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1. I Should Like to Be Able to Love Bruno and Still Love Justice
Bruno the Police Dog is apparently, improbably, healing. Less visibly, Anaheim itself is not.
I didn’t hear most of the official account on the Anaheim Police shooting of Robert Moreno Jr. – I’ll refer to him as “Moreno Jr.” in deference to all of the other prominent and unrelated Morenos in and around Anaheim these days — until Friday evening. Until then, I knew only that a police dog was shot and that police killed the shooter.
By then, my Google search of “Anaheim Police Shooting” was already filled with news of Bruno, Moreno Jr.’s innocent victim, above all else. As heroic Bruno has been recovering in Yorba Linda’s animal hospital, minus part of his lower jaw and half a lung, much of the rest of the story has been driven out of the news.
As a political figure and an animal lover — one incensed by a recently well-publicized police tactic of shooting the dogs of families targeted (sometimes mistakenly) in drug raids — I should probably try to have my photo taken with Bruno, print up buttons saying that I stand (on all fours) with Bruno, etc. I’ll leave that to others, though; we don’t need competition over who’s happiest about Bruno’s likely recovery. (Unfortunately, we do disagree over ensuring that everyone else should have access to that level of catastrophic care. On Friday night I learned that my granddaughter from Manila was in the emergency room, unable to breathe, so I’m a little sensitive about that at the moment. She’ll be OK.)
But while I am highly opposed to killing police dogs, I recognize that the ennobling story of Bruno’s bravery and survival is not really the part of this story that mattes most when it comes to public policy. As policy is what our elections are supposed to be about, we can’t let that part of the story cannot become obscured.
I’m running for Orange County District Attorney. That is an executive rather than a legislative position. The DA is not simply supposed to represent the people’s desires — not, for example, if what they want is unconstitutional. He or she is supposed to represent the interests of the lawful and impartial pursuit of justice.
Let me pose a question as a way to explain how those conflict.
Let’s say that, as the official reports state, Moreno Jr. was hiding in or behind a trash bin after fleeing from an interaction with probation officers at whom he had fired shots. From there, he shot at Bruno — who presumably either had found him or was a good bet to find him. Now let’s add one other possible fact: realizing that he was cornered, let’s say that Moreno Jr. tossed away the gun, raised his hands over his head, and surrendered.
You’re a police officer, maybe standing near the bloody and mangled form of your unit’s beloved dog. What’s your proper response?
A. Get him away from the dumpster at gunpoint, put him face down on the ground, and arrest him.
B. Avenge the dog — and just shoot the perp to death right there.
It’s really tempting to say “B,” isn’t it? I understand the feeling. After all, that’s what happens in the movies. It’s called “summary execution” – police serving as “judge, jury and executioner” — and it has the theoretical advantage of “saving us the cost of a trial.”
The correct answer is “A.” I can’t say that loudly or often or clearly enough: the correct answer is “A.” Our justice system does not allow for summary executions.
Let’s be clear: the Anaheim officers assert that they were still at imminent risk from Moreno Jr. at the moment that they fired — and I hope and expect that that is true. But I am truly and deeply troubled that, for some observers commenting on this killing, that doesn’t matter. For them, it’s apparently just a technicality — because the guy needed killing, period.
Summary executions wound our society. Name a significant domestic riot in the past 50 years and there’s a good chance that, if it wasn’t over a sports championship, it was about what the public believed was a completed or attempted summary execution.
Part of my job as District Attorney will be to reassure the public, with actions as well as words, that that won’t be allowed to happen. I might as well explain my position now — at maybe the worst possible time, politically, but the moment when I’ll most have your attention.
And while we want to follow the wonderful story of the recovery of Bruno, which I hope has a happy ending, we should remember that there’s more to this story that demands our attention. For example: what was happening in this image from Thursday, from a video taken by the OC Weekly‘s Gabriel San Roman?
