortly after the accident but he confirms that the driver of the car had left the scene by then. This doesn’t alter his account of the rest of the incident.)

The driver was not around when CHP officers showed up and administered a sobriety test to Wroth. He refused a breathalyzer test and was arrested. He said he was  beaten unconscious by cops in an unprovoked attack in the county detention center, taken to Sutter E.R. for his injuries, then back to jail where his rights were read to him and the felony charges were added to the DUI charge. He was dumped in a cell and woke up around noon. (See notes added 1-26 for clarification and further details).

He says the police report claims he was the driver of the car and the air bag deployed although he says he was not the driver and the car is a 1988 Volvo that doesn’t have air bags.

After bailing out, he went to urgent care on Sebastopol Road, which referred him to Santa Rosa Memorial for CT scan, which he got.

He had a court hearing Monday (1/7) and was assigned a public defender named Slater, with the next hearing scheduled Feb. 8. He’s trying to line up a private attorney.

He does not have the names of the people who beat him but is trying to get names of arresting officers from the police report. He believes the first officer who assaulted him was a CHP officer in dark uniform who kneed him  in the face but his memory is hazy due to the beating.  The others involved were sheriff’s personnel at the county jail. (After seeing the sheriff’s report, Wroth said he realizes it was not CHP who beat him but only sheriff’s personnel at the jail.)

He has documented his injuries, which include abrasions of the head and body, possible torn meniscus (knee), bruised and swollen face and painful swollen hands from handcuff neuropathy.

He believes the beating was recorded on video at the jail detention area and wants to get a copy of the video.

On Jan. 26, after seeing the sheriff’s department report, Wroth added the following details:

Six sheriff’s department officers and one medical personnel are mentioned in the report, which includes narratives from several of them describing the incident. The following account is an approximate rendering of the sheriff’s department report, as related by Wroth.

(Don’t have rank or specific description of the officers’ affiliation but believe they are all part of County Jail correctional staff.)

Eduardo Espino Jr. – Wroth said, “He claims I tried to bite his shin. He reports kneeing me in the neck, face and shoulder two or three times. His knee to my face was the last thing I remember till I woke up in a cell six hours later.” Wroth has learned there is a lawsuit pending against Espino by Eric  James Baker, who alleges he was beaten at the jail by Espino in an earlier incident.

Brian R. Gallaway – His report says he used up all his taser cartridges on Wroth, reloaded with cartridge from another deputy (Scott Rivers) and tased him again. Wroth was unaware that he had been tased until he read the report.

Scott Rivers – Handed his taser cartridge to Gallaway.

Michael Skinner – Also used taser on Wroth.

  1. Flores – Lengthy narrative of administering pat search of Wroth, ordering him to face the wall and not to turn around . . . “Wroth refused by looking down at me while I searched him for contraband . . . Deputy Espino was assisting me . . . “ His account claims that Wroth continued resisting and grabbed a monitor “and attempted to tuck the monitor under his stomach  . . . [and I] threw him down.” Wroth remembers Flores as the officer who threw him down and initiated the beating in which other officers participated. He said he received punches to his torso and kneeing to his head and is currently undergoing physical therapy for his hands and shoulders (the shoulder injuries complicated by prior rotator cuff ailment).

Natasha Cole – Filmed the incident for sheriff’s department.

Bogart (no first name) – Medical person who observed the incident.

Espino, Gallaway, Rivers and Skinner all have narrative accounts in the sheriff’s dept. report.

As reported earlier, sheriff’s personnel called an  ambulance that took Wroth to E.R. at Sutter Hospital. He was then returned to a cell at the jail (M.A.D.F.).

Follow-up: Wroth plans to meet with public defender Jan. 30 and has court date Feb. 8. He said he has been offered a plea deal which calls for four months in jail and  unspecified “restitution.” He says he will reject the deal and go to trial. He said he has been refused access to the video of the incident on the grounds it is part of the evidence in the case.

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Rohnert Park officer pulls gun on cop watcher

See the original post on YouTube here.

Posted in PACH | Leave a comment

ACLU Know Your Rights

In response to the Sandra Bland case, AOL is running a know-your-rights message couched as advice on how to deal with cops to avoid getting killed. The advice is pretty much standard K-Y-R as circulated by the ACLU.

