Accident or Unsolved Murder?

Stephen Downing

Lisa Jones, 53, of Denver, Colorado, read two of our recent Beachcomber columns in which we addressed issues within the LBPD related to on-the-job alcoholism, cover ups, investigative incompetence and negligent supervision, as well as a piece in the Press-Telegram by Jeremiah Dobruck who reported a superior court judge’s tongue lashing of two LBPD homicide detectives in characterizing their investigative competence as “appalling and unethical and inappropriate” in addition to statements made by a deputy district attorney who said that the detectives “were involved in a series of either blunders or intentional omissions” during a homicide investigation.

The Beachcomber columns resonated with Ms. Jones and she decided to reach out to us. It was one more of her many attempts to bring attention to the competence of the investigation surrounding the March 3, 2014 death of her sister, Dana, in Long Beach.

Lisa Jones has spent most of the past four years entreating the LBPD, the Citizen Police Complaint Commission (CPCC), private attorneys and investigators to look deeper into her sister’s death, which was classified by the LBPD and the Los Angeles County Coroner as “accidental.”

During that four-year period – in pursuit of her determination to expose what she believes to be the true facts of her sister’s case - she also studied and obtained certification as a forensic video technician though the Law enforcement and Emergency Services Video Association International (LEVA); training to become an expert in the acquisition and analysis of digital media evidence.

She took this training because she believed that the detectives in her sister’s case “made several disastrous assumptions due to their lack of training and knowledge regarding video evidence.”

Lisa has also collected her own archive of documentation, interviews, videos and other evidence related to the availability of weapons overlooked that explain her sister’s massive head injury, blood evidence unnoticed by detectives, what she considers to be a discredited alibi, an unreliable witness, sloppy handling of evidence and a convincing forensic examination of the 911 call made by her sister’s husband that caused dispatch of first responders to the scene of her sister’s “accident.”

What follows is Lisa Jones’ personal account of key events surrounding the investigation into death of her sister, edited for length and clarity:

Lisa’s Sister Quoted

“My sister’s husband called 911 from their house in Long Beach, California at 8:51 a.m. on March 3, 2014. He told the emergency dispatcher that his wife “was doing yoga, doing a headstand, fell, and, um, she’s bleeding from behind.”

The dispatcher clarified that the back of Dana’s head was bleeding. Dana’s husband described the bleeding as “massive.” He said that he “just heard a loud crash and came running into the room,” and found his injured wife.

Minutes later, at 8:57 a.m., a Long Beach Fire Department Engine Company arrived at the house, followed by paramedics at 9:05 a.m.

First responders found Dana supine on the bare concrete floor of her home’s recreation room. Dana was 50 years old, Caucasian, 5’7” in height, weighing around 146 pounds. She had been mortally wounded by blunt-force head trauma, but the first responders did not recognize the severity of her injuries.

One of the paramedics who treated Dana told the police that he noticed very little blood at the scene – just “20 drops” on the floor. He said that he didn’t remember seeing blood anywhere in the room except under her head. He said that Dana’s head was at least three feet away from any furniture. Therefore, she could not have hit her head on an object or sharp edge. He noted that there was no yoga mat on the concrete floor.

A firefighter said that Dana was not able to speak to him, but she did respond to his questions by squeezing his hand. He said that she had a large hematoma at the base of her skull under her hair. He assumed that the drops of blood on the floor were from this hematoma. The word “hematoma” in this instance suggests that there was a solid swelling of clotted blood within the skin of Dana’s scalp.

First responders said that they didn’t know what was wrong with Dana when they examined her. Due to her vital signs, they knew that she needed to be taken to a trauma center. They removed her from the house on a gurney.

In the home-surveillance recordings, Dana appeared to be unconscious as she was wheeled from the house. Her eyes were closed. She was motionless and strapped to the gurney. Dana’s husband held up a cell phone and took a photograph of his wife as she was being taken to the ambulance.

After the first responders left, Dana’s husband remained at the house. He initiated phone calls. He told people that his wife had fallen and hit her head while doing yoga. Later, he took a shower and changed his clothes. He packed a bag that did not appear to include items for his wife such as toiletries or pajamas. Rather, he packed electronic devices – his iPad and phone along with Dana’s phone – and her wallet, which he removed from her purse.

