Recent APD fatalities: Is Homeless the new Latino?


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Vincent Valenzuela, Chris Eisinger, Peter Muntean.

As the first meeting of Anaheim’s new Police Review Board is tonight (Thursday Sept 27, 6pm, Gordon Hoyt Room), as well as our “Public Awareness Gathering: Dangerous Police” tomorrow night (Friday) at 6 outside the Harbor Blvd Police Station, it seems a good time to look back at, even though it’s only September, the APD-involved fatalities that have occurred so far this year.  And this year has been a pretty bad one so far:  following 2017 which had NO fatalities (two non-fatal officer involved shootings), these past nine months have seen four fatalities and one near fatality.

One interesting pattern we note looking at these fatalities is that 3 of the 4 this year were homeless men (and not Latino either.)  If you go back to Vincent Valenzuela in July 2016, you can say that 4 of the last 6 APD fatalities were homeless guys.  And THREE out of those four were not shootings, but arrests that one way or another led to the arrestee’s death – that’s a new pattern too.

Enough to make us ask, “Is Homeless the new Latino?”

Up through 2016, and going back decades, the typical fatal APD officer-involved shooting involved most or all of these elements:

  • a young (18-35-year-old) Latino man,
  • accused (rightly or wrongly) of gang ties,
  • accused (rightly or wrongly) of being on and/or selling illegal drugs,
  • suspected (usually wrongly) of being armed and dangerous,
  • and shot while fleeing  (by an officer who “feared for his life”.)

That’s what we saw several times a year for a while there, but hardly ever any more.  Now it’s arrests of mentally ill homeless gone wrong.  But when I tried to add Fullerton’s Kelly Thomas (2011) to the list, Deputy Chief Julian Harvey positively bristled with resentment.  “Nothing we’ve ever done in Anaheim has been as bad as Kelly Thomas.”  Well … maybe not quite so wildly sadistic, but … the effects on Valenzuela and Eisinger were the same, fatal asphyxiation leading to coma and death.

Vincent with family in better days. Then-junior cop won a trophy!

And I sorta take that back too – the 2016 killing of Vincent Valenzuela (which Julian doesn’t seem to like to talk about) was nearly as sadistic as that of Kelly.  A victim of mistaken identity, Vincent was peacefully washing his clothes one morning when officers Woojin Jun and Daniel Wolfe stormed into the West Anaheim laundromat, yelling that he was under arrest.  The homeless man, confused and terrified (and suffering from PTSD from an abusive childhood in which his stepfather used to lock him in a closet regularly), resisted when the two cops grabbed him.  The struggle, which lasted ten minutes in the laundromat and outside, was well captured on the cops’ bodycams, and has been watched by many.  It culminated in Wolfe’s strangling of Vincent in a “carotid hold” while Jun tased him repeatedly, including in the chest, which led Vincent to have three heart attacks on the way to the hospital.

Vincent lived on in a coma for eight days before passing away.  Adding extra tragic irony, his son Vincent Junior (to the left) had been a cadet in the APD’s Cops for Kids program, and was wanting to grow up to be a policeman.  When his dad was killed (he was 9 at the time) the police instructors refused to say a word to him, but avoided him like he didn’t belong there, like he was an embarrassment.  So he quit that program, and now leads protests for police accountability, at the age of 12.

For an entire year the whole world, including Vincent’s family, thought that it was the tasing in the chest that killed Vincent; it took that long for the autopsy, DA report, and video to be released.  Only then did they discover that it was the strangling and asphyxiation of Wolfe’s carotid hold that was actually fatal.  Isn’t that kind of messed up, that the family wasn’t even told what actually killed Vincent for a whole year?  That’s one thing I wonder, if there was a reason for that – did APD want to avoid controversy over the use of the carotid hold?

And that’s one question I would look into if I was on the new Police Review Board:  Why was Valenzuela’s family allowed, for over a year, to think he was tased to death when he was actually choked to death?

*****

One thing I’ve been thinking is this:  When the City started to notice, in 2012, that the rampant killings of young Latino men was starting to become a real problem, an embarrassment, a PR black eye, a threat to the peace even, they decided to deal with it by … mainly by hiring a Latino police chief.  (And then ANOTHER one, this year.)  Despite how better qualified and more deserving certain white cops mighta been.  But this new trend toward killing the homeless got me thinking… maybe it’s time to hire a police chief who’s homeless?  Or, to simplify things, make our new Chief sleep on the street?