The AOL piece is attributed to “ACLU lawyer Jason Williamson” without further identification. A google search shows that Jason Williamson is a staff attorney with the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project, with an expertise on unreasonable search and seizure, police practices and indigent defense reform.


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Deputies’ depositions fill in details in Andy Lopez shooting

Now that criminal investigators have cleared a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy in the shooting death of 13-year-old Andy Lopez, the focus shifts to the family’s civil lawsuit and the pursuit of millions of dollars in damages.

Recently released depositions of the deputy, Erick Gelhaus, and his partner, Michael Schemmel, provide more detail than ever about the moments before Lopez was killed in 2013 as he walked along a Santa Rosa street with an airsoft BB gun resembling an assault rifle.

Both sides maintain the accounts work in their favor. The county’s lawyers say the depositions support a conclusion that the deputies acted out of a reasonable fear they could be shot by a gun-toting man.

But the family’s attorney says the statements highlight important factual discrepancies. For example, Gelhaus said Lopez carried the gun in his left hand; Schemmel said it was in his right. Also, Schemmel said Lopez turned and kept walking when Schemmel “chirped” his siren. Gelhaus recalls him turning only once before Gelhaus shot him seven times.

Arnoldo Casillas, the Lopez family attorney, also said the depositions show an evolution in the deputies’ accounts. Just after the shooting, both described Lopez as a “man” but now appear to refer to him as a teenager, Casillas said.

He accused them of changing their story because jurors won’t buy the idea that someone with Lopez’s small stature could be mistaken for an adult.

“Their scripted and well-polished version of events is inconsistent with physical evidence as well as eyewitness accounts,” Casillas said. “They have to acknowledge he was a boy.”

Attorney Steven Mitchell, who represents the county and Gelhaus, denied that the deputies altered their accounts. They continued to maintain Lopez was an adult and estimated only after the shooting he was in his mid-to-late teens, Mitchell said.

Any factual differences were insignificant, he said.

“The similarities are much more important,” Mitchell said. “They both see what they absolutely perceive to be an AK-47. They see Lopez turn and the gun coming up. Those are the critical factors.”

The depositions, taken in April by Casillas, were released following a public records request by The Press Democrat. They could be introduced at trial, set for April 2016.

The Lopez family maintains in the federal lawsuit that Gelhaus acted recklessly in shooting Lopez and faults the Sheriff’s Office for “encouraging, accommodating or ratifying” the use of deadly force.

Schemmel is not named in the lawsuit.

It remains on track despite Wednesday’s announcement from the Sheriff’s Office that a federal review found no violations of Lopez’s civil rights. The Justice Department findings mirror local reviews concluding Gelhaus didn’t violate state law or Sheriff’s Office policies.

Casillas said the lack of criminal charges will have no bearing on the civil case, citing a lower standard of proof. Two years ago, Casillas won $24 million for the family of a Los Angeles boy who was shot and paralyzed by police while playing with an airsoft gun.

Casillas’ deposition of Schemmel on April 27 and Gelhaus the following day filled about 430 pages. Portions relating to confidential information were redacted.

Both deputies were asked about their careers and training. Schemmel, then 41, worked as a Concord police officer and Marin County sheriff’s deputy before being hired as a Sonoma County deputy weeks before the shooting.

Gelhaus, 50, said he had been a Sonoma County deputy for 23 years at the time of the shooting. The onetime range master and field training officer was described as having a reputation for being a “challenging” trainer. He said he instructed deputies and trainees on use-of-force issues within a month of the deposition.

Gelhaus was grilled about his participation in the Arizona-based Gunsite Academy and his interest in its late founder, Jeff Cooper, who has been criticized for comments about Los Angeles being a “Third World country formerly occupied by Americans.”

Gelhaus also was questioned about a bumper sticker he removed from his car that played on the popular “coexist” sticker. In the place of religious symbols, the sticker featured crosshairs and a skull and crossbones.

Gelhaus denied it suggested racial intolerance, calling it personal commentary against radical Islam. He served in the National Guard in Iraq in 2005.

