All citizens are equal, but some citizens are more equal than others (Part 1)

I have a thought experiment for those of you who work in the private sector.
Let’s suppose you are accused of some misdeed by your employer. It could something minor like rudeness to a customer, or something potentially criminal such as embezzlement, assault or even potentially murder or manslaughter.


Let’s further suppose your employer comes to you and asks you about certain accusations. What do you suppose would happen if you refused to answer any questions about that incident unless you had an attorney present? And if you did speak to speak to your employer what are the chances they would agree to not use your statement against you in a criminal action? Could you refuse a polygraph test under any circumstance? And could you insist your employer never disclose the results of their investigation upon pain of criminal prosecution?

The answer in the private sector is clear cut: while you have constitutional rights in criminal proceedings (including the right to have an attorney present and against self incrimination) if you refuse to cooperate with an employer you can be fired on the spot.

Not so for many of our public employees. Thanks to the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights (Government Code §3300-3311) many of the rights afforded to all of us in criminal prosecutions are also afforded to officers in administrative actions. For example, pursuant to Government Code §3303(f), statements made under duress, coercion “or threats of punitive action” are inadmissible in civil proceedings as well as criminal. Thanks to the decision in Lybarger v. City of Los Angeles (1985) 40 Cal.3d 822, an officer can be disciplined for refusing to answer questions in an administrative hearing, but only if they are first told that the statements cannot be used against him in any criminal matter. An officer also has a right to have council present during any administrative proceedings relating to their conduct. And if there is a violation of any of these or other rights, there is no requirement to exhaust administrative remedies first (like the rest of us have to); the officer can immediately sue in Superior Court.

The combination of the protections in POBAR and the Supreme Court decision in Copley Press, Inc. v. Superior Court (39 Cal.4th 1272) have combined to essentially make our public safety employees above the law. Copley guarantees that any complaints against officers that are handled through the police department will be investigated at the sole discretion of that department, since the public is typically not told how the department ruled or why. Or even whether they looked into the matter at all. Remember, Chief Dan Hughes once admitted that many complaints against officers were simply tossed into the wastepaper basket, since there was no ramification for the department for doing so.

“After careful deliberation, we have concluded that no evidence exists to warrant disciplinary action. At least, not anymore.”

This does not mean that there are no good officers in Fullerton, but it does mean that there are no meaningful external check on the conduct of officers that are a problem, so long as the conduct is not so shocking it winds up becoming a national story. And even then, the protections afforded by POBAR makes firing for even the most shocking crime difficult. See for example Kenton Hampton, who is still employed by the Fullerton Police Department (and pulling in $175,958.90 in total pay and benefits as of 2015, according to Transparent California) despite his involvement in the beating death of Kelly Thomas and the beating/ false imprisonment of Veth Mam (video here) and the fact that even Joseph Wolfe may actually be reinstated despite his role in Thomas’s death.

Since we cannot rely on transparency (state law prohibits it), and we cannot rely on officers within the department to come forward (don’t forget, Copley makes disclosure of internal personnel records a criminal offense, and as Paul Irish has recently learned, even mild, non-specific criticism of department policy can get you in more trouble with your employer than standing around doing nothing while your fellow officers beat a man to death), I concluded several years ago that an effective independent Civilian Oversight Commission was the best method of placing some check on our public employees. Rather than simply advocate for the civilian oversight, those of us who were advocating it decided to prepare their own proposed ordinance, which Matt Leslie has been hosting on his Fullerton Rag blog ever since (it can be found here, although the transfer does appear to have altered the subsections in a way that makes it a bit confusing).

The specifics of and the benefits of the proposed ordinance, and the means in which this City Council could implement it, will be discussed in Part 2.

Cops Got Scratches Tended To By Paramedic As Kelly Thomas Lay Dying in the Street

One of the most shocking things to emerge from the Preliminary Trial of Manny Ramos and Jay Cicinelli for the killing of Kelly Thomas are the statements made by Fullerton Fire Department personnel that the cops received attention to their miscellaneous scrapes as Thomas, whose face had just been bashed in, and who was suffocating in his own blood, lay ignored nearby.

For pure callousness, incomprehensible inhumanity, and well, evil, it’s pretty hard to beat this story. The images of minor scratches sustained by the Fullerton cops is comical, especially given the fact that were sustained committing a crime; juxtaposed to the image of Kelly Thomas’s shattered face they present ample evidence about the nature of the beat down delivered to the homeless man.

