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Peninsula | Police State and Prisons

Taser Task Force and the Death of Innocence (unedited)
by junya
Saturday Mar 24th, 2007 4:37 AM
This is a recap and follow-up to a previous story on the Palo Alto Taser task force ("Strange Fruit: The Task of Forcing Tasers on Palo Alto" at http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2007/03/06/18373044.php), detailing the players and their tricks. It was originally posted on the online forum of the Palo Alto Weekly newspaper, where passages were removed by Palo Alto Weekly staff.
the-chief.jpg
the-chief.jpg

Watching the Taser task force meetings has helped me temporarily put aside my fears about Tasers. Far more frightening than the threat of Tasers is the way that they are being forced on the public: shrouded in secrecy, with large doses of deception, hearing only speakers from PAPD and other police departments with Tasers, and bypassing effective public input.

Regardless of whether one is pro or anti-Taser, I think we can all agree that an analysis of a request from any public department must evaluate the impact on the public - not just limit the discussion to the desires and perceived needs of the department making the request. This is not just a quirk of the "Palo Alto process". This is called "accountability". Yet the Taser task force has announced that they will vote on a recommendation to City Council - even though they have only heard presentations by PAPD (at every meeting), Mountain View police chief, and San Jose police auditor. They've heard only of the perceived benefits - nothing of the risks. In their three public meetings they've heard no presentations on safety, civil liberties, civil liability, or human rights. These issues will all be crammed into the next meeting on March 27. Then, a few minutes later, they will vote!

The secret mission began on Dec. 4 2006 when, at the urging of Councilmember LaDoris Cordell, the City Council decreed "WE BELIEVE that the City Council should firmly and finally decide whether or not to permit the use of tasers by our police department". They did not say why. Nor did they say why now - why not wait until there's some agreement on the safety of Tasers? Council declarations are usually rationalized with ample WHEREAS clauses, but this declaration was 100% WHEREAS-free.

Next, the Council appointed a task force to research Tasers and advise the Council whether to buy Tasers. Then in their next meeting, just one week later, the Council voted to apply for $120,000 state grant to buy the Tasers they were supposedly still deciding on. The police chief admitted the process was "slightly convoluted", but it sure seemed "very corrupted" to me.

The criteria for selecting task force members was, of course, secret but the result was clear: a task force heavily stacked with law enforcement interests:

  • The Chief: Lynne Johnson. Not an official member of the task force but speaks, at length, at every meeting. She is always accompanied by a fully armed, uniformed policeman (Natasha Powers, famous for her deceptive interrogation of Jorge Hernandez, which led to his false arrest for a brutal rape of an elderly woman and cost him a month in jail - and cost the City $75,000 to settle his subsequent lawsuit). The show of armed force ensures that "civilian" task force members won't hear from Taser victims (who are unlikely to risk confronting armed police again), while sending a chilling message to Taser opponents that dare to speak out.

  • The Captain: Dennis Burns. Not a voting member. The Captain was the only member of PAPD to testify strongly in support of the brutal beating of 60-year- old Albert Hopkins in the trial of PAPD officers Kan and Lee. All four senior officers that arrived on the scene testified that they saw no reason for the arrest, and therefore no justification for the beating. The Captain testified that the brutal beating complied with the PAPD policy of The Chief. So we already know it is PAPD policy to deny the basic human right of freedom from torture and arbitrary arrest and detention - and The Captain supports that policy.

  • The Deputy: Deputy District Attorney Jay Boyarsky is a voting (and the most active) member even though he, like The Captain, is a law enforcement officer. Prosecutors typically work closely with police. Moreover, The Deputy has taken on the role of spokesperson for law enforcement: "I wanted to let the Paly community know that law enforcement stands with them against hate incidents," Boyarsky said. [Paly Voice, Feb. 3 2006]

    According to a news report, when a Redwood City man, Rich Shapiro, picketed outside Sunnyvale police HQ (claiming abuse and assault by police), it was The Deputy, not police, who responded: "Boyarsky also said that legal technicalities saved Shapiro from being charged with indecent exposure or committing a lewd act in public because although it appeared so to officers, there was no direct proof that anything lewd was going on "[The Sun, Feb. 5 2004]

    No proof is a legal technicality? But when a drunken Stanford law school student climbed in an on-call ambulance, drove by (and nearly ran over) the paramedics and patient before running away, The Deputy had a softer legal opinion regarding proof. Rather than claim the student was saved by a legal technicality, he asserted her innocence of the more serious charge: 'Prosecutor Jay Boyarsky said he didn't charge the more serious felony of stealing a working emergency vehicle because there was no evidence that Powell wanted to actually steal the vehicle.>> "This was essentially a joyride," << Boyarsky said. ' [Mercury News, May 23 2006]

    So The Deputy is not just an impartial law enforcer. He is an outspoken advocate for the police who has failed to fully disclose his conflict of interest.

  • The Defender: The Deputy's response to the charge that he should not be on the task force was: "There's a public defender on the panel as well". How could we forget when we watch The Defender, literally, pat The Deputy's back? Public Defender Gary Goodman is a voting member. A public defender is required to act as a "diligent and conscientious advocate" for his client. The Defender's recent record is certainly consistent:

    - 11/2006: The Defender's client charged with a hate crime of assault. He told us his client was remorseful and apologized. The 18-year-old pleaded no contest and received 3 years in prison plus 3 years probation, thus handing over success to the prosecutor: The Deputy Jay Boyarsky. [Mercury News, Nov. 3 2006]

    - 2/2007: The Defender's client charged with a fatal hit-and-run. He pleaded no- contest to manslaughter and two other felonies. The Defender told the court his client's quick plea was made to spare the victim's mother further anguish. The client received 19 years in his second "strike": another successful prosecution for The Deputy. [Mercury News, Feb. 24 2007]

    - 3/2007: The Defender's client charged with attempted murder and robbery. The 25-year-old pleaded guilty to his third "strike", as The Defender read his apology letter, and faces a minimum sentence of 40 years to life. The initial prosecutor was, again, The Deputy. [Mercury News, Mar. 10 2007]

    While The Defender and The Deputy clearly make an effective team, should we expect The Defender to be a "diligent and conscientious advocate" for the community, to balance against The Deputy's vigorous advocacy for law enforcement?

With a posse like that I should not have been surprised to read of their blatant end-run around the Brown Act (requirement for open meetings) in "Taser Task Force focuses on training, policies" of the March 16 Palo Alto weekly. But I was taken aback that one member openly announced that he became convinced of the need for Tasers at the meeting that the public was purposely excluded from. This group does not seem interested in even trying to give the appearance of propriety.

As hard-boiled and cynical as I thought I was, watching this posse has jolted me to the realization that a part of me really wanted to believe that at least our local government wasn't completely devoid of honesty. Now I see that we deserve no better government than the one we are willing to accept.