Each deputy recounted the shooting, which happened Oct. 22, 2013, in southwest Santa Rosa as they were driving to a coffee break.

Schemmel said Gelhaus was the first to spot Lopez with his back to them on the sidewalk and called attention to his gun in a loud tone of voice.

“Do you see that?” Schemmel said Gelhaus asked him.

The younger deputy acknowledged Gelhaus and quickly pulled their car north across West Robles Avenue to a spot in the southbound lane of Moorland Avenue, about 65 feet behind Lopez.

Schemmel said he saw the side of Lopez’s face when he turned in response to the siren chirp but could not tell exactly how old he was before Lopez kept walking.

Gelhaus didn’t recall the chirp, although it was captured on a recording of his call to dispatchers.

Moments later, Gelhaus was out of the car with his gun drawn, yelling at Lopez to drop the gun, both said.

Gelhaus said he started firing a “couple of seconds” after he made the command and Lopez started to turn.

Asked if he ever wondered why Schemmel didn’t shoot, Gelhaus responded that he did “for a few seconds” before realizing his partner was focused on parking the car.

“I had fewer tasks to perform on my side of the car, so I was farther ahead of him,” Gelhaus said.

Both said they walked up to Lopez’s body. Gelhaus put handcuffs on him as he lay on the ground, Schemmel said.

Schemmel recalled being sequestered after the shooting in a hotel room, apart from Gelhaus. Both gave statements to Santa Rosa police officers who led an investigation under a protocol for officer-involved incidents.

About a year later, Schemmel said, the two deputies met for coffee and talked about what happened. Schemmel said he started the conversation by thanking Gelhaus for “saving my life.”

“The threat was serious and it was real, and I was scared,” Schemmel said.

Mitchell, the county attorney, downplayed a suggestion that Gelhaus criticized Schemmel for driving too close to Lopez and hitting the siren, forcing a confrontation. Mitchell said the 25-year law enforcement and Iraq War veteran was concerned they could be exposed to automatic gunfire, although Gelhaus declined to complain about Schemmel when asked by the Lopez family’s lawyer.

Mitchell said the candid statements, including an admission from Gelhaus that he cried several times and feared he would be prosecuted, support a conclusion the shooting was legally justified.

“They honestly, and with a lot of professionalism and composure, answered the questions under tough circumstances,” Mitchell said. “If need be, they’ll do it at trial.”

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

Source Press Democrat: http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/4138310-181/deputies-depositions-fill-in-details?page=0

Posted in Erick Gelhaus, Michael Schemmel, PACH, Sonoma County Sheriffs | Leave a comment

Karen Janks shot by Windsor Deputies in Sebastopol

Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies shot a wrong-way driver who rammed three deputies in a Sebastopol parking lot after a high-speed chase that started Wednesday night when she was spotted driving in reverse on Highway 101 in Windsor, authorities said.

The driver, who police identified as Karen Janks, 46, was shot an unknown number of times and was undergoing treatment at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, sheriff’s Lt. Darin Dougherty said. Police officials Thursday morning described her injuries as life-threatening.

Two deputies struck by the car suffered minor injuries and a third was treated and released from a hospital. No further information on their conditions was available.

Santa Rosa Police Lt. Rainer Navarro said Janks was a transient from elsewhere in the Bay Area, and that it was unclear what brought her to Sonoma County.

“The driver was driving erratically upward of 100 mph on the highway,” Navarro said. “At one point she was driving backwards, which is dangerous in itself.”

The deputies who shot at the woman are assigned to the Windsor Police Department, which contracts with the Sheriff’s Office to provide police services. The deputies were identified by the Sheriff’s Office as Joel Pedersen, James Falberg, Lawrence Matelli, and Daniel Edwards. Pedersen is a 24-year veteran of the department and Falberg has been with the Sheriff’s Office for nine years. Both Matelli and Edwards were hired from other law enforcement agencies, Matelli three years ago and Edwards one-and-a-half years ago, spokeswoman Sgt. Cecile Focha said.

Thursday morning, yellow police tape cordoned off a large area where Old Gravenstein Highway meets Highway 116. The Sonoma County sheriff’s helicopter buzzed above, taking aerial photographs of the scene. The shooting occurred in a parking lot of a business park behind the Antique Society.