Here’s the full video:
Public safety is unquestionably threatened anytime someone fires at probation officers. But it is also threatened when a police search for such a shooter puts children leaving elementary school in a potential crossfire. How do we balance these interests? Who pays the price if we do it wrong?
(Putting it another way: would this have played out in just the same way had it happened right nearby an elementary school in Anaheim Hills?)
2. Riots Usually Don’t Just Come Out of Nowhere
I’ll be blunt: if you favor summary execution by police – which you do if you’re happy that a particular killing of a suspect “saved us a trial” – then you need to get out of government.
Anaheim Councilmember Lucille Kring needs to get out of government — and I call upon her to resign.
In a written statement to a private group on Friday morning, Kring came out for summary execution – killing a suspect without trial. (If the Anaheim Police had merely wounded Moreno and arrested him, then there would have been a trial. No “cost savings” if he lived.) For making that statement, she should resign — and stay out of this fall’s Mayoral race. Her expressed position is poison for a city — especially one like Anaheim, which only twenty months ago was plagued by riots.
Riots usually don’t just come out of nowhere. Riots may occur for many reasons — but one of them is when a city’s residents are afraid of summary execution by the government. Kring’s comments favoring summary execution made every police officer, every resident, and every visitor in Anaheim less safe. And while she’ll say that she apologized for the statement, she didn’t apologize for the sentiment.
As a District Attorney candidate, these two things about me should be no surprise:
(1) It’s not my first instinct to blame the police in a situation like Thursday’s fatal shooting. I may come to that conclusion eventually, but I don’t do it easily or happily. I’m just open to that possibility.
(2) I don’t defend membership in violent gangs generally or soft-pedal the harm that I think that violent gangs generally do to their communities.
These next two things about me shouldn’t surprise you either — although they might:
(1) I think that valid questions have been raised about this shooting that deserve answers — through an investigatory process that all people in the county can trust.
(2) I am completely opposed to summary executions — and as District Attorney I would be prepared to prosecute over police killings of suspects that appear to fit within that category.
To explore these last two points, I’d like to introduce you to two Anaheim women , Councilwoman Kring and community activist Zia Back. Many people would frown on Zia’s response to this shooting, while respecting Kring’s. Zia hasn’t convinced me of her position — but I consider her position a lot more respectable than Kring’s. Any self-respecting and constitution-respecting District Attorney should agree with me on this one.
3. Kring Apologizes for the Wrong Thing
“Bruno [the wounded police dog] is a true hero as are all the canine police officers. And the shooting saved us a trial. Always a good outcome.”
I agree with that first sentence. But those last two sentences were a terrible thing to say for a government official to say, for at least three reasons.
The first, that it was unfeeling to deny Moreno Jr.’s human value. She later apologized in writing for doing so:
“This morning I made a careless and insensitive statement in an on-line newsgroup that does not reflect my values. The loss of a human life is always a tragedy. He was someone’s son, maybe an uncle, brother, father. I apologize unreservedly for my statement and I hope you will forgive me.”
I give Kring some credit for this. I believe that her values, even if she sometimes forgets about them, do probably teach that the loss of a human life is “always a tragedy” — although, frankly, being unfeeling about the death of gang members appears to be pretty popular with voters. But it is the least of the three real problem with her statement.
The second, more serious, problem is that the official story of what happened could be incorrect in important ways. (Do you know right now, for example, how the police knew that they had the right guy at the time that they fired — rather than someone with similar appearance who thought that he had a reason to hide from police?) We won’t know that until an investigation is completed — and even then we won’t really know unless that investigation is reliable and its results are valid. (Of course, that investigation just became a lot harder now that the person who knew the most about what happened — and who was best placed to contradict that official story, if that is appropriate — is dead.)
My gut instinct here is the official story is correct — but I also know that my gut instinct (or yours, or anyone’s) is worthless compared to the result of a thorough and fair investigation. I’ll develop an opinion based on my gut instinct — but not a final conclusion. It’s no shock that Kring doesn’t agree with this — she’s a minor legislator, not a district attorney — but, especially from a lawyer, it’s disappointing.
