Polis Listening Session Gets an Earfull

By: 
Stephen Downing

As previously reported by this newspaper, the Long Beach City Council provided “policy direction and funding to conduct an external evaluation of the Citizen Police Complaint Commission (CPCC) to ensure “optimal alignment with community needs and expectations.”

The council action was based upon an initial report from the city’s Racial Equity and Reconciliation Initiative created in response to the nationwide demonstrations and civil disturbances associated with the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

As a result of the funding authorized, the city executed a $150,000 purchase agreement with Polis Solutions of Seattle, Wash. – a professional consulting firm – on May 20 to “Evaluate services for citizen police complaints.”

One part of the project was to schedule two public listening sessions. One Zoom session on Sept. 16 and an in-person session on Sept. 23.

The city did not provide effective advertising for the sessions and neither of the two sessions was well attended.

The most significant issue arising at the Sept. 16 session was a response to a question asked by Polis, “What was your experience when filing a complaint with the city?”

An attendee’s asked, “Was anyone who filed a complaint invited to the listening session?”

An awkward silence consumed the meeting until the city representatives admitted that no former complainant had been invited.

The response prompted an intense tongue-lashing from the attendee that resulted in invitations being sent to former CPCC complainants for the second – in-person – listening session held on Sept. 23.

At that session – which was also poorly attended – the city representative informed those attending that 180 emails had been sent to former complainants and that “a few responded via email and others were still coming in.”

No complainant attended the second listening session.

The Beachcomber obtained one of the few emails received by the city. It was not read or distributed at the listening session.

The unedited email – written to Kathryn Olson and Denise Rodriguez of Polis Solutions – supports the need for systemic reform. It is reprinted here:

“I received an email message on September 17, 2021 from Patrick Weithers, manager of the Long Beach Citizen Police Complaint Commission (CPCC) because I have filed a police complaint against a Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) officer in the past.

Mr. Weithers told me that you have been hired to conduct an extensive evaluation for reform of the CPCC and are looking for input on changes for the CPCC from people familiar with it. Please allow me to offer my public comments via this message.

I have filed two complaints related to the 2014 homicide investigation into the death of my sister Dana Kathleen Jones. A week after her death, I sent a detailed complaint to then Director of the CPCC, Anitra Dempsey, about what I perceived to be the blundering failure of then Detective Todd Johnson to methodically investigate.

Dempsey withheld my complaint from consideration by the citizen commission and informed me that no further action would be taken, effectively burying the matter.

Years later, when I had more information, including Johnson’s police reports, I complained that, actually, Johnson had lied about the facts of the case, filed false or misleading reports and destroyed evidence.

Among the destroyed evidence was my sister’s body.

LBPD detectives in collusion with the L.A. County Medical Examiner-Coroner released my sister’s body to OneLegacy for the purpose of harvesting her vital organs before autopsy, despite the fact that a homicide investigation was underway.

When her body was destroyed by OneLegacy, so was physical evidence that would have been crucial in investigating her death.

Digital media evidence in the case, too, was mishandled and destroyed by LBPD before it could be forensically preserved and examined. Blood evidence at my sister’s house was photographed by police, only to be ignored by detectives.

I know all of this because Johnson released a trove of police records about the case to his one-time training officer Bryan McMahon, whom I paid to obtain the information.

Earlier, I had requested documents about the case directly from the LBPD. Police responded by sending me one report written by officer Edwin Oak plus a warning that Oak’s report was confidential and I must not share it with anyone outside of law enforcement.

When I hired McMahon to request information on my behalf, however, he had no trouble obtaining multiple police reports, photographs and even surveillance videos from my sister’s house. With McMahon’s direct knowledge and approval, multiple copies of these documents were made and distributed to a team of private investigators and others outside of law enforcement, including my brother and me.

As I wrote in my second complaint, which was addressed to Commander Darren Lance in Internal Affairs, I’m glad to have these documents, but I question the appropriateness of their release. Is this how it works in Long Beach? Are confidential police documents for sale to certain people? Yes, apparently.

From this trove of police information, I learned, too, that hours after I sent my initial complaint to Anitra Dempsey at the CPCC, a flurry of police reports were filed about my sister’s case.

The timeline is important. On March 4, 2014, a hospital worker notified the police that my sister’s fatal injuries were consistent with assault. That evening, police opened a homicide investigation, obtained a search warrant and dispatched more than a half-dozen officers plus homicide detectives to investigate.

However, Johnson, the lead detective, did not file a report about the case until March 10, just after I asked him on the phone why he was letting my sister’s husband get away with murder. I was so disturbed by Johnson’s unconcerned, dismissive attitude that I sent an e-mail complaint to Dempsey on March 11.