Manny's badge of honor awaits a band aid.

Hilariously, Manny Ramos was quoted as saying he’d been in “the fight of my life.” Given that he was seventy pounds overweight, notoriously lazy and obviously a coward, this may actually be a true statement. Certainly it will provide a good headline for Lou Ponsi. But Ramos’ injury received a bandaid and off he went. Kelly Thomas is dead. He was dying on the pavement, alone and unattended, as the cops that killed him got first aid.

And that is truly sickening.

Oh, Damn. Another FPD Brutality Lawsuit in Federal Court

You lookin' at me?

Nearly a year ago FFFF started what would turn into a long string of investigations into the FPD Culture of Corruption by telling the tale of a young man who claimed that he was beaten and abused by Fullerton cops during a downtown arrest.

There were plenty of skeptics here, and there was a barrage of personal abuse leveled against the man by anonymous FPD goons.  At least there was until we published the results of an internal investigation, here, in which at least part of the victim’s assertions were confirmed.

Well last week another of Pat McKinley’s chickens emerged on the horizon, coming home to roost. Andrew Trevor Clarke filed a federal civil suit against Fullerton PD employees Tong, Contino, Hampton, Bolden, Salazar and Sellers.

Read the complaint

Sellers? Good call, but I wonder why Clarke didn’t include former Chief, present councilman Pat McKinley. After all, he will proudly tell us he hired all of ’em.

All I can say is the lawsuits are piling up so fast we’re going to need wings to stay above the legal paperwork. And I wonder how much this one is gonna cost us.

How To Turn a Paramedic Call Into a SWAT Nightmare

Guess what, Friends? Last month the City of Fullerton got sued again – stemming from an FPD incident in 2005. We have thoughtfully attached a copy of the complaint, below.

According to the complaint, some dude named Ernest Benefiel took some sleeping pills in a locked bedroom. Naturally, Benefiel fell asleep. His elderly father, concerned, called the paramedics because he thought his son was depressed. So far so good.

Unfortunately the paramedics called the good folks at the Fullerton Police Department who arrived on the scene, and because they learned that Benefiel owned a gun, decided to turn the place into some kind of hostage stand-off situation – even though there was no hostage. Some time elapsed and the cops, perhaps, became bored. To get Benefiel’s attention they deployed a flash grenade outside the guy’s window,  followed a dozen shotgun “bean bags” blasts through the same window. Benefiel was hit by one of the rounds and finally woke up from his pill-induced slumber; and, thinking he was under attack from criminals, fired a pistol shot out the window and hit a street sign.The cops then started blasting blindly into the room.

A while later Benfiel finally got his bearings and climbed out the window and surrendered peacefully – even though he had committed no crime.

Now you would think that upon mature reflection the cops’ superiors would have recognized how their out-of-control underlings unnecessarily escalated a pretty harmless situation into a SWAT stand off, and just let the whole thing go. But no! The cops and the DA decided to prosecute Benefiel for firing on a police officer. In fact, they tried him twice, and each time the case was overturned on appeal.

Meantime, Benefiel had spent over five years in jail for the heinous act of simply defending himself. And now the taxpayers of Fullerton are staring at yet another FPD civil suit settlement.

Read the complaint

If you read the complaint you will notice an inescapable fact: according to a police training expert FPD tactics violated procedure on the use of the flash grenade, the shot gun bean bags, and blindly shooting projectiles.

And who was boss of the FPD at the time and supposedly accountable for the actions of his boys? That’s right. Former Chief and current councilman Pat McKinley.

Jeez, that was such a long ago...

Fortunately we can help make sure this incompetent clown is not around after June 5th to vote for anymore settlements that would hush up embarrassing revelations about the Culture of Corruption he created while head of the Fullerton Police Department.

The Cover-Up Club

Yesterday, the OC Register did a story about the Fullerton jail house death of Dean Francis Gochenour, and the role played by Vincent Mater, who smashed his DAR against a steel door in order to destroy the evidence it contained.

Well, it happened like this...

Our Acting Chief, Dan Hughes, was unusually chatty.

For instance, he shares with trusted police scribe Lou Ponsi the fact that an internal investigation was concluded by June 20, 2011, that discipline was recommended by Hughes, himself, and then Mater quit on August 2: I made recommendations for discipline and in that process, he resigned,” Hughes said.