The final problem is far worse: valuing the killing of a suspect because it “saves us a trial.” Making a case for summary execution is wrong — and in a city with Anaheim’s recent history and continuing conflicts, it’s close to insane. If suspects think that they’ll be shot by police anyway, whether they are guilty of anything or not, because of how they look or their non-criminal activity, then they are going to be more likely to shoot first – because it might be their only chance to escape.
That’s not a value judgment — it’s a cold hard fact. (So is the cold hard fact that one of the likeliest accidental targets of this particular shooting would have been one of the group of children just letting out of elementary school.) Unless Moreno Jr. was flat out crazy (another thing I can’t rule out), we have to wonder why he — as a non-probationer and non-parolee — reportedly shot at the two probation officers.
I’d like to see him answer that question — but he’s been dead for a couple of days. One possibility is that he thought that his appearance — young, male, and Latino; heavily tattooed, indicators of gang involvement, and in the company of others who probably looked similar — made him more likely to be arrested. And, of course, maybe he was up to no good — although while that’s a concern for law enforcement overall, it should not have been the concern of those two probation officers (except for them to call the police if they suspected something.)
Why does someone like him shoot at police? Either he just wanted to kill someone, or he wanted to protect others, or he was nuts — or he wanted to protect himself. The prospect of facing summary execution makes all of those factors worse. Moreno Jr. probably knew the stories of Cesar Cruz, Martin Hernandez, Manuel Diaz, and Joel Acevedo. To the poorer residents of Anaheim, especially its youth, all of those killings look like summary executions — and the credibility of official investigations into them is low. (That’s why you have agitation for Citizens Review Commissions.)
If you listen to the mothers protesting the killings in Anaheim, they’re afraid that their sons will get shot simply for being suspects, without being able to explain their actions or receive the benefits of the judicial system. By talking about the shooting having “saved us a trial” — and both parents and children in this part of Anaheim know exactly what that means — Kring’s comments made future such preemptive shootings of police and bystanders by innocent and guilty suspects more likely. What she thinks is exactly what people in the barrios are afraid she thinks.
Kring’s comments also made it more likely that police will shoot at suspects first to preempt shots from suspects, and on and on. (With widely available concealed carry of handguns on the way to OC, this problem has already been destined to get worse – unless perhaps we’re going to unconstitutionally deny that right to young Latinos in Anaheim.)
I don’t like that Kring’s comments made it more likely that such killings would lead to riots. That’s not I’d like the world be — I never like to see domestic riots — that’s just how it is. Take away people’s sense that they will have opportunities for justice — and that the government even values justice for the accused — and they lose faith in the system. Then, they don’t cooperate with local police and they don’t help local police feel safe. (The police may respond to this with less on-the-ground community policing — which in turn leads to more crime.)
One purpose of government is to give people — from the most to the least exalted — access to a judicial system in which they can have faith. We already have a huge problem with faith in government and — among poorer residents — with faith in police in particular. Several commenters on various news stories, ones without Kring’s prominence, have suggested that our society is generally better off shooting gang members preemptively because they’re sure to do something wrong sooner or later. Anything that suggests that a public official agrees with those miscreants — such as that execution without trial is “always a good outcome” — leaves a scar on poorer communities that won’t easily be forgotten.
Kring apologized for not honoring the dignity of human life — so good for her. She did not apologize — in fact, it apparently did not even occur to her to apologize — for not honoring the dignity of the federal and state Constitution.
Polling routinely shows that Fourth Amendment protections of the rights of suspects and Eighth Amendment protections of the rights of convicts would never survive if they went to a popular vote — which is one reason that they’re embedded in the Constitution itself rather than merely in easily repealed statutes. So Kring’s venting her spleen may have been good politics. But as policy, which is what she’s elected to decide, it was atrocious. She needs to resign.