On the morning of March 12, Johnson, Detective Roger Zottneck, and forensic technician Carmen Moncure filed multiple reports. Why did they all suddenly decide that morning to log evidence collected from my sister’s house more than a week earlier?

This timeline suggests that Johnson was notified by Dempsey or Internal Affairs that I had filed a CPCC complaint, thus giving Johnson a chance to cover up his lapses by filing false or misleading reports.

You can read more about my sister’s case and see specific examples of Johnson’s reports at http://www.yogadeath.com. My initial CPCC complaint along with responses from Dempsey and Internal Affairs can be found on the site index page.

Eventually, I learned from Long Beach news reports that Johnson had botched at least one other homicide investigation before my sister’s death. Further, he had a history of drinking excessively and being under the influence on the job. I complained in person about Johnson in a meeting on Sept. 16, 2014, with Johnson’s supervisor, then-Sergeant Erik Herzog. Herzog defended Johnson’s integrity to the point of losing his composure and shouting me down. All the while, Herzog knew about Johnson’s history of drinking and sloppiness, and yet, somehow, I was the problem.

In my experience, Herzog’s response to my complaint is how the LBPD responds to complaints in general: defend, deflect, deny and lie. The LBPD refuses to acknowledge even easily remediable shortcomings, such as their lack of written policies and procedures for handling digital media evidence, which was important in my sister’s case.

This is the culture of the LBPD. It has been this way throughout decades of scandals, payouts and settlements. Ordinary citizens and taxpayers have always borne the brunt. The CPCC has done nothing – can do nothing – to reform this culture. The CPCC merely can make suggestions and go through the motions of “oversight,” all while under the thumb of the city manager, who is under the thumb of the mayor, who is under the thumb of the police union. Why pretend the CPCC offers independent civilian oversight of the LBPD, when it offers no such thing? Rather, it functions as a public-relations tool to help City Hall defend, deflect, deny and lie when confronted with citizen complaints about the police.

For instance, the CPCC has a small team of civilians who investigate complaints concurrent with the LBPD’s Internal Affairs investigation of the same complaints. The CPCC investigation is dependent on information and evidence provided by IA. CPCC investigators know what IA agrees to share but are in the dark about what IA might withhold. At best, the CPCC investigation is duplication of the IA investigation, but with a pretense of independence. Have there ever been cases in which the two investigations reached significantly different conclusions? I doubt it.

City Hall can point to the CPCC investigation and say, “See, citizens investigate and review every IA complaint. Therefore, we have citizen oversight of the police.” In reality, though, the commissioners know only about the cases that are presented to them. They don’t know about complaints such as mine withheld from their consideration. And, ultimately, the CPCC can be undermined or overruled by the city manager at the city manager’s discretion.

It would be better to abolish the CPCC altogether and establish by law a citizen oversight commission with subpoena powers and investigative resources that are truly independent of the mayor, city manager and LBPD.

As for my sister’s case, I understand there’s no law or precedent to support civil legal action against the police for poor or incompetent investigation, especially after the passage of so much time. In other words, no one can be held liable for botching my sister’s case. According to Transparent California, Todd Johnson and Anitra Dempsey now are comfortably collecting pensions. Johnson’s enabler and one-time-Sergeant Erik Herzog recently retired from the LBPD and Chief Robert Luna is on his way out. Everyone, including my sister’s murderer, has gotten away consequence-free – but not my sister, obviously, and not those of us who continue to be troubled by the LBPD’s incompetence.

I would like an honest acknowledgement from the CPCC that the LBPD messed up my sister’s case. But even this small SOP is more than the CPCC has power, authority, or willingness to offer. To me, any suggestion that the CPCC can police the police is a bitterly unfunny joke.”

[Signed. Lisa Jones]

stephen.beachcomber@gmail.com

Category:

Comments

If I didn't know the police my first reaction would be "this is incredible." The fact that many of us who follow the LBPD, the CPCC, and the City of Long Beach Public Safety Committee find this completely unsurprising is sad, meanwhile the politicians look at us with a straight face and tell us that the system is working.

why would the city want to establish a system of accountably for its police department? if its establish how are they going to hide all the misconduct, corruption and incompetency with proper oversight. WE need to disband the this PD management and start over. A good start was getting rid of incompetent and corrupt COP Luna.

I filed multiple unanswered complaints with the CPCC while president of the Belmont Shore Residents Association and did not receive an invitation to any of the meetings.....which is probably why I didn't receive an invitation.

Add new comment

Beachcomber

Copyright 2021 Beeler & Associates.

All rights reserved. Contents may not be reproduced or transmitted – by any means – without publisher's written permission.