The incident began at 11:46 p.m. Wednesday when a 911 caller reported seeing an Infiniti sedan driving in reverse on Highway 101 near Windsor, Navarro said. The caller said the 1996 car was traveling south in the northbound lanes and then made a U-turn and exited the highway in Windsor.

Five minutes later, a deputy saw an Infiniti run a red light on Old Redwood Highway near Starr Road in Windsor and tried to pull the driver over, Dougherty said. The motorist didn’t stop, speeding away on Highway 101.

The deputy pursued the car as it headed south, called for backup and alerted the Santa Rosa Police Department and CHP.

“At one point the deputies tried to use a spike strip (to stop her), but that was unsuccessful,” Navarro said.

With lights flashing and sirens sounding, deputies followed the Infiniti off the highway at Todd Road and continued on the rural route from southwest Santa Rosa to the Sebastopol area. The road narrows, with deep culverts on each side instead of shoulders, and includes straightaways and sharp 90-degree turns among cow pastures.

The driver turned right on Old Gravenstein Highway, turned into the business park parking lot of 2661 Gravenstein Highway and stopped, Navarro said. Deputies reported to dispatchers the “termination of pursuit,” meaning the vehicle pulled into the parking lot and stopped, at 12:06 a.m., Navarro said. The Sheriff’s Office requested an ambulance respond to the area at 12:07 a.m., emergency dispatchers said.

The deputies ordered the driver, who was the only one in the car, to surrender, officials said.

“She put the vehicle in reverse and struck the deputies, knocked them to the ground,” and also hit a patrol car, Navarro said.

Multiple deputies fired several rounds into the vehicle, hitting her an unspecified number of times.

“The vehicle stopped and the deputies pulled the driver out of the vehicle and tried to administer first aid and CPR,” Navarro said.

An ambulance crew took the woman to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital at 12:23 a.m., according to police and emergency dispatch reports.

Navarro said he did not yet know if any of the deputies who fired their weapons were also the ones struck by the driver.

He asked anyone with information about Janks, the car she was driving or the case to call 707-543-3590.

The Santa Rosa Police Department’s violent crimes team was brought in to investigate the shooting because of the countywide protocol that calls for another area law enforcement agency to investigate officer-involved shootings. Sonoma County District Attorney investigators were also at the scene, Navarro said.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

Source: http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/3841197-181/wild-chase-of-wrong-way-highway

Posted in Daniel Edwards, James Falberg, Joel Pedersen, Lawrence Matelli, Sonoma County Sheriffs | Leave a comment

Videotape shows Deputy Charles Blount Pulling Celeste Moon to Ground by Her Neck

A videotaped confrontation between a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy and a 51-year-old woman suspected of jaywalking casts doubt on the deputy’s sworn statement about what happened and underscores the need for police cameras, the woman’s lawyer said Friday.

The 30-second video of the Jan. 23 incident near downtown Santa Rosa was taken shortly after Celeste Moon allegedly bolted across College Avenue at Humboldt Street and ran from the deputy.

It picks up after Moon is stopped a short distance away by Deputy Charles Blount, who is seen standing behind her. They talk for a moment before Blount puts an arm around her neck and throws her to the ground.

The video, taken by a neighbor, contradicts Blount’s court testimony earlier this week that he placed both of his hands on Moon’s shoulders and pushed her down, said Moon’s lawyer, Izaak Schwaiger. The 17-year law enforcement veteran did not know the video existed before testifying before Judge Jamie Thistlethwaite, Schwaiger said.

The judge on Friday declined to dismiss the case or make a ruling on the deputy’s honesty. But she directed prosecutors to consider whether the gap between his testimony and the video affects the deputy’s credibility.

The case illustrates the importance of video in an age of heightened police scrutiny over the use of force, Schwaiger said. He will return to court next week to set a trial date.

“But for this video, Celeste Moon would be convicted of this crime,” said Schwaiger.

A sheriff’s spokeswoman said she has not seen the video and assumes that Blount testified to the best of his recollection. She said the Sheriff’s Office has not received a complaint about the incident from Moon.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell said his office requested a transcript of the hearing and would review the deputy’s testimony.

