San Diego Cops Using Excessive Force. Don’t All Lives Matter? Ferguson, MO or Not?

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San Diego Cops Using Excessive Force. Don’t All Lives Matter?  Ferguson, MO or Not?

Over the last year or so, we have heard about countless incidents where police are accused of using excessive force.  It may seem like this is a new phenomenon.  While we heard about these situations in the past, it seemed like nine times out of ten, they were quickly resolved with a determination that the police had acted properly.

What has changed is that today, nearly everyone has a video camera with them at all times.  Smart phone technology means almost anyone is or can be a reported, documenting incidents between police and ordinary citizens.  We have had them long enough, that when a shocking incident happens, we don’t just freeze, we start recording.

Prior to all the video evidence, these incidents usually boiled down to the word of sworn officers versus the person they accused of wrong doing.  If there was another neutral civilian witness who said the police were wrong, the authorities, either the police investigating themselves or the District Attorney, would conclude this witness didn’t see the whole thing or was just so shocked, they didn’t make a good witness.

Now, we have a jury verdict against two San Diego Sheriff’s Deputies. A jury just found two local Deputies liable for the October 2012 un-prevoked attack on a home owner in the Mount Helix area.  The man never had a weapon, but, was beaten with fists and flashlights, tased and a police dog attacked him, resulting in broken bones, a collapsed lung and nearly losing his ear to the dog.  The jury awarded $600,000.00 to the victim.

Aside from the Deputies’ use of such violence, the thing that seems the most disturbing is the response from our District Attorney.  Not only did they not ever charge either Deputy with anything, instead they charged the victim with felony resisting arrest.  He’s lucky he wasn’t killed or the D.A. might have just charged him with attempted murder.

Even by the Deputies’ accounts, their reaction was way over the top.  They claimed the man looked like he was a threat because he was tense and had his hands balled up into fists.  By their account, he never had a weapon, nor did he ever approach the Deputies.  Instead, one of the Deputies rushed him and then claimed the man tried to hit him with his arm.

We will never know if the D.A. intentionally tried to protect the Deputies by filing charges against the victim.  By the way, a jury quickly found the man not guilty of resisting.  But, whether the D.A. intentionally abused the system or not is not the point.  It looks like they did.

When the D.A. appears to be trying to shield law enforcement from the same laws we all have to obey, it undermines the trust the public has in both prosecutors and law enforcement. That is why defense lawyers, like must challenge the arrest.  Furthermore, if criminal defense attorneys don’t challenge excessive force, sends the signal to bad cops, or cops having a bad day, don’t worry about following the rules, the D.A. will protect you.  Both of those results erode our system of justice.

Most law enforcement agencies in our County now have some sort of video and audio system set up to capture incidents.  The San Diego Sheriff’s Department is just now starting to phase in the use of this technology.  Maybe, instead of waiting for another $600,000.00 jury verdict for excessive force, the County could use that money to get all its Deputies in the filed equipped with body cameras.  There is no legitimate reason not to.  It protects police from unwarranted claims against them.  It protects civilians from abuse by police and it helps mend the wound of distrust that has developed toward law enforcement. Call Dan Smith and Jon Pettis at San Diego Defenders if you have questions about excessive force leading to your arrest or someone you care about and we will answer your questions at (619) 258-8888.