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LASD “COPS HIT Team” Opens Fire…CA Activist Gets Son Back After 3-Strikes Reform…..The Teen Court Option

April 11th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



A SHOOTING IN LANCASTER

Angel Mendez, 30, and Jennifer Garcia, 27, were assuredly not model citizens. Yet they were not suspected of any crime when a specialized Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department team reportedly blew through the door of the backyard shack where they were living.

The members of the “COPS HIT” team (the unfortunately conceived acronym for “Community-Oriented Policing Services High-Impact Team”) reportedly entered the shack without knocking, calling out, or identifying themselves. They had evidently come to the shack looking for a parolee who had gone AWOL from his court-ordered drug rehab. They’d gotten a tip that he might have gone to the Mendez/Garcia shack. Or not. It might have been somewhere else.

Within seconds two of the team unloaded a total of fifteen bullets into Angel Mendez and Jennifer Garcia.

In this week’s LA Weekly, reporter Patrick Range McDonald delves into the story of the shooting, the subsequent response of the sheriff’s department, and the civil case that has recently finished and now awaits a judicial verdict.

Here are two clips—one from near the first of the stort, the second from near the end.

Conley opened the shack door with his department-issued 9mm semiautomatic Beretta drawn. Mendez, who had on the bed a Daisy Powerline rifle-style BB gun that he used for shooting rats, sat up and moved the BB gun to the floor. Conley opened fire. A bullet ripped into Mendez’s right forearm, passed through it and struck his right leg — proof, his attorneys today say, that he was reaching down to put the BB gun on the floor when shot.

“I didn’t even know it was them,” Mendez later told Sheriff’s Homicide Sgt. Robert Gray. “They didn’t say ‘police’! They didn’t say ‘freeze’! They didn’t say ‘drop the weapon’! They said nothing, sir.”

Conley and Pederson fired at will, peppering the couple with 14 more bullets, one of which struck the seven-months-pregnant Garcia in the right upper back and shattered her collarbone. Mendez was critically injured, hit multiple times in his right leg, arm, back and side; blood poured from his wounds. Weeks later, his badly fractured right leg, whose key arteries had been sliced in half, had to be amputated.

In a disturbing videotape taken minutes after the shooting, as a paramedic worked to stop the bleeding, police can be clearly heard pressuring Mendez to say he’d pointed the BB gun at Conley. Mendez begs the people around him, “Oh, please, don’t let me die, sir!” then turns his head toward neighbor Charles Green, who is witnessing the drama, and tells Green: “I never pointed the gun at him, Charlie!”

And pages later…a second clip:

Tom Parker, the former head of L.A.’s FBI office, read the Sheriff’s and L.A. County District Attorney reports on the Mendez shooting, as well as David Drexler’s opening statement at trial. He has come to suspect that COPS HIT and TOP were engaged in the “very common” practice of “testi-lying” after a bad shoot.

Parker is a retired 24-year veteran of the FBI whose distinguished career included undercover investigations, police corruption and brutality cases and investigations of agent-involved shootings. Last year, the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara gave him a Heroes of Justice Award for his work on criminal-justice reform.

Parker says police sometimes lie about “drug houses” to justify unjustifiable searches. But he has even more fundamental doubts than that in the Angel Mendez case. He questions whether a deputy ever saw big, white Ronnie O’Dell at Albertsons or whether the purported informant even existed.

“From that point forward,” Parker says, referring to the deputies’ huddle outside Albertsons, “there’s really faulty police procedures happening here.” Nobody saw O’Dell leave Albertsons, so the deputies were not in a “hot pursuit” to Paula Hughes’ home. Nor was there any clear and immediate threat to the public.

Parker says, “Without a warrant or substantial probable cause … you don’t have a right to go into the backyard and search through buildings, never mind the shack.” He says the killing of Paula Hughes’ German shepherd was wrong. “If you’ve got no right to be on the property, you’ve got no right to shoot the dog.”

Professor O’Donnell agrees that if there’s not an emergency, “You need to have a warrant to go into someone’s house.” But he notes that due to institutional pressures, officers and their commanders often feel they can’t admit they were wrong.

O’Donnell adds, “If you can’t be truthful, then what are your reports going to say?”

Parker explains, “If you operate from the premise that [police] had no right to be there, that damages the self-protection aspect of the shooting. … Angel and Jennifer are innocent victims in this situation.”

