Please join us at 6pm, Tuesday November 10th for a presentation by and discussion with District Attorney Summer Stephan on the function, efforts and specialized units of the district attorney’s office.
Setting Up Zoom For NAACP San Diego Branch Meetings
The NAACP San Diego Branch, along with other units in the Southeastern Region of the California-Hawaii State/State Area Conference, has decided in order to protect the integrity of our meetings, to require that all participants and guests in our Executive Committee and General Membership online Zoom meetings meet the following criteria:
Have a (paid or) free Zoom account and log in to it before attending
Use a current recognizable photo of their face as the profile picture
Use their legal first and last names on their profile
Attendees who do not meet this criteria will not be permitted in the meeting.
The NAACP San Diego Branch would like to extend its sincerest congratulations and thanks to the citizens of La Mesa on the approval of the new Community Police Oversight Board! It was united citizen action that got the board approved; this is what true civic engagement looks like. You have made your city a safer place for all by your action.
Now that you’ve taken such a great first step, rise up and press on! Be the voice for your neighbors, and demand a transparent, nationwide search for your next Police Chief. Demand that your elected officials involve you in every step they take. Demand that you be a full partner in reimagining your police force, and reshaping it into a model for what police forces in our area need to become.
Francine Maxwell, President NAACP San Diego Branch
As President of the San Diego Branch of the NAACP, it is my responsibility to be on the lookout for and respond to racism, discrimination, and violations of human and civil rights.
That brought me to the case of a young woman walking her dog on a public beach. I have written about this case before, back in May, when it occurred. To recap:
An African-American woman was walking her unleashed dog on a section of the beach where unleashed dogs were permitted, but only at certain times of day. We have no report that this particular unleashed dog had caused any harm at all. When she refused to leash her dog, the lifeguards, rather than call animal control or simply let her go on her way, felt the need to call the police.
As for the officers of the San Diego Police Department, they also had choices available to them. They could have called animal control. They could have given the woman a citation and let her go. They chose to cuff her instead. When she tried to walk away, they apprehended her violently, slamming her to the ground three times, knees in her back, and kicking the poor dog that tried to come to her rescue.
At the time, we filed a complaint with the Citizens Review Board on Police Practices, as residents are encouraged to do. This week, we received a reply, both from the SDPD’s Internal Affairs unit and from the CRB.
Let’s take the SDPD’s response first. They determined our complaints about unnecessary force, bad decisions and the bias that likely led to them were:
In other words, body slamming and brutalizing this young woman and her dog was a perfectly appropriate response to her walking her dog without a leash at the wrong time of day. Clearly, the treatment of black women does not matter to the SDPD.
What did the supposed voice of the people, the CRB, say in their report? Did they bring sanity and accountability to the process? Let’s see:
“The CRB agreed with the Internal Affairs’ finding.” “The CRB agreed with the Internal Affairs’ finding.” “The CRB agreed with the Internal Affairs’ finding.” “The CRB agreed with the Internal Affairs’ finding.” “The CRB agreed with the Internal Affairs’ finding.” “The CRB agreed with the Internal Affairs’ finding.” “The CRB agreed with the Internal Affairs’ finding.”
We will say that the CRB did find that the paperwork proper to the brutalization of a young woman for walking her dog without a leash at the wrong time was not correctly filed by one of the officers.
Law Enforcement in San Diego needs a sense of urgency. There need to be intentional conversations taking place to stop these incidents from occurring, not just reflexive justifications and denials of the wrongs that continue to be done. Each of these incidents only increases the racial tensions in our City, the San Diego Police Department needs a cultural shift, and we need policies and procedures to accelerate that cultural shift.
All of this also underlines the absolute necessity for Measure B, which will bring some degree of independence to citizen oversight. The current CRB, with no investigators, no subpoena power and no legal counsel (except the same ones who defend the police) can hardly be expected to be able to do more than rubber stamp the decisions of Internal Affairs. We know there are people of good will on the CRB, but they are prevented from having a positive effect by a CRB that is deliberately hamstrung by the City, the City Attorney, and the Police Unions to which the City so meekly submits.
So long as the Mayor and City Council fail to show leadership to control the SDPD, so long as they continue to let the SDPD have its way with the residents of our City, stronger citizen oversight is an absolute MUST to protect life and dignity within the city limits.
On November 4th, vote for bolder leadership, and vote YES on Measure B, to establish a more independent Commission on Police Practices to replace the existing CRB.
Francine Maxwell, President NAACP San Diego Branch
A protester was arrested on August 20th by the San Diego Police Department. They were arrested for trying to rescue a fellow protestor from police custody. It is a misdemeanor (CA Penal Code sec. 148) to willfully “resist, delay or obstruct” a police officer in the course of their duties, and a misdemeanor (CA Penal Code sec. 241) “assault” on a police officer. Neither of those charges would have been unexpected.