So let us ponder a few things. Mater destroys his DAR in mid April, and disciplinary action is started over two months later? And what is this disciplinary “process?” Hard to say; it may have included firing the creep, but if so the process is designed to permit the perp to quit first. And that’s a shame because in the case of Mater we already know he was considered by the DA to be a Brady Cop, (i.e. unfit for court testimony due to unfamiliarity with the truth). We also know that he was complicit in some way in the wrongful incarceration of Emanuel Martinez.

Whatever this so-called discipline process entailed (including, no doubt, union exacted rights for appeal hearings, ad nauseam), Mater decided his best option was to walk away, perhaps to try his luck as a cop somewhere else. So Mater quietly went his merry way on August 2, 2011 – curiously, just as the Kelly Thomas murder protests were starting in earnest.

And now, for the $64,000 question: what was going on between the FPD and the DAs office between August 2 2011 and March 13, 2012? Seven and a half months had passed since Mater’s departure; eleven months had passed since the original crime. It would appear to the outsider that nothing was going to happen at all.

And then somebody changed their mind. I wonder why.


Who is going to fix the Fullerton Police Department?

And how are they going to do it?

There are a lot of things wrong in Fullerton and a lot of issues at stake in this race.  But one looms over them all.

What are we going to do about our assault-happy cops?

The Kelly Thomas murder was just the culmination of an escalating pattern of brutality and sadistic violence committed by our city enforcers of the law.  This is not exaggeration or casting aspersion as has been documented on this blog with precision and accuracy.  These are not all official facts ; they are all well-documented facts.

Unfortunately here is how the system works.  When a cop decides that for the fun of it he’s going to slam your head into a concrete wall or into the pavement with all his force and then arrest you for Resisting Arrest, you can file a form about it.  That form gets “investigated.”  The results of the investigation are minimal, the officer is usually exonerated, or the complaint is closed without comment.  The record of the cop who did it is unavailable for review by anybody but the Chief or an attorney who needs this information in a court of law.   What we know for a fact this means is that any random police officer can build up a record of brutalizing and seriously injuring random citizens for any reason with virtual impunity.

Also, there is the “respect” thing.  Numerous anecdotes confirm that pre-Kelly Thomas days, giving a Fullerton police officer a little bit of lip meant you were giving up your civil right not to be battered into a bloody pulp and thrown in a cell for good measure.   Because of course people who would do something like that to their fellow human beings because they feel disrespected are so deserving of our respect.  Or something like that.

That’s the FPD.

What I want to know from our fearless candidates is: what are you  going to do about this?  And how are you going to do it?

What is a Brady Cop? And What Did Vince Mater Do to Become One?

Update: When you’re trying to pierce the veil of secrecy in a police department bent on concealing its officers’ misdeeds, some of the details come through a little fuzzy. I recently received some corrected information on officer Mater’s role in the arrest, highlighted in red below. Note that Mater is still the officer who (allegedly) destroyed his audio recording and was later fired.

I’ve also noticed that almost an entire year has gone by, but Officer Mater has not been charged with destruction of evidence. The DA is reportedly still “working on the case.”

A Brady Officer is a cop with a sustained record for knowingly lying in an official capacity. A Brady cop’s testimony in court is almost worthless, which makes you wonder why a police department such as Fullerton would bother to employ one.

But on to the story. Remember that odd Fullerton jail suicide of Dean Francis Gochenour last year?

The word was that the jail arresting officer by the name of Vince Mater had broken apart his audio recorder and smashed the chip containing a recording in the immediate aftermath of the suicide. Whatever was captured on that recording before and during the arrestee’s suicide, we’ll never know.

Dean Gochenour died in the Fullerton City Jail on April 15, 2011

A few months later, Officer Mater was quietly fired.

Well, now we’ve found new state court docs revealing that the DA had also declared Mater to be a “Brady officer.”

We don’t know how Officer Mater earned his status as certified liar, but if it was so bad that even the FPD couldn’t look the other way, well…it must have been pretty bad.

Mater’s name did appear in an OC Register story in November 2010 about the wrongful incarceration of Emanuel Martinez at the hands of the FPD, in which Mater was johnny-on-the-spot with a gang tag that helped send the wrong guy to jail.

