Last night Michael Gennaco, the independent investigator empowered by the city of Fullerton to conduct a probe into the death of Kelly Thomas, delivered his third and final report to the city council. Seeing as how the former United States prosecutor enjoys attorney-client privilege with the departments he reviews, the title “independent” should be seen a ornamental, though at times he was slightly critical of the cops who savagely beat the mentally ill and unarmed Thomas in July of 2011.
“Officers found a way of transforming a casual encounter into an incident resulting in death,” Gennaco said in his 53-page report of the night Thomas was dog-piled by six officers and had his face smashed with a Taser.
In addition to specifically calling out officer Manuel Ramos in the senseless death, Gennaco also criticized former Chief Michael Sellers, who instead of dealing swiftly with the public outrage in the aftermath of the beating, first went on vacation, then extended sick leave, before retiring (some said to protect his pension).
“The Chief has the ultimate responsibility for speaking for and leading the agency in times of crisis,” Gennaco wrote. “The chief needed to address the incident head on and almost immediately.”
Do ya think?
These “revelations”, which no doubt cost taxpayers handsomely, come more than a year after Thomas was killed and more than three months after the public saw the video of the beating with its own eyes and was able to draw its own conclusions.
Despite inaccurate statements made by department personnel regarding officers injuries immediately after the beating in addition to the fact officers involved were allowed to review audio tape as they wrote their reports, Gennaco maintained there was no cover up.
“I saw no evidence that people who committed crimes were allowed to get away with crimes,” Gennaco said. “I found evidence of a culture of complacency where people who should have been disciplined or held accountable were not sufficiently held accountable or disciplined.”
In addition to gently chiding the department a federal judge once blasted for its handling of allegations against an officer accused of groping women in his squad car, Gennaco's report provided 59 recommendations on how the department can improve itself, many of which have already been implemented. Among these, the department no longer employs personnel guilty of serious policy violations.
(You gotta start somewhere right?)
It's unclear if the work of independent reviewers such as Michael Gennaco is done by well meaning public servants, or is just an elaborate public spectacle aimed at providing damage control for troubled municipalities, but it goes without saying that independent review of police agencies in the state of California has no teeth.
It should be mentioned that police are under no legal obligation to follow any of Gennaco's recommendations and there is no guarantee that after the dust of the Thomas incident settles, policies that have changed for the better, won't simply change back.
For those who don't know, cops don't like sharing information with the public. Case in point, Gennaco's second report was delivered to acting chief Dan Hughes in a private session and still hasn't been released.
Thanks to exemptions in the public records act as well as landmark court cases such Copley Press vs. San Diego, police operate with little to no external oversight. What's more, provisions in the The Police Officers' Bill of Rights provide for confidentiality that prevents cops accused of repeat transgressions from being publicly outed.
This is something people in Orange County, (particularly Anaheim), need to consider as they seek true civilian oversight in the wake of officer-involved violence. We've all heard the mantra that “most cops are good cops.” But with limited transparency capable of rendering even a former US attorney impotent, what can we know for sure?