O’Donnell says it’s also “interesting” that Mendez was not prosecuted for pointing an imitation gun. “He basically didn’t do a crime,” the professor says. “He was sitting in his home.”

The sheriff’s department’s own Internal Affairs investigation cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, as did the OIR—the Office of Independent Review—and the LA DA’s office.

There’s much more to the story so read the rest here.


SUE REAMS GETS HER SON BACK AFTER 3-STRIKES AND 17 YEARS

Anyone who has reported on 3-Strikes reform has probably met or talked to Sue Reams, one of the front line 3-Strikes reform activists. Reams started her campaign to change the law after her son went away on a life sentence.

The day before Easter of this year, she and her husband were able to bring her son home from prison.

NPR’s Ina Jaffe has the story. Here’s the audio. And her’s a clip from the text:

…Before that moment, Shane had served about 17 years of his potential life sentence. He got his third strike for being involved in the sale of a $20 rock of cocaine. He says he was a bystander. The prosecution said he was a lookout. But it was Shane’s first two strikes that caused his mother such heartache, as she said in a 2009 interview with NPR. She’d been trying to get her son off drugs, she explained. Nothing seemed to work, so she tried tough love.

“Tough love tells you that you take a stand,” she said. “So I took a stand.”

That meant when her son stole some stuff from her house — and from the neighbors — to get money for drugs, Reams insisted he turn himself in. She even drove him to the police station. She told him: “Maybe you’ll get a drug program. You need a drug program.”

Instead he got convicted of two counts of residential burglary. A few years later when he got picked up on the drug charge, those burglaries counted as his first two strikes….


THE TEEN COURT OPTION

Los Angeles has a remarkable teen court program that we’ve visited and will report on in the future, but here’s a report on a teen court in Napa, California that is doing good things.

Michael Waterson writing for the Napa Valley Register has the story. Here’s a clip:

Recognizing the power of peer pressure, Napa County’s juvenile justice system attempts to harness it for positive behavioral change through a peer court program where teens judge teens.

Peer Court came to American Canyon on Thursday. A young defendant was tried in City Hall chambers by youth lawyers who presented the case to a teenage jury and Napa County Family Court Commissioner Monique Langhorne-Johnson. The young attorneys were mentored by real lawyers from the Napa Bar Association or experienced Peer Court youths.

The young defendant, who because of his age can’t be identified, had been arrested for allegedly smoking marijuana and concentrated cannabis. A high school senior and a good student with a 3.27 grade point average, the defendant said he used marijuana more than once for joint pain in his knees and shoulder. He said a doctor told him surgery was not an option to correct his pain.

On the day he was caught smoking with a friend in a parked car, he said he had come from work where he had stood on his feet all day. Because of his arrest, he has been given a curfew by his parents, he said.

In addition to observing another Peer Court proceeding, writing an essay about it and serving on a peer jury, student prosecutors Eric McFarland and Acee Echevarria called for the defendant to put in eight hours of community service and complete a drug education class.

A 16-year-old student at American Canyon High School, McFarland said he has always loved the idea of being a lawyer. His middle name, Kazi, means “lawyer” in the Bengali dialect he said.

Echevarria, also 16 and an American Canyon student, said he is fascinated by the law, so much so he sometimes travels to Napa to sit in on random court proceedings.

“I first heard of it in class,” Echevarria said about Peer Court. “I fell in love with the program….”


Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department via LA Weekly

Posted in Courts, District Attorney, juvenile justice, LASD, Sentencing | 25 Comments »

25 Responses

  1. Know probable cause and case law Says:

    It seems funny so many of these shootings have the same overtones. So many deputies (law enforcement in general) take the easy way out to write a report. Establish probable cause based on law and you get a sealed tight shooting, a valid entry into a dwelling and the bad guy goes back to prison for a long times.

    Without knowing what’s in the first report, I will speculate and speculate only. “We heard the sounds of a female crying so for her safety, we entered the location”.

    Or, “We had information the suspect was in the location, as we approached, we heard sounds consistent with the destruction of narcotics, etc etc.” You get my drift.

  2. Dulce Says:

    It also seems funny that this piece focuses on the idea that deputies are liars. Only to have a small sentence at the end that states three separate entities deemed this shooting good, IAB, OIR, and the DA’s office. These clowns are trying to get paid and once again Clesete perpetuates the idea that cops are bad and the criminal was done wrong. C’mon people, open your eyes.