Fast forward to 2011, when the FPD ends up with a dead guy in jail, a smashed recorder, another cop on paid leave and presumably another set of lawsuits.

Oh, and one more thing: for all the City’s talk of transparency and its employment of several highly-compensated Public Information Officers, all of this information was kept from the public until…well, today.

Tow Racket Leads to Yet Another FPD Lawsuit

A few weeks ago we told you all about the Fullerton Police Department’s attempt to protect the city’s tow monopoly through harassment of AAA tow truck drivers.

Now the OC Weekly is reporting that a suit has been filed against the FPD claiming that police officers harassed and intimidated tow truck drivers for competing against the city’s preferred tow vendor.

Read the lawsuit

The suit alleges that drivers from a Bob’s Towing were singled out and cited over 40 times for frivolous reasons while other companies’ drivers went untouched.  Officers Hagen and Ledbetter are accused of turning off their audio recorders for “off the record” conversations constituting harassment. Drivers have quit and left the city in fear.

Is the FPD violating these folks’ constitutional right to equal treatment under the law? That seems to be par for the course.

Of course, if the PD has been systematically denying it’s own citizens the benefits of fair competition, then this has undoubtedly caused drivers to be left stranded while AAA scrambles to find tow truck drivers willing to face the FPD.

And then there’s that big question we keep having to ask: Can a single month go by without the FPD drawing taxpayers into a major lawsuit?

FPD Harassment Up Close And Personal

Excessive horning was the least of it…

Friends, over the past couple of months you may have noticed anonymous comments on some of our posts referring to “George” and “Jorge” and some sort of hit-and-run issue. Those comments referred to my brother George and came from inside the FPD. I let them go. Then. But not now.

This is a cautionary tale about a Culture of Corruption in the FPD that encourages the harassment of law abiding citizens. Getting a ticket from Barry Coffman for “excessive horning” is bad enough. Getting prosecuted for a non-existing “crime” is intolerable. Unfortunately this sort of thing has become business as usual with the FPD. It appears to be not only tolerated, but encouraged. And that’s what happens when the civilian authority abdicates its responsibility to oversee the cops.

Here’s the story.

Back on the morning of February 28, 2011 my brother George was driving east down Walnut Avenue, and turned right into the driveway of our office building parking lot. A car had parked quite close to the entry of the driveway, and as he turned in he heard a distinctive sound. After parking he noticed that the front bumper of the car was lying in the street.

He was pretty sure he hadn’t hit the car in any way, and there was no other damage to that car, or to his own vehicle; and he noticed that the bumper had been jerry-rigged at some point to stay on with sheet metal screws. He believed his right front tire just hit the thing as it lay in the roadway.

George kept watch on the car, and later in the afternoon a woman came to pick it up. He explained the situation and told Mrs. Bumper that he didn’t think he was responsible, but that he would help put the bumper back on with secure connections to the chassis the next day. She was grateful and drove off.

The next day her husband showed up and demanded that George buy him a new bumper. George suggested he go away and take his bumper with him.

Mr. Bumper filed a police report and soon George was interrogated by a couple of FPD cops. He told his story for the third time. The next thing he knew he was being charged by the District Attorney with Hit and Run, Unsafe Turn and Illegal Tampering With A Vehicle!

Story recap: No hit. No run. No unsafe turn. No tampering. No evidence. No witness. No nothing. Yet our esteemed DA, following the advice of FPD, had decided to prosecute my brother.

Of course George had to hire a lawyer who made six different court appearances on this idiotic “case.” Finally the DA blinked and offered George the DNA “spit and acquit” deal he makes with campaign-contributing food poisoners. George said no. With a trial date looming the DA’s office just dropped the whole thing on September 20th.

Here’s the case history.

Too bad, in a way. I really looked forward to seeing those FPD clowns on the stand to explain and defend their evidence. Now the public will never see the facts behind what can only be described as a malicious attempt to intimidate and harass me through my brother.

Well, guess what, boys? It didn’t work.

How much police, DA and court time and money was completely wasted in this effort to try to push around a citizen and taxpayer? Who knows? Five different DA employees had their spoons in this soup, as well as judges, bailiffs, court scribes, etc.

But I know one thing. There is an entrenched Culture of Corruption in the Fullerton Police Department that runs pretty deep, and it needs to end soon!