By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Hi, guys and gals,
I know you're all big fans of OC Weekly, so there's probably no need to tell you that the past six months have been busy for investigative reporters like myself who just love writing about cop scandals. I just wanted to thank each of you personally for making my job fun by ignoring some very prophetic advice about how to put folks like me out of business.
But first a quick trip down memory lane.
Remember that tragic shooting last August of Ashley Macdonald, an 18-year-old woman armed with a penknife standing in the middle of an empty park? Contradicting eyewitness accounts, two cops claimed Macdonald rushed at them with the knife, giving them no choice but to unload 15 bullets into the suicidal teenager (see "Inside the Kill Zone," March 15). A public uproar ensued, but because she was within 20 feet of the two Huntington Beach officers, the district attorney's office said the shooting was legal, thus continuing its proud history of never prosecuting a cop for killing a citizen in the line of duty.
And let's not forget the first OC inmate murder in 18 years, which occurred last October, when about two dozen prisoners at Theo Lacy Branch Jail beat John Chamberlain to death? The attack took place just hours after a prison guard allegedly exposed him as a child molester (see "Blind Spot," March 29). The DA's office is charging six inmates with the crime but so far hasn't spoken a word about the sheriff's deputy whom several witnesses claim "outed" Chamberlain and then did nothing to protect him while he had his body turned to pulp several yards from a guard tower.
Both incidents have led to legal claims against Huntington Beach and Orange County totaling $40 million. They're also pretty good examples of what the Orange County grand jury predicted would happen when it released its June 27, 2006, report recommending civilian oversight for Orange County law-enforcement agencies. The grand jury wasn't proposing anything radical like those pesky citizen-review boards that already exist in just about every major metropolitan area of the United States. Instead, it simply recommended local police establish higher professional standards guidelines and hire independent contractors to monitor how they train officers and handle complaints from the public.
"Other than the Orange County grand jury, there is no formal citizen oversight of county and city law-enforcement agencies," the grand jury concluded. "Why wait until there is a highly publicized and criticized officer-involved event that results in the hasty, emotional creation of a citizen-oversight commission?"
So how did you all respond?
DA Tony Rackauckas succinctly stated that he "disagrees wholly" with the grand jury's advice. "This recommendation will not be implemented," announced Sheriff Mike Carona. "I believe the Huntington Beach Police Department is already using [the] best practices in attempting to carry out their mission of providing the best law enforcement possible to the residents, business members and visitors to our community," replied Huntington Beach Police Chief Kenneth Small. And so on. A total of 50 responses came back to the grand jury from every mayor and police department in Orange County, all of them either "strongly," "wholly," "totally" or "respectfully" refusing to take a hint.
Four more cities—Villa Park, San Juan Capistrano, Mission Viejo and Stanton—didn't take a stand on the issue but meekly stated they agreed with whatever the sheriff's department had to say on the matter since the sheriff's department provided law-enforcement services to their cities. Yorba Linda, whose cops work for the Brea Police Department, told the grand jury to ask Brea cops for an answer. (Brea said no.) Only Laguna Niguel Mayor Cathy DeYoung showed any balls whatsoever, responding that she "agreed" with the concept of civilian oversight but had been informed that the sheriff's department, which polices her city, had no intention of going along with the concept.
Meanwhile, public confidence in cops is continuing to erode. On Dec. 8, the California Democratic Party passed a resolution calling for the creation of civilian oversight of law enforcement. The resolution was introduced by the Orange County Democratic Central Committee Exec-utive Board, acting on the inspiration of Teddi Alves, who says she was stirred to act by the Macdonald shooting. "I was driven to do something," Alves told me. "I simply can't believe there is any excuse for three uniformed officers of the Huntington Beach police to shoot a 120-pound girl."
To win support for the resolution, Alves needed do no more than compile 10 pages of recent headlines documenting police brutality and lethal shootings in Orange County, many of them culled from the pages of OC Weekly. One of the people who's working to make the resolution become law is Ruth Hull-Richter, chairwoman of Orange County's Patrick Henry Democratic Club. "We would like to have oversight panels at county and city levels," she said. "The main thing we are hoping to accomplish is the protection of not just citizens, but also the police. This will allow good officers to say our process is transparent."
Luckily for you, there's almost no chance anything will come of the resolution, as Hull-Richter is the first to admit. "The trouble is the Democratic Party does nothing to enforce its own resolutions," she said.
Lucky for us reporters, too, although not so much for the next suicidal teenager to get blown away by gung-ho cops or middle-aged inmate to get his brains bashed in by fellow prisoners after getting the green light from a guard. We'll have plenty of depressing stories to write in the years ahead.