The day 70-year-old Russell Hartsaw was eliminated in a San Diego jail, he was supposed to be in protective custody, a housing status booked for prisoners who could be targets in a prison’s general population. Frail, mentally ill and gay, Hartsaw in some way handled to argue his escape of protective custody and into a dorm-style unit where he was beaten to death by Mario Lopez, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound gang member nicknamed “Evil.” Days later on, a deputy intercepted a note from Lopez where he bragged to another prisoner about eliminating a “chomo”– prison slang for a child molester– and that his “responsibility was to smash all trash.”
Hartsaw’s rap sheet consisted of armed robbery when he was much younger and, more just recently, threatening two individuals with a broken stun gun, however absolutely nothing involving child molestation.
In 2013, a jury discovered Lopez guilty of Hartsaw’s murder. Not part of the trial, though, was whether deputies erred in giving Hartsaw’s demand to be gotten rid of from protective custody, and putting him with somebody like Lopez.
” They should have known the poor person was losing it,” stated Jesse Gonzalez, Hartsaw’s long time pal who ‘d enjoyed his sluggish decrease.
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The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department conducted its own evaluation of Hartsaw’s death, but such records are exempt from disclosure under state public records law. The general public cannot access those records, however the Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board, an independent oversight body, can. CLERB investigates problems against county law enforcement officers and any in-custody death that may have been the result of police misbehavior. It releases summaries of its investigations and, if necessary, advises disciplinary action and policy modifications– though the constable is under no responsibility to follow those suggestions.
But five and a half years after Hartsaw’s death, CLERB has yet to release its findings. Hartsaw’s name is at the top of CLERB’s list of the 46 deaths it’s investigating, the most open death cases in the board’s 25-year history.
At the start of 2011, 7 months before Hartsaw’s death, CLERB had simply 6 open death examinations. That number grew to 19 by the end of 2014, then to 35 in December 2015 and 46 by the end of 2016.
The steep increase doesn’t seem connected to a spike in deaths involving county police officers. Simply puts, the issue appears to be on CLERB’s end– it’s finishing far fewer death examinations, although the variety of cases coming over the last a number of years has actually stayed reasonably consistent. Between 2005 and 2012, for example, CLERB opened approximately 16 investigations a year and finished an average of 18. From 2012 to 2016, it opened approximately 15 investigations a year but finished less than half that number.
Take legal action against Quinn, who acted as CLERB’s very first special investigator and, from 1995 to 1997 as its executive officer, said the board has to focus on the most serious cases– deaths in county jails and lethal use-of-force– “so you prevent the next one from happening.”
” We focused on [those cases] since they were the most potentially damaging to residents, the officers and the county in liability,” she said.
Hartsaw’s case is by far the earliest open investigation, followed by nine deaths that occurred in 2013, two of which prompted suits against the county that have already been settled. In November 2015, the county accepted pay $1.5 million to the household of Rosemary Summers, a 16-year-old who devoted suicide in a Kearny Mesa juvenile detention facility after repeatedly telling personnel she prepared to kill herself. Robert Lubsen’s family agreed to an $80,000 settlement after taking legal action against the county for failing to put the 26-year-old on suicide watch after he aimed to hang himself in a holding cell. Lubsen was instead housed on the Vista Detention Center’s second flooring and jumped to his death a day after he was reserved. The suit declared his cellmate cautioned deputies the boy was self-destructive.
Claims, or claims versus the county– the precursor to a lawsuit– have been filed in at least four of the cases awaiting CLERB’s investigation.
CLERB Chairwoman Sandra Arkin said death cases are a priority for the board but are often complicated or obstructed by delays in receiving info from firms and people connected to the examination.
” It is a priority to us to get them finished and we will continue to reduce the variety of unsettled cases,” she said by means of email.
The large number of open death examinations isn’t the only difficulty CLERB’s dealing with. In November, Executive Officer Patrick Hunter resigned quickly after more than 6 years on the task. Hunter, a retired Navy officer, served on CLERB’s board as a volunteer before being hired in 2007 as executive director of the city of San Diego’s Community Evaluation Board on Police Practices, where he worked until 2010.
Hunter declined to state why he resigned and directed questions to the CLERB board. Arkin stated she couldn’t talk about Hunter’s resignation due to the fact that it’s a personnel matter.
At its Jan. 10 meeting, the board appointed long time CLERB Special Investigator Lynn Setzler as interim executive officer and established a committee to carry out a look for a long-term executive officer. Arkin stated the objective it to work with someone within 6 months.
Prior to Hunter’s resignation, CLERB’s paid personnel consisted of two unique investigators, an executive officer and an administrative assistant. Setzler’s visit leaves just one full-time investigator.
Setzler, like Arkin, would not talk about Hunter’s resignation. But it was clear at the board’s January meeting that CLERB was dissatisfied with Hunter’s efficiency. Numerous revealed aggravation over complaints being dismissed due to the fact that an investigation hadn’t been completed within a year. Under California’s Peace Officers Expense of Rights, any accusations of misbehavior that might result in discipline of a police officer should be investigated within a year, or dismissed. Even though CLERB only recommends discipline, it follows the one-year rule.
The one-year guideline doesn’t apply to death examinations.
An evaluation of CLERB’s 2016 programs exposes 20 allegations of misconduct that were dismissed because an examination couldn’t be completed within a year. Some claims were small– one involved an inmate who alleged a deputy failed to remove his name from a list of prisoners needed to use shackles in the prison’s day space. But others are even more major. A case dismissed in September involved allegations that deputies confiscated a prisoner’s legal documentation, pepper-sprayed him and struck him repeatedly. A case dismissed in October included multiple accusations of abuse from a plaintiff who said more than a lots deputies beat and Tasered him until he was unconscious.
Case terminations were a problem for Hunter’s predecessor, Carol Trujillo, who resigned in March 2010 amid a growing stockpile of problems and accusations of mismanagement by a former CLERB investigator.
Not long after Hunter was employed to replace Trujillo, the county generated an outside specialist to help CLERB streamline its investigative process. At the January meeting, board member Loren Vinson recommended CLERB go through another efficiency evaluation, however Setzler argued it would be an unnecessary expenditure.
” The previous [executive officer] was a participant in the [2011 review],” Setzler informed the board. “He just chose not to follow the process.”
Arkin said CLERB strives to complete examinations in a prompt way. While the vast majority of complaints are examined within a year, “We constantly strive for 100% compliance. … We wish to reach a resolution for both the complainant and for the Constable’s deputy or Probation officer,” she wrote in an email.
Quinn believes the Peace Officers Bill of Rights should not prevent CLERB from examining a case; the law only avoids discipline from being enforced.
” Even if you no longer have jurisdiction over recommending discipline, you still do the investigation,” she stated.
This article associates with: Police, Police Misbehavior, Public Security