4. Zia Back Asks Some Valid Questions
Zia Back, who will also feature in a story slated for early next week, has pursued this story more fervently than anyone else I know since it broke on Thursday. A frequent commenter at City Council meetings, she has lived in a part of the city that was touched by tragedy in 2012 — the police shooting death of the son of her friend Donna Acevedo, now a candidate for Anaheim City Council.
If you credit Zia’s view of policing in Anaheim, then from her vantage point she has a lot of basis to mistrust the police. She’s like a lot of other residents there — but she has had the advantages of a good education, work in the non-profit sector in Washington, DC, and experience as a speaker. We agree on some things and disagree on others. (For example, I won’t refer to police as “pigs”: I think that they’re a necessary part of society with an awesome responsibility. When she’s angry, she will sometimes call them names.)
To me, name-calling and tarring police generally with a broad brush is both unfair and politically self-defeating — but, then again, my perspective as a middle-class and middle-aged white attorney would naturally tend to differ from hers. (Having three beautiful brown-skinned stepdaughters has affected my perspective, though.) I can get involved in fights over civil rights as a matter of choice rather than of necessity. And, if I need to, I can leave Anaheim anytime I want and go back home to Brea. The residents of Anaheim’s flatlands can’t.
I don’t need to endorse all or most of what Zia says to understand that her perspective is valuable, though — and I want to share it with people who wouldn’t normally see it or take it seriously. This matters because people like Zia, like Donna, and others have perspectives on police investigations that Lucille Kring and her appointees won’t share. People like Zia need to be included in investigations of police shootings if they are to have credibility within the community. I’m sure that the Anaheim Police would not want to see that — but it’s a choice between that and the failure of a self-proclaimed “clean bill of health” to receive public acceptance.
Here’s are some of the concerns that Zia raised with me in a Facebook conversation from Friday evening, largely in response to questions that I was asking her (as I was just then catching up on events.) I’ve slightly rephrased some of the wording for publication; she may have revised some of these thoughts since then as new facts and claims have appeared. Among her concerns (with my current responses):
- There was no reason for chasing this man. His only reported crime so far was STANDING next to someone found to be on probation.
- Remember, the cops engaged the 3 suspects enough to know that one was on probation. The young man who chose to MOVE AWAY from the police was NOT on probation!
Here’s what GSR quotes the APD spokesperson as saying about the initial interaction between the police and Moreno Jr. and his companions:
“[The probation officers] were working in a county marked white car when they contacted three individuals on the street,” Anaheim Police Department Public Information Officer Lt. Tim Schmidt tells the Weekly. “Two suspects took off running. One suspect pulled a handgun out, shot multiple rounds, missed them and ran away.
If it’s just (paraphrasing) “officers saw three people on the street, two ran, and one fired and missed and then ran,” then of course the police had a reason for chasing him. (The probation officers should not have done so themselves — and it’s not clear that that’s what’s alleged.) But several aspects of Schmidt’s statement don’t square with Zia’s comments — that Moreno Jr. is “the” (meaning the sole) “young man who chose to move away.” If there’s a factual conflict here, it needs to be resolved.
- Officers had lethal automatic weapons out before any shot was fired on them as a nearby elementary school was letting out.
- There are plenty of pics of cops with lethal weapons drawn PRIOR to the low flying helio announcement and subsequent release of the K9
- Do we KNOW that “he” shot the K9? Approximately 30 rounds of automatic police fire vs his one, possibly two, even more possibly ZERO shots fired! Whose bullet went into Bruno???
- Witnesses were whisked away to the police station entirely out of reach from media. And NO NAMES!
- The mom was on the scene and was turned away.
- There were no pictures of the body with a gun.
I don’t know where Zia gets this information — but I wouldn’t be surprised if she had access to sources that the media does not. (Or, some of the information may be wrong. At this point, one can’t tell.) Let’s take these one by one.
