Monique Deckard’s Firing Squad: This is why they won’t let us see Body-Cam Footage.


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We were all stunned and shaken last week, to see footage of paranoid schizophrenic Monique “Mo” Deckard, barricaded alone in her apartment, her front yard surrounded by ten body-armored Anaheim cops trying to coax her out, stationed at various safe distances of at least 18 feet from her front door and shielded by trash cans and a “ballistic shield,” guns trained toward the door… and Monique finally and suddenly (15 minutes after saying “you’ll have to come in and kill me”) rushing out the door with two knives in her hands, and immediately falling to her face in a 2-second tsunami of gunfire – 18 near-simultaneous rounds from three terrified Anaheim cops, 12 of which rounds hit and demolished her torso.

By “we,” I mean the few of us who made it to parts of her family’s ongoing civil trial, and were allowed to see some of the police’s body-camera footage – as far as I know, a first in Anaheim or the OC.  Every other family, in the swelling list of APD-bereaved families since the institution of body cameras, has been denied that grim privilege.  So I asked the Deckard family’s lawyer, John Sweeney, how he obtained it, and he replied matter-of-factly, “I was entitled to that footage, I demanded it, and they handed it over.”    You hear that, Najera family?  Valenzuela family?  Flores family?

The incident was almost exactly two years ago, and AS ALWAYS, the actions of the police and APD were found justified and “within policy” by our useless DA Tony Rackauckas (right.)  

  • It is APD “policy,” as the officers testified repeatedly, to use lethal force on a “suspect” if they perceive any danger to themselves or another policeman (and sometimes “other civilians” gets mentioned as an afterthought.)  
  • It is also APD policy, if you’re gonna shoot at somebody, to aim for “center mass,” meaning the chest and heart.  Why center mass?  Because “it’s the easiest, biggest target to hit, and it will stop them.”  
  • Furthermore, it was testified that it’s APD policy to “continue to fire until the threat is mitigated” – the most sinister euphemism since Apocalypse Now‘s “terminate with extreme prejudice.”  Hard to see, with those “policies,” how Anaheim civilians won’t continue to die needlessly.

Hence the current civil jury trial, on both wrongful death and civil rights violation.  And again, it’ll be contended, correctly even, that the actions of the three shooters – Kevin Flanagan (8 rounds), Dale Miller (7 rounds), and Jonathan Nooitgedagt (2 rounds) – were “within APD policy.”  And yet this whole tragedy need not have happened, and, as we’ll see, WAS the fault of APD officers present, as well as the policy.

Monique’s brother Nick wishes to hell he hadn’t called 911 when he got a tip from friends that his sister was acting erratic and suicidal.  He woulda gone himself to check on her if he’d had a car at the time.  She had gone off her meds, and was convinced that strange people were tampering with the interior of her apartment.  

Baby… causing problems.

Unbeknownst to Nick, around the time he was calling she’d gone across the alley to a laundromat with her dog Baby, the being she loved most in the world.  And then some rude stranger kicked Baby.  And then Monique reacted in rage by lashing out at that person with a knife – causing only a scratch.  

But the upshot was the police got a SECOND call about Monique, from the laundromat, accusing her of a “stabbing.”  So several Anaheim police drove off helter-skelter from all directions to Monique’s apartment, believing (except for Sgt. Glenn) that they were dealing with a dangerously violent woman. And it apparently had NOT been communicated to any of them (except Sgt. Glenn) that this was a mentally ill person.

Officers whose testimony the Orange Juice Blog heard:

Scene of the great battle…

Officer Robert Lopez did the best job he could, gently trying to coax Monique out of her apartment.  “Please come out, Monique.  We don’t want to hurt you.  We just want to make sure you’re okay.”  Every couple of minutes he would go back and say something similar.  At first he was responded to with cursing and “you’ll have to kill me;” after that, a dozen minutes of tense silence.  

The idea was, Lopez was doing his best to either get her out or calm her down while they all impatiently awaited the arrival of the professional, the female “trained hostage negotiator” who it turns out was taking her sweet time getting there from Anaheim Hills.  Meanwhile some of Lopez’ partners were not exactly helping his efforts, to say the least.

A TV character who looks a lot like Nooitgedagt.