“We are looking at it,” Staebell said Friday. “We’re aware of it. We’re aware of the court’s comments.”

A transcript of the hearing was not available Friday.

Moon, a single mother and Santa Rosa Junior College student, said she was walking home from culinary school classes around 4:45 p.m. when the confrontation occurred.

She was crossing College Avenue toward Cherry Street when she heard a voice behind her telling her she needed to wait for the light to change, Schwaiger said. The woman, who claims people yell at her frequently when she is walking, shouted back an obscenity and continued across, Schwaiger said.

“She doesn’t know he’s a cop,” the lawyer said.

She became scared and started running when she heard a car door open and the sound of someone getting out and coming after her, Schwaiger said.

Moon continued running until the deputy caught up with her and tried to put handcuffs on her, the lawyer said.

The video, apparently taken from the second floor of a nearby building, shows the two from the shoulders up, standing next to some trash cans.

Moon can be heard complaining to the deputy, “You’re going to pull my arms out! You’re going to hurt my arms!”

The deputy then slips an arm around her neck, putting her in a headlock, before tugging her backward. They fall out of view.

Moon’s loud screams are captured on audio. “Help!” she yells several times.

Five police vehicles were called in for backup and Moon was hauled off to jail, Schwaiger said. She was charged with jaywalking and resisting arrest.

He said the deputy’s overreaction was compounded by his mischaracterization of what happened. The judge played the video three times after Blount testified during an evidence hearing, Schwaiger said.

“It’s inexplicable,” Schwaiger said. “How do we get from jaywalking to this? Is there no other way to get control of a 51-year-old disabled woman other than grabbing her by the neck and body-slamming her to the ground?”

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

Source: http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/3815972-181/video-casts-new-light-on

Posted in Abuse Reports, Charles Blount, Sonoma County Sheriffs | Leave a comment

Family of Glenn Swindell Suing Sonoma County

The family of a Santa Rosa man who killed himself last year during an armed standoff with Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies sued the county Friday in federal court, alleging an unwarranted, militarized assault on his home forced him to take his own life.

Glenn Swindell, a 39-year-old grocery store employee, shot himself at the end of a nearly 12-hour siege that began when his wife called 911 May 16 to report he had locked himself in the Manka Circle house with their two young children after the couple had an argument.

Dozens of deputies, including a SWAT team with an armored vehicle, descended on Swindell’s home and remained for hours after he released the kids and refused to come out. He committed suicide sometime the next morning when deputies filled the attic he was hiding in with tear gas and other chemical irritants, causing him extreme suffering, the lawsuit says.

The suit claims deputies overreacted after reading what they thought were anti-law enforcement statements on Swindell’s Facebook page and learning he had two legally registered guns. It alleges authorities violated his right to free speech, to bear arms and to be protected from illegal search.

“They were going after him for who he was,” said his younger brother Rick Swindell, who flew in from Arizona to announce the suit. “That’s the problem here. They pushed him into a corner where he had to kill himself.”

He and other family members are seeking unspecified damages for pain and suffering as well as punitive damages to make an example of deputies who they claim punish people for asserting their rights.

Swindell’s widow, Sarah, 30, his brother and mother Deborah Belka of Bellingham, Wash., held a 1 p.m. news conference after filing the suit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. The family’s lawyer, Arnoldo Casillas, also represents the parents of 13-year-old Andy Lopez, the Santa Rosa youth who was killed by a sheriff’s deputy as he walked down a street with an airsoft gun designed to look like an assault rifle.

The Lopez family is reportedly seeking millions of dollars in their wrongful death suit against the county and Deputy Erick Gelhaus. A trial is scheduled for some time next year.

Sarah Swindell is represented by her own lawyer, Sebastopol attorney and Lopez activist Jonathan Melrod.

Sheriff’s officials and county lawyers declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Lt. Mark Essick previously denied any wrongdoing, saying deputies were bound by policy to arrest Swindell after receiving a report of domestic violence with guns in the house.

Essick said deputies were acting on a report from the wife that Swindell attacked her before barricading himself inside. The wife said this week the dispute was only verbal.

