Baxter and Diamond on Chaffee and Rowe on Kelly and Ramos

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Rowe, Ramos, Chaffee

Is there a duty to damn?

In the bowels of the OJB archives is a draft article I was composing in a response to this comment from Steve Baxter (which I’ve cleaned up a little for republication), which will never (I hope) see the light of day.  Tempers were high then, perhaps lower now.  This is what I’m posting instead.

Baxter wrote:

I am so sick and tired of hearing the same old crap when you lot defend your inaction on Kelly Thomas with your committees and tasks force on the homeless, that serve as a means to pad your resume and go to a gala at the end of the year, more than better the lives of our most marginalized.

… [Nine] months [after Kelly Thomas died], all the police sergeants, captains and lieutenants, who watched the video long before the rest of us, then lied about Kelly being the aggressor and then allowed 5 of the 6 police officers, who were involved in the murder to continue to patrol our streets and free to harm others for another six weeks, are still employed, and suffer no consequences. Goodrich has in fact since been promoted.


… [A]sk yourself why you have alienated someone like me, a life long Democrat with a history of activism, to the point of changing to independent. Last night i told a house which was filled with progressive leaning guests, all invited by me, that Matt Rowe, not Doug Chaffee, had my full support.

I think that the first paragraph is, let’s say uncharitable, but Baxter and I don’t know each other well so I’ll let it pass.  I do want to address the final three, though, as well as a comment that Baxter asked me to post for him.  (I’ve fixed a couple of punctuation marks, that’s it.)


So how long till Chaffee realizes he calculated wrong and makes an opportunistic statement explaining why he did not speak up or so much as utter Kelly Thomas’s name?
“Dear Friends,
“As an attorney I have a greater faith in law than the average citizen, and although I was personally outraged, I decided that the best course of action was to defer to the experts and not inflame the anger and cause even more   division in our bla bla I’m a coward  bla “

OK, a lot of people (especially around FFFF) are saying things like that, so let’s take that on too.

Kelly being the aggressor:

Cops don’t think the way most of us do about aggression.  Police are supposed to take control of a situation, demanding compliance from those around them.  This is not an accustomed or a comfortable situation for most of us, but they really do have a legal right to do it, even for foolish and incorrect reasons.  They get to assess the situation.  No, you cannot override their judgment because you think that it’s stupid; you can be arrested for that, even if you’ve been a perfect angel and the officer has not.  That’s why giving a person the power of a police officer is an awesome thing that demands a high level of ethics and skill.

Kelly did not obey orders at various points.  (He had the right to ask if he was under arrest, and if not under arrest, to leave — but he might have then been arrested on some completely groundless pretext rather than an almost groundless one.)  He was being goaded, taunted, and insulted — none of which is illegal.  I think that it’s rotten, but it’s not illegal.  It’s not even necessarily a violation of a department’s rules; in some cases, in fact, using humiliation of a suspect as a means of control could be superior to using force.  But he stood up, he refused the order to lie down on the ground, he walked away, he briefly raised his hands to Wolfe (in what seemed to be self-protection), and then he ran.  I think that none of this makes him “the aggressor.”  The question is whether it is unreasonable for a cop, who knows the law, to call him “the aggressor,” and I suspect that cops are trained to think of someone that way.  In Occupy rallies in Northern California, one protester was deemed an “aggressor” simply for not climbing down from a small pedestal (or some such.)  Is that “aggression”?  Clearly not — unless, maybe you’re a cop wondering if someone is getting a better vantage point from which to shoot you.

Point is, I think that the spokespersons’ assertions that Kelly was the aggressor is pretty absurd.  That does not mean that the police do not believe it, by their definition of aggression.  If so, it may be a delusion but it’s not a lie.

5 or 6 police officers were involved in a murder

Looking at the video, 2 or 3 of the officers were not involved until the end, when Cicinelli decided that Kelly’s writhing in pain was not incapacitated enough and so he bashed his face in.  If anyone encouraged him towards this unbelievable overreaction, if anyone said “Jay, smash his face in” or noticed what he was doing and gave him the nod, then yes, they were involved in a murder (or, more likely a manslaughter.)  For the others, except Ramos and Wolfe, their “involvement” was not the sort of thing that would make me worry about their being on the streets.  As for Ramos and Wolfe, they were involved in a pretty sketchy arrest for possessing stolen property turned legally legitimate but ethically weak arrest for resisting arrest.  There’s no indication that they knew what Cicinelli was about to do or wanted him to do it; then just wanted Kelly to be maximally incapacitated by lying face down with his hands behind his back.  That’s not murder, or even involvement in murder.

Free to harm others

I don’t see any reason to think that the three cops I haven’t named were more likely to harm others than any other Fullerton cops.  As for the one’s I’ve named: Wolfe, possibly; Ramos, maybe; Cicinelli, definitely.

Mayor should clear Kelly’s name, etc.