It was the felony charge of lynching (CA Penal Code 405) that took us by surprise.
We all know what lynching is and who its victims are. While the word “lynching” was removed from the code in 2015, that changes nothing about the intent or history of the law and the historical and current practice it is meant to prohibit.
Still, the San Diego Police Department booked this protestor under the anti-lynching statute.
The NAACP San Diego Branch contacted the neighborhood Community Prosecutor Liaison to see if the DA planned to charge the protestor as the SDPD recommended. We received the following statement in reply:
For more than 80 years, California law defined “lynching” as the crime of taking someone from the lawful custody of a peace officer by means of a riot, according to California Penal Code 405a. However, we know that lynching has a painful history for African Americans and is more commonly used to describe murder by mob.
In 2015 Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that removed the word “lynching” from the text of the bill. Our office has not issued a case with this charge since 2011. Of the two defendants charged in 2011, one case dismissed and the other was vacated. Currently, Penal Code 405a provides that a person who participates in taking by means of a riot of another person from the lawful custody of a peace officer is guilty of a felony. It is no longer referred to as “lynching.”
It recently came to [District Attorney Summer Stephan]’s attention that the sheriff had not changed its booking form and the word lynching was still being used on booking sheets. Summer was offended and appalled to learn this word was still being used in the booking form and took the following actions.
(1) We talked to the Sheriff, advised them that the word was removed from the statute in 2015, and they agreed to change the booking criteria to remove this language.
(2) Our District Attorney liaison will meet with SDPD, remind them that the law has changed to omit that language and train them not to use that language in their internal and external communications
We appreciate District Attorney Stephen’s swift response to the concerns of her constituents as relayed by the NAACP San Diego Branch.
Our Citizen’s Justice Committee, chaired by Dr Robert Brown, also considered this issue. A Sheriff’s Department employee who is a Branch member took our concerns back to the Sheriff’s Department, which independently undertook to remove the word “lynching” from its booking sheets. We also appreciate this prompt action taken by the Sheriff’s Department.
Our next step will be to advocate that this law never be used again outside the context for which it was intended. It is a cruel irony to see it used as a tool against people struggling, however inappropriately, for civil rights. There are other statutes that could have been used; leave this one for when it is called for, in honor of the thousands of African-Americans who have suffered this horrible crime.
Francine Maxwell, President NAACP San Diego Branch
Six months ago, a San Diego County Probation Officer’s misconduct went below the public radar.
Officer Michael Stevenson was clandestinely charged by the County DA’s office for evidence tampering, lying on court reports, preparing false reports for fraudulent reasons, and several other counts.
P.O. Michael Stevenson was entrusted to honor the oath by which he swore to uphold the United States & State of California Constitutions and the rights of its citizens. Instead of fulfilling his Peace Officer duties and sworn oath, he conducted affairs that violated public trust and compromised public safety (by providing unethical and unlawful privileges to probationers, including Shalana Pohlman and Kenneth Fishburn.)
Though formally charged by DA Stephan’s office earlier this year, it is difficult to find reassurance here due to the inner office letters sent to defense attorneys just last week. The letter depicts conflicting statements such as “it has come to the attention of the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office that Mr. Stevenson may have additional exculpatory information in his personnel file. The term exculpatory leaves room for a great margin of error as it can be defined as evidence that could show the defendant is not guilty.
The public should also be aware no specific information about the charges was included in this five-page letter from the DA to defense attorneys.
Similarly, more convolution occurs as Chief of Probation, Adolfo Gonzales attempts his own appeal on the serious matter.
His letter includes:
When this matter was first brought to my attention last year, we acted decisively by notifying the District Attorney’s Office so an independent investigation could take place. In my 42 year career as a law enforcement leader, I have never wavered in the expectation that my staff’s actions must always be ethical, transparent, and in the public’s interest. I ask that you give this criminal review time to be adjudicated in a court of law.
I understand some of you or fellow community members may be discouraged by this news. I want to reassure you that it is because of existing processes like Internal Affairs and the District Attorney’s Office that we work to uphold the highest standards. Probation Officers are professionals who have been entrusted by the community to perform a difficult job. With that duty it is this Department’s obligation to hold ourselves and others accountable. The charges against this former officer are not reflective of the Probation Department’s staff or what we stand for. We protect public safety and work to increase levels of trust with the community. As the Chief Probation Officer, it is my top priority to ensure staff are supported in providing the highest quality services to the clients we serve.
These letters do not provide us with a reasonable guarantee that any outcomes will occur to adequately address this issue. It is long overdue that we examine what this leadership and their departments stand for. We demand decisive, adequate actions and responses to address officer misconduct in an intolerable fashion.