For example, the young, short, bespectacled Jonathan Nooitgedagt, who was one of the first responders, and whose body-cam footage was the longest and clearest we were allowed to see.  Jonathan started by walking around the back of Monique’s apartments, to make sure she didn’t have a way to escape there.  On his way around he saw a Latino mechanic working in his garage, with a bunch of brake drums laid out on the ground.  He asked the guy if he’d seen a “bald black girl” walk by, and he responded, “Yeah!  She went into her apartment just ten minutes ago.”  So Jonathan finished his circle back to the front of the building, and took up his station by the apartment’s laundry room, nearly 100 feet from Monique’s door.  

Jonathan testified later that at this distance there was a lot of conversation and instructions that he couldn’t hear, partly because of the police helicopter circling above. Wait – what the hell was a hellacopter doing circling above? They weren’t searching for her. Were they gonna blast her from on high? I thought the idea was to calm the situation; how does the noise of a Ghetto Bird help with that? Well, duh! The pilot has to be paid too, and “Angel” justified.

And then. Just as poor Lopez was re-assuring Monique that she was not going to be killed or hurt, Jonathan started shining the laser-sights of his gun through her window (in an effort to “determine her location in the room.”)

Now imagine, if you can, that you are paranoid schizophrenic, off your meds, holed up in your room because you’re convinced some dark forces are messing with you. And your front yard is crawling with cops with their guns out, and your windows are rattling with the grueling noise of a circling copter, and one of the cops keeps soothing you that nobody’s gonna hurt you, and then you see a laser point wandering around your room, and it is NOT your imagination, and now can you picture a final desperate run for self-defense? Doesn’t even seem suicidal when you think of it that way.

It’s unlikely that Jonathan’s two potshots even hit the hurtling woman from the distance he was at, and as the family’s paid expert later scolded him, they were also reckless shots as they could just as easily have hit his fellow officers. Bad, bad Nooitgedagt.

Most culpable for the fiasco, even though he shot nobody, was Sgt Lorenzo Glenn.  He was the ranking officer, and provided nearly no guidance, instruction or information to the disorderly team.  He had just investigated the laundromat incident, knew that it was not seriously violent, and that Monique was mentally ill, but he didn’t communicate any of those facts to the other officers.  And then, despite footage on his own body-cam showing him being told about her mental condition, he denied under oath knowing anything about it.  How he’s escaped a charge of perjury escapes me.

To a man, the other officers testified on the stand that they “wouldn’t have done anything differently” if they’d known of her mental illness, but this is just not true, especially if they had leadership from the ranking officer. In short, Glenn comported himself like an absent father or the God we worship, just standing back and letting everything go to hell.  

Coming in at shooter #2 with 7 rounds was Officer Dale Miller, with the K9 and occasionally gang unit.  My wife Donna has a bitter memory of overhearing Miller refer casually to her late son Joey as “[Kelly] Phillips’ kill,” as though Guinida Lane were a safari.  Miller’s testimony was uninteresting, and was covered by the OC Weekly, which dropped by the trial one afternoon for an hour or two.

Flanagan (right) receives some award for retrieving lotsa stolen cars.

The #1 shooter was Kevin Flanagan, who, from pretty close up, pumped eight bullets into Monique (although he was later surprised to learn that it had been that many.) He was the most articulate of the police witnesses, and I think had the most experience, having served since the 90’s.  We also caught him winking at his fellow cops when he thought nobody, especially the jury, could see him.

Also, Flanagan had previously, back in 2008, killed the 100% innocent and harmless Julian Alexander (below right), just for standing in front of his own house at night and being young and black and tall. And of course he was exonerated for that by the DA even though Anaheim had to pay out $1.55 million to Julian’s mother. Hmm… Julian Alexander was also black. Interesting. Out of the three black folks who’ve been killed by Anaheim cops in the past decade, TWO of them were felled by Officer Flanagan. Hmm… Probably just a coincidence. Moving on…

It was Flanagan, who showed up fairly late, four minutes before the melee, who instructed “Less Than Lethal” Sanchez (who showed up last, TWO MINUTES before the melee, and whose first name I didn’t catch) to go get a “less than lethal” weapon, namely a 400-millimeter launcher, which can shoot out various projectiles that are painful and stop you in your tracks, but PROBABLY won’t kill you.  

Wait – Flanagan sent out Sanchez to do that?  How is Flanagan giving out orders when there’s a Sergeant there?  Exactly my point!  With the vacuum of leadership Glenn allowed, every Indian there was a potential chief.

Why do we say “less than lethal” instead of non-lethal?  Well, because weapons in this category COULD kill you if used wrong, for example if a rubber bullet hits your temple, or if you tase a homeless guy in the heart.