Having seen the video, I think that it’s fair for the Mayor to let it speak for itself and address those things that won’t be resolved in court.  Some bigger employment lawyer than me would love for a city official to have declared Ramos and Wolfe guilty.  If, as I expect, Wolfe isn’t charged and Ramos isn’t convicted, they’ll have a nice little defamation suit at the end to add insult to injury.  Think of it as an additional pension.

Supporting Rowe over Chaffee

I like Matt Rowe, just as I like Jane Rands; each is my second-choice for the seat they seek.  I would not be distressed to see either of them win next month.  I just like Doug Chaffee and Paula Williams more.

Baxter’s statement suggests that he considers Chaffee to be a coward and a weasel.  Let’s take that notion head on.

“As an attorney I have a greater faith in law than the average citizen, and although I was personally outraged, I decided that the best course of action was to defer to the experts and not inflame the anger and cause even more division in our bla bla I’m a coward  bla “

Baxter thinks that Chaffee should have condemned the incumbents at the outset by signing the recall petitions. People may not have thought through the idea fully:  For Chaffee — the only candidate who literally was almost elected in 2010, losing in a recount — supporting the recall could have made it less likely to succeed by making it look like his opportunistic effort to reverse the recount.  Because Chaffee arguably stood the most to gain from a recall, his staying out left it less political.  Criticizing him for not politicizing the events is just weird.  He knew that if it was going to pass, it could pass just as well without him.

Baxter thinks that Chaffee should have condemned the officers involved.  His fake statement for Chaffee claims a greater than average faith in the law.  I’d say that this is about half-right: decades of legal practice have given Chaffee greater than average experience with the law.  Part of the curse of being a lawyer is that experience teaches you that the facts will usually be more complicated than you imagined they would be.  One therefore learns to reserve judgment, to wait until a case is fully developed.  There is nothing wrong with not jumping to a conclusion.  This time last week I’d have said that Ramos was going to be found guilty; now I don’t think that he will.  Is Chaffee somehow worse than me because he held his fire?  He’s a community leader; what he says matters more to people than what an FFFF groundling thinks.  He’s know for responsibility, so he has to be more careful.

Baxter thinks that Chaffee should have spurned McKinley’s supposed endorsement if he is recalled.  I don’t know if McKinley actually offered his contingent endorsement, but if he did I can see why.  McKinley presumably did so because it’s possible that the City Council, especially with Sharon leaving to run for Assembly, is going to be <i>extremely inexperienced</i> come January.  (Bruce Whitaker would be the most experienced, if he’s re-elected, but he’s not exactly a moderating influence, and condemning government roundly isn’t governing.)  I disagree with McKinley about a lot of things, but I believe that he wants to see the city government run well, even if by someone with an opposing philosophy.  That means wanting someone with Chaffee’s experience and understanding of the world as a lawyer — without which I think that the Council is more likely to face trouble.

Chaffee has received a lot of criticism for his response to the Kelly Thomas killing in the Fullerton Observer, in which he talks about community policing.  For those who don’t know, community policing is Dan Hughes’s initiative to build relations with the citizenry that help to stop crime — and it is a good idea.  Chaffee apparently thinks, I’d say rightly, that the city is on the right track in this regard.  It would not have prevented this tragedy, but it is a good direction for Fullerton overall — and, from a legal perspective, it’s highly inconsistent with the sort of approach that got Kelly Thomas killed.  (I presume that that was Chaffee’s point in his answer.)

Does all of this mean that I think that Matt Rowe, by taking a more critical stand, has done something improper?  No.  Matt brings some relevant experience as a military commander and I am glad that he feels strongly about avoiding massacres.  But I’m very interested in hearing what he thinks after viewing the video.  Does he blame the officers involved — or the underlying policy?  I would not be surprised if he agreed with me that the policies were rotten but that Ramos and Wolfe were properly (or at least legitimately) discharging their duties by acting as they did.  (I suspect that he and I will agree on Cicinelli.)  Maybe he’ll check in and say so.

The best comment I’ve seen on this whole affair comes from Glenn Georgieff, whom Baxter and I both support, who says that he thinks that then-Mayor Dick Jones (whom he seeks to replace) blew it with the cavalier attitude that he showed at the start of events, where he didn’t even seem to take the concerns of the critics seriously.  That’s a fair criticism to hold against Jones, who represented the city.  It’s not a fair criticism of Chaffee.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose worker's rights and government accountability attorney, residing in northwest Brea. General Counsel of CATER, the Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility, a non-partisan group of people sick of local corruption. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Occasionally runs for office to challenge some nasty incumbent who would otherwise run unopposed. (Someday he might pick a fight with the intent to win rather than just dent someone. You'll know it when you see it.) He got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012 and in 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level, nor do they now. A family member co-owns a business offering campaign treasurer services to Democratic candidates and the odd independent. He is very proud of her. He doesn't directly profit from her work and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he truly hated.) He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)