Okay, I’ll stop being facetious.  Here’s…

(so far.)

1. Chris Eisinger (March)

One fine evening in early March, a West Anaheim lady reported a man prowling through her yard, which no doubt was scary – when six police arrived they saw homeless Chris Eisinger carrying a stick, which they later did their best to make sound like a weapon.  A much better guess is that, like many homeless carrying sticks, he was mereley looking for recyclables, a theory confirmed by his brother who says he did that every day.

When Chris saw the six cops, he dropped his stick and ran (having gotten beaten up by cops on other occasions.)  He tripped, they caught him, he resisted, and somehow – with all six bodycams going – he ended up asphyxiated and with multiple broken bones in his head.  He was taken to the hospital in a coma where he died eight days later, just like Vincent.

Julian Harvey, the “Acting Chief” at the time, swears he watched all six videos repeatedly and cannot for the life of him see how any of the police could have caused such head wounds or asphyxiation.  Well, he sure didn’t have those things before the cops tackled him, and he sure had them afterward.  What it looks like is he had a boot pressed into his head, or as his family’s lawyer describes it:  “In that position, head turned, face down, severe force applied against the side of his face, Chris’s airways were compromised and blocked, and he went into respiratory distress. That same pressure was used to restrict his ability to breathe for a long enough period of time to stop his heart, which is otherwise known as compressional asphyxiation.”

If I was on the board, I would want to ask, How can this fatal pressure be applied to someone’s head with no evidence appearing on multiple body cameras?  Is some kind of gruesome ballet involved?

(Irvine Kenneth, late March – not dead.)

Thankfully, the young Irvine man chased by Anaheim cops down the 5 as he drove recklessly back to his hometown, who crashed his car and was then shot while running away and taken to the hospital in critical condition … survived.  The Irvine police are investigating the incident, and Kenneth seems to want to put it all behind him and not talk about it, which is why we’re not printing his full name.  But still, I wonder as we so often do:

How is it in policy, or justified at all, to shoot at a fleeing suspect who you have no reason to suspect is armed?

2. Peter Muntean (April)

24-year old Peter sure had a short and tragic life, which we detailed here.  Mentally ill (probably schizophrenic), legally blind, and occasionally homeless as he was in April, when hunger got the better of him he would stop by his mother’s place for a meal.  On this particular occasion, when she went in to get him some food, she came back out to find him hiding terrified in the bushes, sure that there were people trying to hurt him.  (He was off his meds, which his mother had been unable to obtain for a while due to some bureaucratic fuckup.) Not able to calm him down or talk sense into him, she made the fatal mistake of dialing 911, which instead of mental health professionals sent the police.

Once Peter realized that these were police (and he’d also been beaten by cops in the past) he took off running.  It was night time, and these police claim they thought he was running with a gun pointed to his own head – it makes more sense that it was a phone, as he was looking for a friend he whose house he could hide at.  He succeeded in evading the police and spent the night in a dog house in his friend’s back yard, where he felt safe.

In the morning he had to leave, so he took off – unwisely, very close to the police station, where he was recognized and pursued by Officers Brenden Thomas, a rookie, and Bartman Horn, a veteran marksman and shooting instructor who had already been in trouble as a Pasadena officer for unnecessarily shooting and paralyzing a suspect who was already down.  Peter ran and the two cops followed, finally cornering him in a condo parking lot cul-de-sac, where one of them shot him twice – in the back and the back of the head.  Peter was taken to the hospital paralyzed from the neck down, and infected so badly that he couldn’t have the operation he needed – he was taken off life support two weeks later.  Police say they found a B-B gun in a bush forty feet away from where they shot him – who knows if it was his or not, but he obviously didn’t have it on him when they shot him.

Obvious questions –

  • Why did one of these cops shoot a guy who was cornered, unarmed, and no threat? 
  • And which one shot him?  If it was Bartman Horn, that puts him in the rare category of Serial Unnecessary Paralyzer.
  • And how about some emergency responders who know how to deal with the mentally ill?