You might assume, as most human beings would, that the point of “less than lethal” force is to try to save a life, to stop somebody without killing them, and IF THAT DOESN’T WORK, resort sadly to the lethal option. ¡Pero no!  To Sweeney’s amazement, Flanagan (and possibly others) testified that YOU USE IT ALL, all at the same time, just in case one element doesn’t work, like an orchestral tutti, you throw the kitchen sink at the situation!  (To be fair, they did describe one possible scenario where Monique might have come out, stood at the door unarmed but non-compliant, and THEN they would bean her with a less-than-lethal projectile.)

So Sanchez went and fetched his less-than-lethal launcher, and returned not knowing there was only one minute left to pandemonium time, and as it turns out those things are unwieldy and hard to use, and Sanchez had never used one “in the field” before.  He had a hard time loading it, something about the Velcro on the ammo belt made it fall out, and it took a minute to get it back in again. Then when Monique suddenly emerged and rushed forward, he barely managed to lob a non-lethal projectile at her at the same moment that she was being riddled with bullets.  So hurray for Sanchez.  Threat mitigated!

I’ve been trying hard not to use the words “Keystone Kops” so far, because THEY were funny, and didn’t kill anybody.  But I can no longer refrain, and you and I both deserve a brief respite from all this horror and tragedy:

Roger Clark Testifies.

I’ve already squandered, above, many of the insights I gleaned from the family’s fine police procedures expert, former LA Sheriff Lieutenant Roger Clark. But there’s more…

Roger, a frequent paid expert witness for Mr. Sweeney, served with the LA Sheriff’s Dept. for 27 years beginning in 1965, working his way up to lieutenant.  From 1978 to 1993 when he retired, he commanded a “specialized unit created to investigate, locate, observe and arrest major, career, criminal offenders in the LA area.”  Roger’s unit averaged about 500 arrests a year with a 97% conviction rate.  One thing he’s very proud of is a record of 61 months straight with no shots fired by officers or arrestees – below we’ll hear about a regrettable incident that broke that streak.

The way things shook out with Monique makes the very pious Roger furious.  He told me on the phone, “There are three cornerstones to keep in mind before using lethal force:  Never forget the sanctity of life, use it only in the DIREST of circumstances, and ONLY when there are no other obvious alternatives.  Vern, there were plenty of obvious alternatives here.”

To begin with, he faults Sergeant Glenn for 1) not communicating to the other officers that Monique was both mentally ill and not particularly dangerous, and 2) not giving them specific duties and keeping them organized.  “A multi-unit response team needs to be organized like a basketball or football team, where each member knows his specific function, and under which circumstances to act,” he testified in court.

The six elements of a successful barricade resolution. Most of these obviously didn’t happen.

Number two, the majority of the officers were stationed WAY TOO CLOSE.  Rather than clustering behind trash cans 18 feet from the door, they should have been closer to the palm tree in the middle of the courtyard, about 41 feet.  “Distance plus time equals options.”  If Monique still chose to run out with knives, no big deal – the courtyard was a closed place, and it’s easy to outrun a woman with knives – “She could have been allowed to run around the courtyard till she was winded.”

Thirdly, once Monique responded to Lopez with suicidal words, they should have completely retreated to around the palm tree, left her alone, and waited for the trained hostage negotiator to arrive.  The constant entreaties, the helicopter, the laser beams into her room, just exacerbated the tension.  “And with the mentally ill, as you increase stress, the ability of the subject to comply diminishes.”

And finally, as a lieutenant who pioneered new non-lethal methods of crowd control during the Rodney King riots, he is exasperated by both the APD’s lack of imagination with nonlethal techniques AND their bizarre philosophy of combining it with lethal techniques.  Again, he goes back to the “sanctity of life,” something apparently not always valued in the City of Kindness, and lists the MANY non-lethal or less than lethal possibilities at hand:  “tasers, OC spray, 40 millimeter, pepperballs, beanbag shotgun,” and I stopped writing.

Can’t find a pic of Moses, so you get another pic of cute Roger.

The scorpion-like Moses Johnson, Anaheim’s official Deputy Attorney for Smearing Victims, attempted to discredit Clark by pointing out that in his time in LA he had shot and killed a suspect himself.  Judge Peter Wilson, he of the mellifluous South African accent, choked off THAT pathetic apples/oranges nonsense before the jury could even hear it:  Clark had shot an armed junkie with outstanding warrants WHO HAD ALREADY FIRED AT HIM, thankfully misfired, and was reloading … NOT a mentally ill woman with knives 15 feet away.

