Nobody can deny Anaheim cops screwed up near the intersection of Anna Drive and La Palma Avenue on the evening of July 21, 2012. Earlier that afternoon, bored officers, curious about a gathering of young Latino men, chased an unarmed Manuel Diaz, fatally shot him in the back of the head and took their time calling an ambulance. Officers then huddled in riot gear as a show of force against residents, who'd lawfully assembled in protest of what they viewed as police brutality stemming from a chronic shoot-first-ask-questions-later mentality.
The crowd of about 100 people yelled, complained to journalists and waved handmade signs. A few of the protesters threw bottles and rocks at officers. Provoking even greater tension, a moron started a fire in a dumpster, and Anaheim PD's whirly-bird crew flew obnoxiously low, providing an ominous war-zone soundtrack.
And then the surreal happened.
A puzzled Junior Lagunas, 19, who was an acquaintance of Diaz's, heard the commotion and arrived at the scene. With him was his girlfriend, Crystal Ventura; their 16-month-old toddler in a stroller; and the baby's grandmother, Yesenia Rojas. Unarmed, they posed no physical threat to the cops, but the police began firing weapons at them. Lagunas ducked, tried to protect his baby, saw officer Robert Lopez's unrestrained K9 partner lunging at his child for an attack and blocked the mutt, which chomped its teeth into his forearm. Rojas ran to her son when she saw the attack and became target practice for Sergeant Michael Lynch, who shot the women three times with non-lethal but painful pepper-ball blasts. The victims later showed their wounds to camera crews from several Los Angeles TV news stations.
In the wake of that public-relations disaster, then-police chief John Welter quickly manned up. "I want to personally apologize for the police dog incident," said Welter, who claimed Lopez had failed to properly secure the animal in a patrol car. "It's embarrassing to us."
But that sentiment didn't last. Police lawyers couldn't do much to defend the dog bite, though they insisted the cops fired only at individuals who posed a risk to officer safety. So, Lagunas and his family had to hire legal representation and file a lawsuit for damages (including hospital and psychological costs) inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse.
"The plaintiffs contend that their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and to peaceably assemble, as provided by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, were violated," wrote Santa Ana-based lawyers Federico C. Sayre and Adam L. Salamoff. "The shooting at them and release of the police attack dog, when they had not committed any crimes, were unarmed and were not threatening harm to the police or any other persons, violated the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. . . . State action designed to retaliate against and chill political expression strikes at the very heart of the First Amendment."
Late last month, U.S. District Court Judge Josephine L. Staton began final preparations for a scheduled July 22 jury trial. Staton, a graduate of Harvard Law School and a 2010 appointee of President Barack Obama, has set aside four days for jurors to hear testimony and arguments. But a trial might be avoided. Sayre recently advised the judge, "We've had some fairly decent settlement discussions," an assertion that was greeted with an affirmative head nod by Anaheim City Attorney Michael R.W. Houston.
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MAINSTREAM MEDIA CRACKS ON REGISTER BOSS
Aaron Kushner, embattled publisher of The Orange County Register, probably assumed his recent interview with Larry Mantle, KPCC's host of AirTalk, would be painless. As we've previously reported, members of the mainstream media have repeatedly abandoned their cognitive powers to become squealing Kushner cheerleaders solely because he initially made grandiose promises of creating a journalistic utopia when the rest of the media world was steeped in layoffs and cutbacks. Never mind that one of his first steps was to quietly axe the company's matching 401(k) retirement contributions to reporters.
"Despite all the saccharine hype, Kushner's 15-month rule at Grand Avenue demonstrates no point greater than that the 40-year-old businessman with a background in hawking greeting cards is a superb salesman whose ignorance of journalism only seems to fuel his rah-rah enthusiasm," I observed on these pages in September 2013.
Signs of Kushner's incompetence have only continued to mount in the intervening nine months: a horribly expensive pay-wall that often made the Register unnecessarily irrelevant; a juvenile focus on happy news and big photos of high-school club meetings; secret deals tying favorable news coverage for businesses that enter into advertising contracts; huge layoffs of veteran talent; and ill-advised expansion into Long Beach, Los Angeles and Riverside. Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano recently disclosed there will be mandatory furloughs this summer at the Register and Kushner's desperation sales pitches to attract investors. His reign is buried in such a financial mess he's even trying to sell Reg headquarters in Santa Ana as well as other papers in the once-mighty Freedom Communications chain.
Given that ugly reality, Kushner's appearance on Mantle's June 4 broadcast was, as we've become accustomed, another opportunity for him to happily declare all is well despite the iceberg dead ahead. "We're highly confident that the team as it continues will be able to continue to deliver against our mission of community building," he robotically uttered. "We invested in community building, not in print, not in digital. We invested in our communities."
The empty, vacuum-cleaner-salesman-like lines even alarmed the normally non-confrontational Mantle. "I have to say, if I worked for you, hearing your description and the lack of specifics, I'd be very nervous about the future," he said near the conclusion of the 15-minute interview.
But the mild confrontation failed to pierce Kushner's armor. He noticeably didn't address the assertion. Instead, he tersely punted, saying, "Any other questions?"
Sure: You have no clue what you're doing, do you?
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"SHREDDED" VAGINA JUDGE FACES VOTERS
Four years after my 2008 report that Orange County Superior Court Judge Derek Johnson downplayed a savage Irvine rape a year earlier, the California Commission on Judicial Performance formally admonished him for making Neanderthal statements. Johnson ignorantly observed that the victim's vagina hadn't been "shredded" during the sexual assault, which, in his mind, undoubtedly meant the intercourse had been consensual.
"If someone doesn't want to have sexual intercourse, the body shuts down," the judge opined on the record. "The body will not permit that to happen unless a lot of damage is inflicted, and we heard nothing about that in this case. That tells me that the victim in this case, although she wasn't necessarily willing, she didn't put up a fight."
To underscore his contempt for the prosecution's case against the rapist—who also threatened to mutilate his victim's vagina and face with a heated screwdriver—Johnson refused the request for a 16-year prison punishment, chopping a whopping 10 years off the sentence. That scenario prompted private attorney Helen Hayden to challenge the judge in the June election. Johnson—a former prosecutor—ran on a "victims' rights" agenda and won 61 percent of your vote.