Thoughts on the $2.27 Million Award to Chris Eisinger’s Family

Before and after APD encounter.

Well, the bills just keep coming in, from the Anaheim Police Department’s really bad years, as the wheels of justice grind slowly on.  The really bad years like for example 2018 when there were FIVE fatalities due to Anaheim police encounters – Chris Eisinger, Peter Muntean, Ian Tompko, Eliuth Penaloza Nava & Justin Perkins.

We wrote twice about Chris Eisinger when he was killed early that year – it never made sense to us that he could have been killed and his face bones fractured in five places if these five cops subduing him were following procedures, as acting Chief Julian Harvey insisted to us.  True to form, DA Rackauckas blamed Chris’ death on drugs and found no fault in the actions of the police.  But now a jury, an ORANGE COUNTY JURY, has strongly disagreed and awarded Chris’ family $2.27 million due to “excessive force.”

Lyster

And Anaheim’s uniquely graceless city spokesman Mike Lyster, just as he did after the $13.2 Vincent Valenzuela award, came out to blast the jury’s finding, blame it all on the victim, defend the police’s actions, and tell Anaheim taxpayers it’s no big deal because we’re part of an insurance pool intended for just such matters.  First of all, the Anaheim police already have a spokesman, as well as several high-priced attorneys.  Can’t the guy who’s supposed to be “Anaheim spokesman” be a little more balanced and show some sensitivity to the victims, their families, and the rest of us who care about them?  They are part of Anaheim too!

And it only stands to reason that if these judgments against Anaheim for police brutality keep coming in, our payments to that “insurance pool” are going to HAVE to increase, if they haven’t already.

This time Mike took special umbrage at all the comparisons to the killing of George Floyd by Officer Derek Chauvin and his three helpers to this Eisinger case:  “We join so many in welcoming the Chauvin verdict and condemning the death of George Floyd…” [Yeah, it would be pretty controversial right now to disagree with the Chauvin verdict.] “…But this case was unique in facts, circumstance and people. Trying to tie this incident to what we saw in Minneapolis does a disservice to all involved.”  Au contraire, Mikey – the parallels between the Floyd killing and the Eisinger killing are remarkable:

  • They were both suspected of very minor crimes – Floyd of unintentionally passing a counterfeit 20, Eisinger accused of trying to break into cars (although we still think he may have just been looking for recyclables, with that “stick” the police saw him drop, something his brother told me he did a lot.)
  • They were both on modest amounts of drugs, but NOT NEARLY ENOUGH TO HURT OR KILL THEM, as the police attorneys and our DA claimed.
  • They both didn’t want to be arrested, and struggled or resisted to some degree.
  • And they both died from having three policemen kneel for several minutes on their backs and necks until the life ebbed out of them and they mumbled those ubiquitous last words, “I CAN’T BREATHE.”

So I guess Julian Harvey saw all this, and found nothing “against policy,” and so kneeling on a suspect’s neck and/or back until they pass out MUST be policy, just as the chokehold was until Vincent Valenzuela’s crusading family made it illegal.  I also remember, just in Anaheim off hand, Tiffini Tobe (2016) and Ian Tompko (2018) being suffocated that way.  Sounds like another “policy” to examine before it costs us more lives and millions.

Julian Alexander, killed by APD Officer Kevin Flanagan 2008.

No matter what, our Orange County DA, whether it’s Rackauckas or Spitzer, fails to find any wrongdoing on the part of Anaheim police, but more and more juries are beginning to disagree.  From the insultingly low (5-figure) awards given to the families of Manuel Diaz and Monique Deckard, we progress to the Eisinger $2.27 million and the Valenzuela $13.2 million.  All this is not to be confused with the settlements Anaheim reluctantly gives to the families (often in secret) such as the $1.55 million to the survivors of the 100% innocent Julian Alexander  (now financing a scholarship in his name.)  Common sense tells us, it all adds up.

But the most remarkable part of the Eisinger award was that, after decades of having to go to LA to get any justice, this came from an OC jury!  Gabriel San Roman found that remarkable as well.  Maybe the times really are a-changing, if even behind the Orange Curtain, the police no longer get a free pass.

Last thought:  I’d like to (and it’d be wonderful if anyone wants to help) put together a collection of the initial APD press releases, just to see how far those statements are from the facts we later come to know.  So far the one on George Floyd’s killing from the Minneapolis Police has to be the classic:


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.