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Apologies & Lies

First, a shout-out to Ashleigh. (And one of my own apologies, if I didn’t spell your name right; I should have asked how to spell it when we were talking.) Ashleigh recognized me at the courthouse today in the stairwell and stopped me to say “hi.” I’m glad to have met one of my readers — it’s especially nice to meet readers like Ashleigh.

Staying with the theme of apologies, I should apologize for treating this blog like the poor step-child. As my regular readers will know, I have another law blog, Probable Cause: The Legal Blog with the Really Low Standard of Review. Partly because I like the name of the blog better — what more reason do I need? — and partly because it was intended to be more generic while this one has a regional focus, I tend to pay more attention to that blog. It shows, too: the readership there is more than six times greater than here!

Enough of the apologies. Well, mine, anyway….

The Fresno Bee today provides more than enough material for a Fresno-based criminal defense lawyer blog. We have (more) officers shooting Fresnans, an ex-Fresno police officer on trial complaining because his fellow officers refused to help him beat the crap out of citizens and Sheriff Mims once again made the front page over her inability to properly manage the budget (2015 update: Fresno Bee story disappeared) for her department.

As to that last story, there will be no apologies. Not from Mims, anyway. You see, it’s not really her fault.

Mims said she followed a recommendation by county administrators to raise projections for federal inmate revenue, because she had underestimated that revenue in the past. The need to cut now shows her past practice made sense, she said.

[County Administrative Officer John] Navarrette said she was never advised to raise her projections, and that her office provides all of its own budget projections. (Brad Branan, “Mims anticipates layoffs” (January 8, 2010) The Fresno Bee, p. A4, col. 3-4.)

Someone’s lying, but no, no apologies from Mims. She’s always been right and the fact that her budget projections were wrong this time proves it because her past practice of being wrong made sense. If only people would quit questioning her judgment and just trust her.

Trust was also a problem for ex-Fresno police officer Marcus Tafoya, who was fired in 2007 and is currently on trial accused of using excessive force on people attending a party for a Marine returning from Iraq in 2005. (The story indicates his 2007 firing was connected with the 2005 incident, though doesn’t mention why it took so long to get from the one point to the other.)

[Tafoya] also criticized some police officers for standing around when he needed help. (Pablo Lopez, “Ex-officer tells his side in case: Fear led to use of baton, he testifies” (January 8, 2010) p. A3, col. 5.)

Tafoya is not lying. This is a little-understood, but not uncommon, problem among police departments, particularly here in Fresno. A bunch of officers are called to quell a disturbance at a party. They show up — some with batons at the ready — and the partygoers gets the jump on one of the cops. The rest stand around, doing nothing. Mostly, it’s from being in shock. The police aren’t used to getting into fights. Well, maybe with their spouses.Maybe with each other. Maybe with themselves. (Edit 3/21/2017: Link broken/removed) Maybe even with criminals. But not with partygoers! And that was clearly the problem here:

Tafoya said he told Stockdale, “if they resist, beanbag them.” [In other words, shoot them, at close range, with shotguns stuffed with beanbags.] But Stockdale froze, Tafoya said. “He didn’t do anything,” he said.

Tafoya said when he needed help, “a lot of officers stood around and did nothing.” He figured a lot of them were in shock from what they witnessed. He said he finally had to bark out orders: “Are you going to stand around or put your hands on somebody?” (Pablo Lopez, “Ex-officer tells his side in case: Fear led to use of baton, he testifies” (January 8, 2010) p. A3, col. 6.)

As I said, not uncommon. Fresno police officers hate to have to put their hands on somebody. (This may explain why they shoot so many (2015 update: Fresno Bee story disappeared) Fresno citizens.) Fresno police particularly hate to resort to violence when, as Tafoya says happened here, two fellow officers are overpowered by groups of people, one of whom is apparently trying to get one of the officer’s guns.

Confronting the crowd, Manfredi [Tafoya’s partner] was knocked to the ground, and three to five people jumped on the sergeant, Tafoya said. Armed with a police baton, Tafoya said he started to pull the men off Manfredi. Then he heard panic in the sergeant’s voice: Someone was trying to get Manfredi’s gun. (Pablo Lopez, “Ex-officer tells his side in case: Fear led to use of baton, he testifies” (January 8, 2010) p. A3, col. 6.)

Despite the fact someone was trying to grab his partner’s gun, Tafoya was calmed by the sound of police sirens. (Little known fact: training for this begins at a very early age in cop families. Specialized mini-sirens are attached to the cribs of their children to lull them to sleep.) Tafoya’s calm didn’t last, however, because he realized the police were not going to help him beat the crap out of the partygoers.

At least they helped arrest Rebecca Rodriguez after she gave him probable cause by cursing and pushing him because he was unnecessarily hitting people with his baton. Reading the story, I couldn’t help but wonder why thisis what gave probable cause for an arrest when, according to Tafoya, partygoers had already been trying to beat him and take his partner’s gun.

Nevertheless, Tafoya’s partner backs him up.

Manfredi said he saw a couple of dozen people fighting in the front yard, and that he was punched in the face.

Manfredi said he fell and began struggling with a man, and that he felt his gun coming out of his holster. (Dennis Hart, “Tafoya’s Partner Testifies in Fresno Trial” (Update 9/26/2016: link broken) (date unknown) KMJNow (last visited January 8, 2010.))

Still, you have to wonder why the other officers didn’t.

Another thing to wonder about is how Fresno’s new Office of Independent Review will handle its first opportunity to strut some stuff. Yep, Fresno police officers have shot another citizen. The new Director and sole “employee” of that new Office is Eddie J. Aubrey, who brings an insider’s knowledge to the job with 14 years experience as a police officer — nine from that most pristine of police departments in Los Angeles.

Personally, I’m not at all concerned that Aubrey’s experience will color his judgment. After all,

Aubrey said his responsibilities include, “seeing exactly what is going on, getting updates from the the officers, finding out what’s going on in the interviews, what’s stated in the interviews.” (Jim Guy, Paula Lloyd and George Hostetter, “Fresno officer shoots suspect” (January 8, 2010) The Fresno Bee, p. A3, cols. 1-2.)

Besides, one of the officers who shot the man in the back said he “appeared to go for a weapon.” He’s probably telling the truth. After all, if the guy wasn’t doing anything wrong, the officers would have used a baton, or tried to shoot him with a bean-bag round.

At any rate, so long as veteran-police-officer Aubrey is getting updates from the police officers handling the investigation, I’ve no doubt that Fresno can rest easy.

And so long as Aubrey rubber stamps what Dyer said at the news conference, as he is expected to do, nobody will have to apologize.

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