The Death of Tiffini Tobe.


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Early one February 2016 morning, 48-year old Tiffini Kuuipo Tobe boarded the westbound La Palma bus at the Tustin Avenue stop, in front of the 76 station.  Had she been at the Kraemer homeless shelter?  Just gotten off an early Metrolink train?  We don’t know.

If you heard anything at all about Tiffini’s death that cold morning, it would have been from D Kelsen’s OC Weekly report “Tiffini Kuuipo Tobe’s Sad, Manic Final Days.”  But that was written before DA Tony Rackauckas’ “in-custody death” report was released, and nobody knew yet about the involvement of controversial homeless liaison Sergeant Mike Lozeau.  And other questions and concerns arise from both that DA report and other similar more recent tragedies, so let’s continue.

When Tiffini boarded the bus she told the driver that she was homeless and had no fare (spelled “fair” by Rackauckas.)  She then went to the back of the bus, which started moving forward.  But when she heard the driver call in to report the “incident” to the authorities, Tiffini did something that sounds crazy – she opened the bus window and jumped out while the bus was already going 26 MPH.  Was she that afraid of the police, or what?

[Again, our only source is a report from former DA Tony Rackauckas, which COULD be fair and accurate, but in our experience these are unreliable documents that almost always come off as defense briefs for the cops and authorities, and spend inordinate time demonizing the deceased while leaving out important facts.]

So Tiffini landed on her butt in the street,  rolled a little on the asphalt, and bloodied her head on the curb.  After a few seconds she leapt up, ran across La Palma through traffic, and started jumping on cars and trucks heading back east, ending up back at the Tustin intersection.  According to the report she “picked up a metal rod” at one point, but two Good Samaritans pulled over, took the rod from her, and with some difficulty got her back onto the sidewalk.

Lozeau

And during this struggle, who happens to drive by but APD Sergeant Mike Lozeau, head of Anaheim’s Homeless Liaison Team, off duty, not in uniform, in an unmarked city-owned car, with an unnamed female code enforcement manager in his passenger seat?  The two saw the commotion in the intersection, and Sgt Lozeau pulled over to intervene.

We remain curious – did Lozeau, the longtime homeless liaison officer, recognize and know Tiffini, who had caused some trouble in the past?  And did she know him?  For some reason she tried to get INTO his “open passenger door” – the code-enforcement lady must have already gotten out quickly and left the door open.

Lozeau struggled a bit with the surprisingly strong Tiffini, and got her down on the sidewalk face down.  Rackauckas emphasizes, “He did not slam Tobe to the ground, nor did she hit her head.”  What he did do was hold her down with his knee on her back as she “continued to try to escape.”  We know Mike Lozeau to be a very big guy.  But Rackauckas insists that he “never put his entire weight on her body,” and that each time Tiffini cried out “I can’t breathe,” Lozeau would briefly lift his knee before lowering it again.

“Welcome to the OC.  I can’t breathe.”  It has a certain familiar ring…

Soon an on-duty APD officer, Clint Cavaness, responding to calls, assessed the situation, and relieved Lozeau of knee-on-back duties while the latter made more calls.  But after a bit, Tiffini stopped breathing, and the rest is death;  read all about it here.  The DA blamed it all on “acute methamphetamine intoxication,” just as they did the following month with asphyxiated Chris Eisinger (with the broken facial bones), and a couple years later in the very similar case of Ian Tompko.  And that was the end of Tiffini Tobe, a homeless Hawaiian-American lady who loved all her dogs even if she didn’t always manage to provide them the necessary medical care.

A Few Questions Suggest Themselves…

First, what’s up with all these cases of homeless people, apparently on meth, running wild in traffic like they’re trying to kill themselves?  We know about three cases, which turned fatal after police involvement, so there must be more – Tiffini Tobe, Ian Tompko, and Rodney Daniels (Santa Ana, April 2018.)  An ex-meth user I recently met, on hearing of these cases, says it sounds like the effects of DMT (dimethyltryptamine) which sometimes leaks into baggies of meth if a dealer is selling both.

More importantly, is there seriously not a better way to restrain somebody having such an episode, than to restrict the flow of their blood and/or oxygen?  There must be.  (Unless the goal is actually to rid the world of such people.)

Finally, we’d already thought of 2016 as a pretty bad year for Anaheim Police Dept-caused or -facilitated deaths, with the July strangling of innocent Vincent Valenzuela, and the fatal shootings of Gustavo Najera (unarmed, February), Adalid Flores, (unarmed, September) and Danny Rendon (almost armed, February) – and MOST of these did not need to happen. The addition of Tiffini makes FIVE fatalities that year.

Maybe the Rackauckas report on Tiffini is complete and accurate, and maybe Officers Lozeau and Cavaness really did the best they could to protect her and everyone else.  But the footage from Caveness’ body-cam belongs to all us taxpayers and we fought hard for the right to it.  So this blog will be requesting it, and then posting it, so we can have a clearer picture of how this all really went down, and maybe prevent it in the future.  For now, here is the VERY similar death, two years later, of Ian Tompko on Lincoln Blvd in front of Ruby’s:


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer 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.