  3. me Says:

    Dulce. Because the LASD investigating the LASD has been such a stand up operation, we should just assume that during the height of misdeeds in the dept, THIS TIME they really did investigate their own properly? Why did Axel Anderson leave the command of the Lancaster station after this incident? We all know you protect your own at the cost of the public. Now you’re reaping what you’ve spent years sowing! Total public mistrust.

  4. Dulce Says:

    ME. OIR is the Office of Independent Review, a committee of liberal attorneys not affilliated with the LASD. Are aware that the LA County District Attorney’s Office is not affiliated with the LASD? They, along with IAB, conduct their own independent investigations. So, I guess it’s a huge conspiracy. Was the Shack on a grassy knoll?

  5. Cognistator Says:

    #’s 2 & 4: C’mon, now, surely you’ve read this story from the esteemed L.A. Times

    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-incidents-expose-flaws-in-civilian-oversight-of-sheriffs-dept-20121219-m,0,3319285.story

  6. Dulce Says:

    #5. I have as a matter of fact. Again, a liberal fish wrap printing info from the ACLU. Do you think a jail beat down is scrutinized in the same manner that a shooting is? I don’t think so. It is fruitless arguing with people like you. It’s like arguing the existence of god, proof is not required and anything is possible. Birkenstocks are on sale at Whole Foods Cognistator. Make sure you throw some money at the parolee collecting money for kids with cancer, he has to pay his rent.

  7. Dulce Says:

    Ok. Why was my last comment not posted. I didn’t violate any rules

  8. Getting close Says:

    After almost 30 years on the job I still work the line and like throwing crooks in jail. One thing on my mind every day. No S€¥Gtbag is worth my pension. If it ain’t there it ain’t there. It’s a legal trend nowadays on both sides to crucify cops.

  9. Know probable cause and case law Says:

    I really wish we didn’t have this conversation, but if (when) the jury awards millions of dollars, are you still going to side with the deps? Where is the DA and County Council? If it was a closed door case why is everyone worried about it?

    Don’t blame Celeste. She reports it, doesn’t make judgement of it. The jury, your peers will determine the deputy’s fate

  10. Thanks a lot Says:

    #9 a Jury of the peers??? Really? They are usually stacked with morons that dont have the sense to get out of jury duty. What are you left with? A bunch of low information people who want to get even with the cops. Thats why you get judgments for millions. People who dont have a clue as to how it really is out there, and are there to get there “revenge” on pre- conceived “injustices” to the community. That is fair, and just?

  11. Know probable cause and case law Says:

    That’s why if law enforcement in general always did the right thing then the odds of a cluckhead juror is reduced.

    I was never sued for using force and sometimes alot of force. The reason? The person deserved it and that person knew it. I didn’t take “cheap shots” or allow my partner to do it either.

    Most people know when they are due for an ass kicking, you can pretty much guarantee you won’t get a complaint. I even had suspects apologize to me for being disrespectful. This is as they were getting their scalp sewn up from a spanking.

  12. Know probable cause and case law Says:

    BTW, when was the last time a cop was convicted and sent to prison by a juror? I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but most people really don’t want to convict a cop.

    Look at the Rodney King jury in Simi Valley. I think I could say they were peers and not low information people

  13. Disappointed Says:

    It is not mentioned in this article, but I read in the L.A. Times that deputies used a batting ram to force entry into the Hughe’s house before she opened the door and allowed entry. If this is true, why? There was no search warrant and the immediate circumstances did not justify a forced entry, therefore, the search of the shack was illegal too. this is just messy. Where was the field lieutant or sergeant who was supposed to be in charge?

  14. me Says:

    @Dulce, the article RIGHT ABOVE THIS ARTICLE is about the TOP of LASD doing everything possible to stop a FBI investigation. Yet it must ALL be a bunch of cop haters? Almost 2 years of one report after another of the LASD playing CYA but we’re supposed to believe D. T. and W. at OIR are doing their jobs?
    I’m starting to suspect you might be one of the deputies involved in one of the many cover ups. You ARE NOT above the law.
    You ARE costing the tax payers millions because you are badge heavy. And it’s deputies like you that have costs those out doing their jobs every day to protect and serve all respect from their communities! YOU have started a war between the LASD and the public.
    Sad thing is you like it like that. A crying shame

  15. Dulce Says:

    Me, who says I am a deputy? Perhaps I have another role in law enforcement, or maybe I am just a conservative and concerned citizen that supports our men and women wearing the badge. You state that OIR and IAB are covering up alledged LASD scandals. Trust me,OIR is not a friend of law enforcement, don’t believe everything you read, be open minded. You are being spoon fed by the liberal media, like a child. You also seem to avoid mentioning anything about the DA’s office. They investigate these allegations of abuse as well as every shooting. Is the DA and all who work beneath involved in the cover ups too? ME, study the facts and draw your own conclusions, don’t be brain washed by a blog or news story. And what’s with this “know probable cause” tough guy bragging about kicking ass? He prob has never been in a fight and if he was, he would know, justified or not, a crook is always looking for a government payday.

