LASD “COPS HIT Team” Opens Fire…CA Activist Gets Son Back After 3-Strikes Reform…..The Teen Court OptionApril 11th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon
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.
…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
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