Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Month: July 2017

A Tale of Twin Cities

On July 6, 2016, Philando Castile was shot driving while Black outside of St. Paul, Minneapolis. Officer Jeronimo Yanez shot him five (5) times. Philando’s murder was witnessed by his girlfriend and his 4-year-old daughter in the back seat.

Credit: Stephen Govel Star Tribune

Fast forward to June 16, 2017.  A Minneapolis jury acquits Officer Yanez of Philando’s murder. On July 15, 2017, barely a month later, Minneapolis police officer Mohammad Noor shoots Justine Damond, a White woman from Australia.  Ms. Damond calls the police to report a possible rape occurring outside of her home. When the police arrive, she goes outside in her pajamas to talk to them. As she stands on the driver’s side of the police car talking to the driver, Officer Noor shoots across the front seat, past his partner through the open window. He shoots Ms. Damond in the stomach and she dies on the scene.

Not surprisingly, Ms. Damond’s murder has sparked international condemnation, particularly by the Australian Prime Minister.  You see, we are among the most deadly countries in the world when it comes to gun violence. So, this type of crime in Australia is extremely shocking. The idea that the police “shoot first and ask questions later” seems incredible in most countries around the world.

Valerie Castile, Philando Castile’s Mother and Don Damond, Justine Damond’s fiancé, embraced at the Peace and Justice March for Justine on July 20, 2017

These two tragic deaths in the twin cities are interrelated. In both cases, the victim did not pose a threat of harm to the officers.  Still, it is likely that the officer who shot Justine Damond will claim that he feared for his life, just like the officer who shot Philando Castile. And, it is also likely that Officer Noor will not be found guilty of any crime, just like Officer Yanez. It seems that even when police officers are charged, it is still really difficult for prosecutors to get a conviction.

How Did One Murder Lead to Another?

Dr. Martin Luther King said it best: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

And so it is that the murder of a Black man laid the foundation for the murder of a white woman. Indeed, the inability of the community to hold a police officer accountable for the death of a Black man created the permissive climate for another officer to murder a White woman. Suddenly, everyone in Minneapolis-St. Paul is “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” Now the truth is revealed. The use of deadly force by police officers in America against citizens is out of control. And when we allow police officers to target and terrorize communities based on race, religion or wealth, no one is safe.

It would not surprise me if Officer Noor thought that Justine Damond was Black.  The Yanez acquittal verdict certainly told everyone in the Twin Cities (and indeed the nation) that Black lives do not matter. For Officer Noor to pull his gun, shoot across the front seat of the car and out of the window to kill an unarmed woman in her pajamas, speaks volumes about public safety in that city. It clearly confirms that public safety does not exist in that community.

Nor can it exist in any community where the rights of everyone are not respected and protected. This is a hard lesson that we all should learn from this tale of Twin Cities.

Time to Connect the Dots

Oakland Dodges A Bullet

This week, Oakland dodged a bullet.  On July 12, 2017, Judge Thelton Henderson decided not to place a receiver in charge of the Oakland Police Department. 

In 2003, OPD agreed to a Consent Decree known as the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA). It was only supposed to last 5 years. In 2012, receivership was threatened because OPD failed to hold officers accountable for using excessive force against Occupy Oakland demonstrators. Instead, in December 2012, the Court appointed a Compliance Director to ensure successful compliance with the NSA.

A 2013 comprehensive study of U.S. Justice Department Oversight of Local Police since 1994 does not mention any police department that has ever been placed under receivership.

Credit: Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group

This time, again, the lack of accountability goes to the highest levels. Now we know why former Chief Sean Whent really resigned.  The Swanson-Barron Court report issued on June 21, 2017 exposes the cover-up from the initial investigators all the way to the Mayor’s office.

Let’s Connect the Dots

Here’s a brief timeline of how we got here:

  • 9/25/15 – Officer Brendan O’Brien is found dead with a “suicide note” disclosing OPD’s sex trafficking activities
  • 9/26/15 – O’Brien’ suicide note is circulated to OPD Command Staff, including Chief Sean Whent
  • 9/30/15 – Criminal Investigations Division (CID) Homicide investigators interview Jasmine and blame her for O’Brien’s suicide
  • 10/1/15  – Internal Affairs Division (IAD) opens an investigation
  • 10/7/15 –  CID Lieutenant reports that the CID investigation is closed
  • 10/30/15 – IAD does a single interview with Jasmine by telephone
  • 2/10/16 – IAD investigator provides a draft report to OPD supervisors
  • 3/8/16 – Court Monitor learns of sexual misconduct allegations
  • 3/23/16 – Judge Henderson issues Order re: potential violations of the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA)
  • 6/10/16 – Chief Whent resigns as reports of a cover-up explode
  • 1/4/17 – Anne Kirkpatrick is hired as new OPD Chief
  • 5/1/17  – Kirkpatrick promotes Lois, Coleman & Holmgren
  • 6/21/17 – Swanson-Barron report released
  • 7/10/17  – Kirkpatrick defends her decision to promote Lois, Coleman & Holmgren

Who Made the Decisions?

According to the East Bay Express, Deputy Chief John Lois was the head of OPD’s Bureau of Investigations. In October 2015, he approved the closure of two criminal investigations of police misconduct within a week, despite obvious evidence of wrongdoing. He has just been promoted to Assistant Chief of Police, the second-highest position in the department.

 

Capt. Kirk Coleman was in charge of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) in October 2015. Task 28 of the NSA requires the CID Commander to notify and coordinate promptly with the DA’s Office regarding possible officer criminal misconduct. OPD failed to notify the DA. Coleman is being promoted to run Internal Affairs, putting him in charge of all police-misconduct cases.

 

Lt. Roland Holmgren was the head of OPD’s homicide unit in October 2015. Two homicide investigators, Sgts. Bradley Baker and Jason Andersen, blamed Jasmine for O’Brien’s suicide in their interview, and watched her destroy evidence to protect other officers. Holmgren watched this interview. Holmgren then closed the homicide investigation within a week. He is being promoted to Captain and will be in charge of the CID.

Who Was Kept In The Dark?

When Kirkpatrick came to Oakland in January 2017, she had to rely on someone to tell her what was really going on inside OPD. Presumably that person was the Mayor who hired her. Perhaps the task was delegated to City Administrator Sabrina Landreth who oversaw OPD for 6 months. When Kirkpatrick proposed to promote these 3 men in May, you think someone would warn her that they were implicated in covering up sex trafficking by police officers. Instead, it appears that Kirkpatrick was kept in the dark. Worse case scenario, she was told and promoted them anyway.

According to the East Bay Express, Kirkpatrick defends and still intends to move forward with her promotions.

At the same time, according to the Court’s report, police and City officials kept the District Attorney in the dark. The Mayor claims she told District Attorney O’Malley about the investigation in May 2016. The earliest news of a DA investigator implicated in the misconduct, former OPD Capt. Rick Orozco, broke in June 2016. According to the East Bay Times, Orozco, a 20-year OPD veteran, was let go a month later. According to other reports, Orozco was the second DA employee implicated in the misconduct.

Not surprisingly, the first 2 recommendations in the Swanson-Barron report are designed to improve the reporting of potential officer criminal misconduct to the DA’s Office.

Who Will Hold OPD Accountable?

In September 2016, DA O’Malley was asked and said she did not intend to investigate anyone for obstruction of justice. This week, Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan called the question again.  She is not alone. Oakland City Councilmember Noel Gallo also says that the everyone responsible for mishandling the Guap case, including the top leadership, should “face the music.”

The challenge to holding anyone accountable may be the statute of limitations. The statute for misdemeanor crimes is generally 1 year. Possible misdemeanors in this case include destroying or concealing evidence, preventing a witness from testifying or interfering with a police officer which is considered obstruction of justice. Conspiracy to obstruct justice can be charged as a felony. The statute of limitations for the felony charge is 3 years. The alleged cover-up began in October 2015. So, the DA is either out of time or time is running out.

The new Chief faces a similar problem. The time to complete an investigation of police misconduct is 1 year. So, the question is whether anything done so far constitutes an investigation of the top OPD brass. If so, when did it begin. The Chief is also either out of time or running out of time.

Judge Henderson left the matter in the City’s hands for now. The City has until September 25th to file a report in response to the Swanson-Barron report.

Credit: East Bay Express

If you agree that Chief Kirkpatrick should either postpone or rescind the promotions of Chief Lois, Capt. Coleman or Lt. Holmgren, you should call her at 510-238-8865, or hit her on twitter at @oaklandpoliceca. You can tell her for me if she really wants to “transform” OPD, she needs to start at the top. You can also tell Mayor Libby Schaaf at @theOaklandMayor.

 

 

 

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