  16. Know probable cause and case law Says:

    He Dulce, don’t wrap me into your spat with “me”. You obviously are a deputy, because if you were just a conservative citizen, you wouldn’t be talking about mindset in a fight and what crooks really want.

    Why you would want to argue with me about doing your job legally is beyond me. Taking a suspect to jail is really quite easy. The law allows it, but if you don’t know the law, you make the situation work for you.

    Why do you think a watch sergeant needs to hear about your arrest? Duhhh. Ok, hopefully you understand now.

  17. Don't Finesse Me, Bro! Says:

    Quoted from the LA Weekly story,

    Yet several police experts and watchdogs are not convinced, given events such as the shooting in the backyard shack, that Baca has a grip on things. In its blistering report, the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence deemed Baca’s response to excessive force in the jails “insufficient” and noted a “failure of leadership” at the top.”

    Civil rights attorney Paz points to findings by the commission that Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, Baca’s recently departed right-hand man, urged deputies to “work in the gray area’” and “undermined the credibility of Internal Affairs Bureau on more than one occasion.”

    Paz says Sheriff’s Department leaders were “reinforcing” the unwritten policy that supervisors should let deputies “do their jobs as they see fit.” That, he says, “encourages violence.”

    I’d say that Tanaka’s new retirement gig will be testifying in countless depositions, civil trials and perhaps, criminal trials about his classic statement of “Working The Gray Area.” If there was every any doubt of his arrogance, matched only by his incompetence, the Gray Area statement will erase that doubt. I suspect the County will pays millions over the years behind Tanaka’s utterance of stupidity.

  18. Dulce Says:

    PC I’m not arguing with you. I’m just pointing out the fact that you are boasting about how you crack skulls. I can conclude from the content and writing style of your posts that you are a real brainiac. Keep up the good work. By the way, your arrests need to get run by the WC not the WS, unless all your hook are misdemeanors. Nice.

  19. Don't Finesse Me, Bro! Says:

    What does Axel Anderson have to do with this shooting? He wasn’t there.

  20. me Says:

    Axel was reported to have “resigned” after this incident. He was their commanding officer. A week after it was reported that he had “resigned” the story was changed to report that Axel “retired”. What do you think?

  21. Say what? Says:

    Why would Anderson have bugged out? Ok, he is the Captain of the station, what did he have to do with the shooting and the COPS team incident. What was it the deputies could have done that would have been linked to him? Just ask’en.

  22. Know probable cause and case law Says:

    Dulce 90% of the time the ws is the wc maybe not in custody where u work cracking skulls? Ok…. braniac? Yeh ill own that. People like me try to mentor those who choose not to work in the pervue of the law so I guess you can call me a braniac

  23. Dulce Says:

    “Know,”. Thank you for proving my point.

  24. Finally accountability Says:

    BTW, anyone gonna place bets on the Boston bombing? Definitely not terrorist, I suspect a homegrown with a vendetta against the race organizers or other stupid reason.

    Terrorists in the real world would have leveled the street, and there would have been deaths not injuries. Wonder if Obama is gonna try to outlaw marathons because it attracts the wrong crowd. Very sad for the city

  25. Hughes Says:

    This was a horrible traumatic incident to have to live with everyday…. Angel and Jen can’t wait until the verdict, so they can put all of the past behind them. As for me I am left with the memory and confusion of it all with not so much as an apology from whoever killed my dog. I dont wish the feeling of not knowing if they are going to come back “to finish the job” on anyone. My first born son has been stolen from me resulting from this incident, and I still going to jail because of drugs that I do not doubt were planted in my home to justify Whatever their perception of “protect and serve” seems to be. I don’t see protection when I look at the sheriff’s anymore. I see a gang of corrupt maniacal killers with too much power.

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