When he wouldn’t come out, deputies and SWAT team officers tried to talk to Swindell by phone and loudspeaker and brought in a hostage negotiator.

At some point, he used a cellphone to call his mother, talking to her for more than an hour. But he wouldn’t surrender, in part because he feared being killed by deputies “just like Andy Lopez,” she said.

“He just wanted them to go away,” his mother said.

As the standoff wore on, authorities set off flash grenades and fired tear gas into the home through broken windows. Eventually, they used the armored truck to break down the front and garage doors and go inside.

Swindell was found dead in the attic with a gun beside his body.

His mother said deputies created a situation where he was forced to shoot himself.

“It was a gas chamber up there,” Belka said. “He was suffering from all the chemicals.”

Swindell had no mental health issues and wasn’t suicidal but may have suffered a kind of post-traumatic stress from a car crash, his family said.

His Facebook page contained a comment that Americans are seven times more likely to die from police violence than terrorism, but he was not a paranoid person or a conspiracy theorist, his brother said.

His mother had previously said that Glenn Swindell spent a year off work following a car accident and had started following Infowars.com, a website operated by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. In the same interview, however, she stressed that her son “was not a violent man.”

His family on Thursday said Swindell was a family man and longtime Safeway employee who enjoyed gardening and fixing up the house he and his wife bought in a foreclosure sale in 2009.

His dreams were shattered by the fateful encounter with deputies, his wife said.

In addition to her husband’s death, she said their home suffered about $300,000 in damage, including broken windows and doors and contamination from chemicals.

She recalled walking back into the damaged house the day after her husband died. On the kitchen counter, beside two bowls used by her kids for ice cream, was a pamphlet of the Bill of Rights that her husband kept in a drawer.

“He must have been looking at it going, ‘What do I do?’ ” she said as she thumbed through the pages. “He wasn’t going to walk out into a war zone with these guys all pointing guns at him.”

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


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Bernard Norton Jr. alleges racial profiling and excessive force by SRPD

A Santa Rosa man has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit saying he was beaten by police after being stopped near Stony Point Road last year for “driving while black.”

Bernard Norton Jr., 47, alleges racial profiling and excessive force in the incident that he said left him battered and a nervous wreck.

“Everywhere I go, when I see the police, I literally have an anxiety attack,” Norton said. “I am in fear of my life. My other black friends in Santa Rosa feel the same way.”

The ex-convict said he was driving home from a Mexican restaurant with his girlfriend the afternoon of Jan. 18, 2014, when he made eye contact with a Santa Rosa police officer driving in the opposite direction.

The officer turned around and followed Norton’s 1991 Chevy Suburban for several blocks, passing him when Norton pulled to the side of the road in anticipation of a traffic stop. Norton continued north on Stony Point, turning onto Jennings Avenue. He looked in his rearview mirror and saw the same patrol car coming up behind him, he said.

He pulled over again, but this time got out of his car and asked the officer, “Why are you harassing me?” the lawsuit said.

The officer responded by pulling his gun, handcuffing him and throwing him to the ground, causing him to hit his head, the suit said. Norton was taken to the hospital for treatment of his injuries before he was charged.

Another officer pinned his feet to his back before Norton was dragged to a patrol car, he said.

No video was made of the arrest but one of the officers made an audio recording, which was posted on YouTube. It was unclear why the officer made the recording.

Norton was charged with delaying an officer. The case went to trial and ended in a hung jury.

In his federal lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, Norton is seeking $700,000 to cover back and head injuries as well as punitive damages.

The suit names the city and the police department, claiming inadequate training in the use of force and to prevent racial profiling.

Assistant City Attorney John Fritsch denied the allegations Monday. He said the city would be filing a written response to Norton’s claims.

Acting Police Chief Hank Schreeder could not be reached Monday or Tuesday for comment.

Meanwhile, Norton, who says he’s been pulled over at least six times and never received a ticket, said officers show a “deliberate indifference” to constitutional rights.

He said he served prison time from 2004 to 2007 for drug offenses but was not on parole at the time and didn’t break traffic laws.

“The bottom line is, they are racially profiling me,” Norton said.

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

Source: http://www.pressdemocrat.com/home/3337473-181/santa-rosa-man-files-civil?page=0

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