For decades, the Department of Probation and the District Attorney’s Office have served San Diego County under the guise of equity, fairness, and justice.
However, too often, an opposing identity lurks behind this mask.
Such is evident in the Michael Stevenson matter; the latest in a generational series of law enforcement inadequacies. Inadequacies that overwhelmingly adversely affect people of color on probation with constant revocation and recidivism, while catering to Whites on probation with passes and privileges as incentives. Studies have unmasked that 1 in 55 adults in America are under probation and parole supervision, these individuals appear to fare better in this system. However, 1 in 23 black people are on probation and experiencing a harsher more punitive types of probation compared to Whites.
This discriminating Judicial cycle and continued issues of misconduct are a violation of our Constitutional rights and a violation of public trust.
The communities of San Diego, California demand to know the following:
Why is there still an influx and imbalance in the supervision, surveillance, suppression, control, revocations and arrests of people of color?
Why are white privileged probationers and a white privileged employees receiving charges that may not stick along with an apparent get out of jail free card? This pass allowed P.O. Stevenson to collect leave pay and then resign in exchange for blatant misconduct and lack of adherence to the law.
How will the D.A.’s office work with the Probation Dept to stream-line equity and integrity throughout the fabrics of each department?
Why is there still an incongruence in the statement to the public and the statements to employees?
Case in point:
The Probation Dept. leadership asks the public to believe their guiding principles (published as):
Public safety is our priority
Maintain fiscal stability
Promote a culture that values diversity, fairness & equity
Conduct business with transparency and accountability
Act with integrity
Continually challenge ourselves to enhance our knowledge and expertise
While, the labor union, San Diego County Probation Officers Association has an opposing mission on display which states:
It shall be the mission of the San Diego County Probation Officers Association to create and maintain the resources for the protection, care, and relief of its members, as well as, promote and maintain a feeling of friendship and fraternity among its members, to promote the individual and collective welfare of the members, and to defend and preserve the rights of the members on all matters pertaining to their employment relationships with the County of San Diego and to advance their professional interests.
These two vastly different pursuits of the Probation Dept. and the labor union leave very little room for accountability and high standards in order to flourish.
Is the Probation Department and the District Attorney’s office bargaining our Constitutional rights away to the San Diego County Probation Officers Association?
Today we demand full transparency, full accountability, and full initiative in all public safety related matters. We demand the practice of masking serious misconduct issues to cease and desist.
We demand equality and fairness for all probationers.
We demand new leaders and supervisors to take on this task if for some reason this matter remains unsolved and unresolved.
Back in May, we wrote about the violent arrest of a woman for walking her dog. We also submitted a complaint to the Community Review Board, which is supposed to give the community a voice in the discipline of San Diego Police Department officers.
We recently received a response regarding the status of our complaint. There is evidently a large backlog of community complaints, and the CRB does not have the staff to keep up with the workload. Hope was expressed that the ballot measure to turn the CRB into a Commission on Police Practices would pass, and bring with it more funding and more staff.
People of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds came out to peacefully protest for change, and what have we gotten? The carotid restraint has been banned and the San Diego Police Department has instituted a de-escalation policy. Both of these things are welcome but not nearly sufficient. Furthermore, both of these things come from the San Diego Police Department, and no action has come from the Mayor or the City Council.
Just the other night we received a shocking example of a young man being racially profiled and illegally harassed by the SDPD. Are we just supposed to sit back and wait for the November election and 2021 to see any more change?
No. Our elected officials should be bolder leaders to the constituents of San Diego and should have immediately installed youth on the Youth Commission to get them engaged on what they want to see in their city. The empty seats on the CRB need to be filled so the backlog can be eliminated, and not left as a legacy to the incoming CRB (or CPP). There are so many more Commissions that could be helping with the racial tensions in our City. The City’s latest listing shows these vacancies on relevant boards and commissions:
Accessibility Advisory Board: 2
Citizens’ Advisory Board on Police/Community Relations: 2
Citizens’ Equal Opportunity Commission: 3
CRB: 7 (SEVEN!)
Human Relations Commission: 3
Senior Affairs Advisory Board: 5
Sustainable Energy Board: 6
The state of emergency and the racial tension in the City hasn’t gone on August recess like the council. The NAACP San Diego branch is calling on the Council to ensure that boards and commissions with empty seats get dealt with upon the return to business. We will not stand by and allow the newly civically-minded and engaged constituents to be ignored and disheartened. Citizen engagement is vital to democracy; disenfranchisement and despair lead only to disunity and destruction.The above mentioned arrest1 should have been dealt with by now. Justice delayed is justice denied has never been more true than regarding discipline of SDPD officers. If investigations are dragged out, if the CRB is understaffed, it guarantees the permanent denial of justice.
Francine Maxwell, President NAACP San Diego Branch