Undeterred, Moses challenged Clark to explain to the jury his “demotion” from the LA Sheriffs Dept.  Clark smiled – he LOVES that story, as do I and as did the jury.  Clark had been given what’s called a “lateral transfer” and also “freeway therapy,” getting moved to faroff Lancaster as a punishment for his continuous nagging memoranda against the “Lynwood Vikings” – a gang of murderous neo-Nazis operating WITHIN the LA Sheriffs in the 90’s and early 2000’s.  Finally sick of the Not relishing a punitive commute, Clark retired from the force and moved his family to Idaho for a while.  Subsequent events vindicated him, the Vikings are no more, and ex-Sheriff Lee Baca is in hot legal water for allowing them to continue.

The Lameness fails to end.

On the stand, the hostage negotiator looked a little bit like “Flo,” except brown.

The last testimony we heard last week was from the long-awaited, highly-trained, female “hostage negotiator,” whom in my mercy I will not name, as she really came off like an airhead.  It seemed like perhaps she was so concerned with accidentally contradicting or otherwise incriminating her fellow officers that she was unsure how to answer most questions sensibly, and frequently smiled uncomfortably at the jury.

Stationed way up in Anaheim Hills near the 91 and Weir Canyon (which as you may not know is Anaheim’s actual police station, not the well-known one on Harbor), she claims to have tried to call Monique’s cell phone a few times while driving west on the 91.  “What was your goal in calling her?  What was going to be your goal in talking to her?” asked Sweeney several times, and she always answered “to start a dialogue.”  This nonsensical answer drove Sweeney crazy:  “Starting a dialogue is not a GOAL!” but apparently she couldn’t answer any better.

What really got to the rest of us, though, those of us who know Anaheim and were keenly sensitive of the apparent urgency of her getting to Monique’s place quickly, was when she testified that she got off the 91 at Lemon, “and from there it was going to be another 20 minutes on the surface streets.” Three of us immediately looked at each other and began texting.  “Why the hell, if she was in a hurry, did she get off the freeway at Lemon instead of Euclid, to get to Monique’s place by Ball and Euclid?”  (See map below.)  “Yeah, that wouldn’t have taken 20 minutes, it woulda taken 5, with no traffic.”  “There was no traffic, it was a Sunday afternoon.”  “Was she gonna hit Sonic Burgers on her way to Monique’s or what?”

Given that her getting to the scene possibly 15 minutes earlier may have been a life saver, we can only wish that with all her specialized training she had also learned a little geography of the city she serves, or perhaps the usage of a GPS.  But then … are all of us overestimating this “training?”  She testified a couple of times to a surprised Sweeney that she “wouldn’t have done anything differently than what Lopez was doing.”

Was this true?  Was she just trying to reflect well on Lopez?  Or is her vaunted training and specialization really a bag of nothing?  The idea of waiting so impatiently for someone who would have done nothing differently puts me in mind of a passage from Ted Hughes’ Gaudete:

…Ark of Blood
which is the magic baggage
that old men open and find useless
at the great moment of need.

Solutions and Conclusion

In the spirit of “better to light a candle than curse the darkness,” some of my friends have been planning to form a sort of Civilian Crisis Hotline, where situations like this, anything from this to the recent unpleasantness on the Palais Street cop’s lawn, could be taken care of by patient, humane civilians and not end in a hail of gunfire.  In this particular case it could have been very simple – Nick Deckard could have called us and we would have given him a ride to talk his sister down off the ledge, something he knows how to do.

The first phase of the trial should be completed this week – Judge Wilson is having a cow over how long the whole thing’s taking – and if successful the penalty phase is supposed to start next week.  The Deckards and Sweeney need to convince 9 out of 12 jurors that Monique’s death was wrongful, and a violation of her civil rights.  Anaheim and Moses Johnson, on the other hand, are aiming to convince at least four jurors that the police had no choice but to help her commit “suicide by cop.”  It’s hard to say how the jury will go – as the Weekly mentioned they are “mostly white,” which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re dicks, but we’ve noticed a few of them who nod their heads sagely every time Moses and the cops speak.

We hope the family gets some justice, and we hope the APD is finally spurred into some reform of both policies and training, such as we haven’t seen yet.  But whatever happens at court, the Orange Juice Blog will be there.

Just like Tom Joad…

 


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist in Orange County. Performs regularly with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem, and at regular concerts at the Huntington Beach Central Library.