The home surveillance video showed him driving away from the house at 9:57 a.m. – 39 minutes after the departure of the ambulance. By that time, Dana had already been admitted to St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach.

The emergency-room charge nurse told the police that she remembered seeing Dana when she was admitted to the hospital. She said that she did not recall seeing any visible injuries to her face or body. Because of my sister’s inability to talk, and her unequally dilated pupils, the emergency room staff initially thought that she had suffered a stroke.

A doctor ordered a CT scan. The scan showed a basal skull fracture to the left occipital area, a large occipital hematoma, and a large frontal hematoma. The hematomas identified by the CT scan were inside Dana’s skull. These were severe, acute injuries to her brain.

It turned out that the presumed hematoma described by the fireman on Dana’s scalp under her hair wasn’t a hematoma at all. Rather, it was an irregular laceration in the shape of a backward or upside-down letter “L”, almost two inches long. It wasn’t bleeding. This wound was so large and deep that a surgeon had to close it with surgical staples. The surgeon told the police that wherever the injury had happened, there would be a lot of blood.

Doctors performed emergency surgery to remove part of my sister’s skull to make room for her brain to swell. But her brain had swollen too much already. Irreversible damage had been done. The pressure inside her skull – a phenomenon known as brainstem herniation, had crushed her brain. As a result, Dana was brain-dead.

According to Dana’s husband, she had fallen to the floor while doing yoga exercises at home.

A social worker at the hospital telephoned the Long Beach Police on the afternoon of March 4, 2014 – the day after Dana was admitted to the hospital. The social worker said that doctors had come to her with concerns about Dana’s injuries.

“They’re saying that it looks like it may have been someone assaulting her,” the social worker told the police dispatcher. “All the doctors are saying that the nature of the injuries suggests that it may have been foul play. They’re saying, like, that it sounds like if she’s doing yoga, and she fell and hit her head, it wouldn’t have fractured it that severely.”

Long Beach Police detectives launched an investigation into possible homicide involving assault with a deadly weapon. On the night of March 4, detectives executed a search warrant at Jone’s home.

The detectives saw that the home was covered by a video surveillance system equipped with twelve cameras. Motion detectors activated the cameras. The detectives believed that the cameras had recorded all activity at the house without interruption.

According to Dana’s husband, he took the dog for a walk around the neighborhood on the morning of March 3.

On the surveillance video, he can be seen walking out the front door with the dog at 8:12 a.m. He can be seen returning to the house with the dog at 8:38 a.m.

Dana’s husband claimed that when he entered the house, he could hear his wife’s iPad playing a yoga video behind the closed door of the recreation room. In the surveillance video, he can be seen wearing ear buds as he entered the house. His ears remained covered for several minutes as he prepared a bed for the dog on a sofa. Dana’s husband told the police that he heard a loud crash minutes after returning with the dog. He said, “It sounded like wood being hit.”

On the surveillance video, the dog on the sofa appeared to react to a noise at 8:48 a.m. Her husband was not on camera at this time. He dialed 911 at 8:51 a.m. He did not reappear on camera until 8:56 a.m., when he exited the exterior door of the yoga room and opened the front gate.

Detectives seized Dana’s iPad and the digital video recorder (DVR) from the home’s video surveillance system. The lead detective remarked to my father “a guy would have to be crazy to kill his wife with so many video cameras around his house.”

Dana’s husband, however, installed the video system and he was the only person who managed and monitored the system. Nevertheless, the lead detective presumed that the video files on the DVR gave an authentic, complete account of activities in and around the house.”

Accident or Unsolved Murder?

That presumption by the lead detective led to an unsupported finding that Dana’s death was accidental. But, was the detective’s presumption appropriate? Was her death an accident or does it remain an unsolved murder?

This column will explore all of that in Part Two of Lisa’s communication with the Beachcomber as well as report the independent conclusions and recommendations of a former major city chief of police and a highly respected homicide detective as they pertain to the competency of the investigation.

We will also examine the manner in which the LBPD Internal Affairs Division and the “independent” Citizen Police Complaint Commission (CPCC) disposed of Lisa Jones’ detailed complaint to the CPCC – a complaint in which she described the lead LBPD detective as “a grossly negligent homicide investigator.”

Stephen Downing is a retired LAPD deputy chief of police and a resident of Long Beach.


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