3. Ian Tompko (June)

You may remember this weird, disturbing little story from late June, and probably forgotten about it.  His name was never reported.  This was because it took authorities months to locate his out-of-state family.  But we are able for the first time to report his name here:  IAN TOMPKO.  46 years old.  September 27, 1971 to June 23, 2018.

This was the guy who, right outside Ruby’s restaurant, started running madly back and forth across Lincoln Blvd, appearing to drivers to want to get hit.  A few of them called and reported him, police closed in.  By this point (according to a witness I’ve spoken to) he lay down exhausted on the sidewalk and announced, between pants, “I’m going to die.”  And then the police handcuffed him.  And then he died.  (And then they tried some unlikely medicines on him before taking him to the hospital.)

Wait, what?  Why did they need to waste time, and add physical and mental stress to the harmless stressed-out dude, handcuffing him when he’s lying down and dying? And again, those emergency responders who know more than handcuffing, tackling, and worse?

4. Eliuth Penaloza Nava (July)

Another very strange story, and not a homeless guy.  Apparently, from what I can piece together from police reports combined with my talks with neighbors, 50-year-old Eliuth was sitting in his parked car, allegedly high on some kind of drugs and apparently armed with a large B-B gun that looked like a real gun, when someone from his family decided to call the police to report that he was in his car, “hallucinating” on drugs, and armed with a “gun” and a knife.

What kind of family does that?  I’d say the outcome was pretty pre-ordained, especially when Eliuth saw the cops coming and took off leading them on an OJ-style low-speed chase while firing his B-B gun out his car window in every direction.  Neighbors recall the terrifying noise of “BIG GUNS” going off on two separate occasions, and later seeing B-B’s all over the street, lawns and sidewalks.  The loud noise was obviously the cops’ guns not the stupid B-B gun. I suppose it makes sense the police had to assume Eliuth was firing a real gun at random, and soon both man and car were riddled with bullets.  RIP.

Unless we are being radically lied to (which is always possible) I can think of no questions about this incident except for maybe, WTF?

And there’s more to write…

Miscellaneous police abuse of homeless seeming to increase exponentially under new Chief Cisneros.  Board:  Are these instructions coming from the top?

jailing homeless on made-up charges.  planting contraband on them.  beating them up.

Patrick Hogan beaten up and jailed for telling police not to grope homeless woman; now target on his back.

ALSO, to be fair, I’ve sometimes seen the police HELPING the homeless, and breaking up fights between them.


More hazards of the homeless lately:

Our homeless cousin Lisa, jailed 60 days for having a shopping cart, had stroke in jail, family never notified, had second stroke in hospital weeks later, family finally notified (when her jail sentence was technically up), died.  (July)

May 31 assaults of crazy hammer-wielding transient Jacob Anthony Smith on two other homeless men on State College – one of them our fascinating friend Joe – both survived Smith’s hammer according to Harvey.  But we miss Joe, he hasn’t come back to the neighborhood and we hope he’s not brain damaged.  He was funny, he used to dress in tight colorful pants and dye his hair like he was from the 70’s.  And he studied English literature in college and we used to discuss Dickens. 

June 12, La Palma & Acacia – story I saw happening – homeless Tommy lost leg sitting on short wall when SUV went off street – good Samaritan put tourniquet on him just before I got there – police and paramedics took long time getting there – Julian tells me Tommy survived – except one of the cops falsely took credit for the tourniquet, LOL.

UNPRECEDENTED RASH OF PROBABLY INTENTIONAL HIT-AND-RUNS – mostly in Fullerton but also of a young homeless man sleeping in GOALS Academy parking lot – his legs run over TWICE.

Many recent deaths – including David Doane (medical treatment for stroke delayed by Telecare) and Rita Ann Wilde (hit by car on La Palma)

ANOTHER forced exodus of a 200-homeless-person camp- from an out-of-the-way location by the 91 and 57 freeways, BACK OUT ONTO YOUR STREETS, just like the riverbed eviction!

Should all of this be in this same story?  I don’t have time to write it all before the meeting.

TONIGHT (Thursday) 6 pm, Gordon Hoyt!  See you there!

 


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.