There were two more disturbing stories about police officers killing people this week, although both of the actual incidents occurred two years ago. The first is the 2013 shooting from Gardena, California, depicted in a disturbing video here.
Here’s the description, from the Los Angeles Times:
The grainy videos, captured by cameras mounted in two patrol cars, show three men mistakenly suspected of stealing a bicycle standing in a street under the glare of police lights. With their weapons trained on the men, officers scream at them to keep their hands up.
While two of the men in the videos remain motionless, Diaz Zeferino appears confused by the officers’ instructions. He drops and raises his arms repeatedly, showing the officers his hands and stepping backward and then forward a few paces. A laser dot from an officers’ pistol can be seen on his shirt. After Diaz Zeferino removes a baseball cap from his head, officers standing to the side of the men unleash a volley of gunfire.
The videos show Diaz Zeferino, 35, collapsing to the ground, along with Mendez, who was wounded.
The officers were cleared of any wrongdoing. Note the immediate escalation. They’ve drawn their guns and are screaming out orders immediately . . . for a bicycle theft. The shooting itself is equally suspect. But even if you buy the L.A. County district attorney’s office determination that the officers could reasonably have believed that Zeferino was reaching for a gun, it never should have reached that point. It should never have reached a point where cops were screaming life-and-death orders at a confused man who had done nothing wrong and who the police suspected had — at worst — stolen a bike.
This goes back to a point I’ve made many times before on this site. Three innocent, unarmed men were fired upon by cops. One of them is dead. None of them broke any laws. If these cops’ actions were within the department’s procedures, then the police department needs new procedures. It’s a painfully obvious thing to write, but it apparently needs to be written: Innocent, unarmed men dying in a hail of bullets can not be the acceptable outcome of an investigation into a bicycle theft.
The police department and the city of Gardena then went to court to keep the video from the public. There was also apparently an internal investigation, but under California law, the results of that investigation will be hidden from the public. Meanwhile, the public gets to foot the bill for the settlement paid out to Zeferino’s family. The public also gets to continue to pay these officers’ salaries and benefits and know that they’re still carrying badges and guns.
The second story comes from Georgia. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has published a long investigation into the death of Caroline Small, a 35-year-old mother of two shot and killed by Glynn County police. Police had responded after someone saw Small sitting in her car and suspected drug use. Small, who suffered from mental illness and was distraught, then led police on a low-speed chase. The officers claimed they opened fire on her when they feared she was about to hit them with her car.
After the shooting, Sasser and Simpson are heard on video discussing the shoot.
“Where did you hit her?” Simpson asks, according to a GBI transcript.
“I hit her right in the face,” Sasser says.
“I watched the bridge of her nose…I pulled the trigger and I watched it hit her at the same time I think I fired,” Simpson says.
Sure Small was dead, Simpson waved off a witness and former EMT who offered to render aid, leaving her slumped against the window bleeding, records show.
In fact, she wasn’t dead. She would live for another week. And then the cover-up began.
Within hours of the shooting, Chief Doering had formed his own opinion of what happened. Based on witness statements and dash cam video, Doering told local reporters that his preliminary review led him to believe that the officers’ feared their lives were in danger and that they acted appropriately.
The next day’s news headline backed him up: “Woman shot trying to run down police.”
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation was called to look into the shooting. But Glynn police immediately began running interference on that investigation. Glynn officers also altered the scene of the shooting and never established where Small’s car was when she was killed. David Perry, the acting DA at the time, initially sought to indict the officers. Then he changed his mind.
Perry died this past February, so the reasons for his abrupt change of heart are not fully known. But the record shows that a battle over a permanent replacement for the DA’s job was taking place in the midst of the investigation into the shooting.
A young prosecutor in the office named Jackie Johnson also wanted to be Brunswick DA and announced her intentions just three days after the shooting. She enlisted Chief Doering’s support and Doering wrote Gov. Sonny Perdue a letter of recommendation. In court documents, Doering acknowledged that he spoke to Johnson about Perry’s public statements about the Small case, and that she found his public comments inappropriate.
Perdue appointed Johnson Brunswick Circuit district attorney Aug. 9, and she was sworn in Aug. 12 in a ceremony attended by lawmakers, local judges and police officers, according to news reports. Two days later, she was quoted in the Brunswick News saying she intended to delay taking Small’s case to a grand jury, originally scheduled for later that month.
Johnson’s appointment returned Perry to his previous status as assistant DA in the office. In one of her first official acts on the job, however, Johnson fired Perry, according court records, and took over the Small case herself . . .
Before he died, Perry spoke to an attorney handling the Small family’s civil lawsuit. There was no doubt in his mind, he told Atlanta attorney William Atkins, that he lost his job at the DA’s office because of his position on what happened to Caroline Small June 18.
During grand jury proceedings, Johnson informed the panel about Small’s history of drug abuse, but not of the officers’ history of using force. She allowed the officers’ attorneys to cross-examine GBI investigators (imagine a prosecutor allowing anyone else to do this). Grand jurors were also shown a reenactment that GBI investigators and witnesses said was grossly inaccurate, distorted in a way to justify the shooting.
Perhaps the most powerful evidence in the grand jury chamber was the officers’ statements that closed out the proceedings. In Georgia, officers are given the special privilege to make an unchallenged statement at the end of the grand jury hearing. At least one of the officers broke down in tears, as did some of the grand jurors. One grand juror handed an officer tissues, according to another grand juror . . .
Bennett, the grand juror who now regrets his vote to clear the officers, told the AJC and Channel 2 that he believed the rush to vote without any deliberation affected the outcome. So did the way that he thought the evidence was weighted to the officers’ side.
“We failed the process,” Bennett said.
After the grand jury’s decision was announced, the grand jurors were dismissed. About half of them, according to Smith’s sworn deposition, hugged officers Sasser and Simpson on the way out.
Small’s family was never notified when the case was brought before the grand jury. Their lawsuit was tossed out in federal court. The officers who killed Caroline Small are still on duty, one still with the Glynn County police and one with the Glynn County Sheriff’s Department.