By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
Remember me? I'm the reporter who wrote to you a couple of years ago asking you to bust then-Huntington Beach City Council member Pamela Julien Houchen for illegally converting apartment buildings into condos (see "Arrest Houchen Now, Ask Questions Later," July 15, 2004). I sent that letter because you had just asked for the public's patience as you tracked down the facts and I had written about her scam months before you even started investigating. A few weeks after I sent it to you, Houchen resigned her job, met with FBI investigators and pleaded guilty to mail and wire fraud. By the time you read this, Houchen will have already celebrated her first day of a three year stint in federal prison. You should have taken my advice. If you had, you could now claim credit for popping the perp before the feds got their dirty paws on her.
But I guess these days you're too busy fending off accusations that your own department is a haven of trigger-happy bullies to claim credit for anything. In August, when two of your cops fired 18 bullets at Ashley MacDonald, a distraught teenager wielding a penknife (see "Shoot First, Ask No Questions Later," Sept. 7), you defended their lethal actions as tragic yet necessary to protect their own lives. Even assuming MacDonald knew some secret Swiss Army knife samurai warrior skills, it's hard to see how you can justify blowing her away when both those officers presumably were carrying—since your department requires it—batons and Mace canisters on their utility belts.
The Sheriff's Department is still investigating. But the public wants justice, so you recently griped to reporters that there have been death threats against the officers involved. Once again you begged for patience while the investigation is completed and the full facts emerge. Screw that. Here's some advice I'm sure you'll ignore but which could actually save lives: fire those two cops and stop hiring guys who think police work means working someone over. And acting like pricks.
Don't take my word for it. The other day, I got a letter of my own from a guy who volunteered with your department until the bullying behavior he witnessed on a daily basis made him sick to his stomach. "When I volunteered, all my neighbors were like, 'Why are you helping them?'" he told me. "People really don't like the cops out here and I found out why when I volunteered at the downtown substation. The cops there were nasty, cocky and belligerent. They pulled into the station a young kid who stole a T-shirt and chained him to a rail. He said he had to go to the bathroom and they said, 'Go pee your pants, tough guy,' and that's what he did. What is it with this police department?"
After quitting his volunteer gig, the guy told me he complained about what he saw to the city council and they forwarded his letter to you. But nothing ever happened.
Maybe you never saw the letter. And I know you're not responsible for the decade or so of bad blood between the cops and citizens in Surf City. You weren't around back in 1996, when Huntington Beach's finest arrested 549 people for drinking in public on the Fourth of July—including 236 who were popped in their front yards. Or the year before, when cops waded through a crowd waving riot sticks and breaking bones, including those of a Marine who was just trying to use an ATM machine.
You weren't head of this department back in May 2001 when Mark Wersching fatally shot unarmed Antonio Salvidar and then claimed the kid was pointing a toy gun at him. This is a cop who had already been the subject of numerous excessive-force complaints, who had been suspended for stealing fireworks and driving drunk on the city beach, totaling his car and wounding a passenger. Nor when your department promoted Wersching to detective after he got death threats for killing Saldivar.
But you were chief in July 2004, the month I first wrote you, when nine Huntington Beach cops fatally shot a suicidal guy on a street corner brandishing, you guessed it, a toy gun. And in January 2005, when two officers shot and wounded a suicidal girl in an apartment laundry room. You were also the chief earlier this year when your department hired Bijan Darvish, a former Inglewood Police officer whose claim to fame is helping his partner Jeffrey Morse rough up Donovan Jackson, a developmentally disabled teenager whose crime was being slow to respond to their commands. Just weeks after the Ashley McDonald fiasco, Darvish, who was off duty, fired three shots at a drunk guy in a car—although fortunately his aim sucked and the man survived unscathed.
There's a pattern here, in case you're missing it. For far too long, Huntington Beach cops have had a well-deserved reputation for being arrogant, unfriendly pricks—testosterone-addled jocks with guns who shoot people. It's high time we crack down on cops who crack skulls. Maybe you could start by not hiring them in the first place.