Friday, January 12, 2007

Delgadillo, Police Union Shiv The Minority Communities By Keeping Police Shooting Proceedings Secret

Of all the disservices he has done in public office, Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, reached a low point when he misinterpreted a court ruling to advise city officials that it was illegal to continue to keep open disciplinary proceedings against officers involved in questionable shootings, often of defenseless minority youths.

There is every evidence that Delgadillo issued his opinion on the matter as a campaign ploy to secure police union backing in his fruitless effort to defeat former Gov. Jerry Brown in the Democratic primary contest for attorney general last year. (It also turned out in that race that Delgadillo had lied about his background as a football player. Now, thankfully, his political career seems to be over).

But the city's notoriously weak police commission, with alacrity, accepted Delgadillo's opinion, and efforts to undo the secrecy in the Legislature, to make it clear that state law does not mandate that such hearings be secret, was stymied by the police unions, which like the prison guards union, only very seldom try to protect the public interest against the misdeeds of their own members.

The result is that a clear message is being sent out to the minority communities which are the victim of much police misconduct that city and state government do not care about their concerns and will not move publicly to condemn officers who shoot and kill without good reason.

Now, we come to a new demonstration of that fact in the sordid case of 13-year-old Devin Brown, fatally shot seven times in 2005 by Officer Steven Garcia. Garcia used one of the most common excuses of errant law enforcement officers to justify the shooting: He claimed Brown was backing a vehicle toward him, and he had to shoot. I wish I had a dime for every time the police has used such an excuse. In this case, however, the claim only was that Brown was going two miles an hour. In short, rather than killing him, Garcia could simply have stepped out of the way.

The Police Commission, for once, did take a proper stand. It ruled that Garcia had acted out of policy. And the Los Angeles City Council approved a $1.5 million settlement with Brown's family, (as if money was an adequate compensation for the life long grief this family will suffer).

Now, however, a Los Angeles Police Department panel, misnamed a "board of rights," after a secret hearing and without public explanation,has ruled that Garcia was justified in the shooting and will not have to face any disciplinary action. Garcia seems to be free to remain on the force. I wonder whether he will kill again.

Under the new policy of closing off information, Garcia's name would not even be divulged in public, lessening protection against not only him, but against all problem officers, officers who all too often have psychopathic tendencies.

In this case, Los Angeles Times reporters were barred from the hearing that, with star chamber swiftness, exonerated Garcia and spit in the face of his family and the Los Angeles Latino community.

Well, this caused something of a furore and now the Police Chief, William Bratton, who concurred in this outrageous decision, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, both declare the hearing should have been public, and urge the Legislature to act to make sure such proceedings will be in the future. It has yet to be seen whether either man will actually fight vigorously to get the Legislature to act. The police lobbyists can be counted upon to be vigorous in their opposition, and if the historic record is followed, the legislation will fail. Police killings seem to be more difficult to control than lynchings, which were finally outlawed.

The L.A. Times, commendably, has an editorial this morning urging a return to the old policy of openness.

The editorial makes this point: "On Wednesday, another LAPD officer shot and killed an unarmed man. Was the action warranted, was it a tragic mistake, or did the officer act unreasonably? Does the officer have a history of bad decisions? What exactly happened and who was involved? Under rules in place until just over a year ago, we would probably find out eventually. Under rules in place today, we may never get the answers. That in turn means we may never be able to determine whether we're getting the reformed LAPD we want."

On the Op-Ed page this morning, there is a column by the law professor, Erwin Chermerinsky, a long time exponent of police reform that never seems to be coming about.

Chermerinsky writes, "Such secrecy undermines the accountability of the LAPD. Without being able to observe disciplinary hearings or know the reasons for the panel's conclusions, there is no way to evaluate whether the disciplinary system is working. Closed proceedings and secret decisions fuel the impression that the board of rights protects officers from warranted discipline and does not serve the interests of the public."

As Chermerinsky also observes, "Officers who use deadly force do not have a privacy interest in being free from scrutiny."

In the meantime, let's hope Officer Garcia feels guilty and leaves the police force.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ken,

You don't know what you're talking about, and your histrionic musings and conspiracy theories are exhibit #1.

You say there is "every evidence" Delgadillo based his legal advice to the cops on his political ambitions, but you cite no such evidence.

In fact, it's pretty clear, based upon the news coverage (including that of your former employer, The Times), that Delgadillo based his legal opinion on the Supreme Court's Copley decision.

That decision serves as a guide for public law offices across the state. There is no conspiracy here.

Why don't don't you take off your tinfoil hat and pick up a newspaper.

Because the Times and Daily News have been reporting for several days now on the Copley decision's role in this matter.

That's why there's now talk about an effort to to get the Legislature to change state law to get around the court's Copley ruling.

Delgadillo is just doing his job and following the law as set forth by the State Supreme Court.

Sell crazy somewhere else, my friend.

1/12/2007 1:26 PM  

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