1. Witnesses being taken away from a crime scene to a police station doesn’t bother me. Their not wanting to be identified, especially given Moreno Jr.’s apparent gang affiliation, seems understandable. Why the APD would not bend over backwards to make witnesses available to the media for not-for-attribution interviews does bother me — because it leaves open the possibility of official witness intimidation. (I don’t think that the APD has done that — but I think that the APD should want people like Zia not to have to take them at their word.)
2. Turning Moreno Jr.’s mother away doesn’t bother me if they didn’t or shouldn’t have been expected to know who she was. (It’s unfortunate — but understandable.) If they knew her identity and still turned her away — that’s cruel and damaging (and also suggests a lack of interest in investigation.) I don’t think that there’s much to be said about this without knowing more facts.
3. No pictures of the body with a gun — if true, and it’s not clear to me how Zia would know that it’s true — then that shocks me. Do I need to spell out why? OK: the suspicion in these communities is going to be that Moreno Jr. never had a gun at all. In other words, people who suspect government criminality will likely think that the probation officers made up a story about shots fired to get police involved — no casings had been reported found by Friday, or to my knowledge even since. Some will doubt that Moreno Jr. shot at Bruno or police at all, asserting that he was killed in cold blood — as various commenters on local news stories have suggested would have done the world a favor anyway due to his gang affiliations. (Why would the police do so? Well, if there’s one thing that the Manual Diaz shooting shows, it’s that Anaheim Police do not like people, even ones not yet in custody, running away from them.)
Under such circumstances, which a sensible police department should anticipate, I can’t think of any valid reason not to photograph the body of the decedent with his gun. It’s just inviting people to think that Moreno Jr. had no gun there at all. (And if they’d lie about that – wouldn’t they also possibly lie about Moreno Jr. being the same guy who was with the probation officers?) This would be so boneheaded that I think that it’s most likely that Zia’s information or supposition was incorrect.
Now let’s take a step back. My guess — my hope, at least — is that most of these questions have benign answers and that the concerns behind them have reasonable explanations. But they are the right questions to ask – there is nothing wrong with asking them – and more people out there than just Zia and the Moreno family will be asking them. Is it insulting to police even to ask them? Maybe so — but that considerations takes a distant second place to finding the truth in a way that settles the public’s concerns.
Zia Back’s response to this tragedy — remember, even Lucille Kring eventually called it that — may not please a lot of people outside of Anaheim’s poorer communities, but she is asking questions that, if answered through a transparent process in which citizens could have faith, would do much to repair the rips in the social fabric of Anaheim. We need people from the community, with the sort of skepticism we want in criminal defense lawyers, to be probing the validity of police investigations of these sorts of high-profile shootings from the outset. (South OC Congressman Darrell Issa alone probably comes up with far crazier ideas that the notion that Moreno Jr. didn’t have a gun most days before he’s done with breakfast.) So yes, Zia Back — thanks for caring enough to ask.
In contrast to Zia Back’s challenging response to this tragedy, Lucille Kring showed unwillingness to entertain the thought that the police don’t always volunteer the whole truth in such situations. Her never-recanted preference for the death of a suspect — even while gesturing to his innate human dignity — as a means of closing off a controversy cheaply and with finality, comes across as being completely irresponsible. Anaheim has come to a sad state when many of the neighborhood activists hectoring the Council from the audience are more responsible than many of its top political leaders. The latter endangers public safety and cannot be tolerated.
Lucille Kring should leave her position on the City Council — “save us the cost of a recall election” is I suppose how she might have put it — and abandon her quest to become Anaheim’s Mayor. The damage done to a city like Anaheim by a Mayor with a “shoot first and ask questions later — or not at all” approach to policing much of its population would be enormous. As District Attorney, I would not stand for it. I’ll ask anyone necessary as many questions as necessary — without fear or favor — and I’ll see justice done lawfully in order to enforce the law.