Slingshot: Anaheim, Riots, and Records Requests
Updated: Jul 21, 2020
Even in a pandemic, the rhythm of riots ebb and flow. There's protests still going on across the country in Minneapolis, Portland and Louisville, but the fury everywhere else is fanning down. It's inevitable.
Take it from Anaheim.
This week marks eight years since an anti-police brutality riot took the city by surprise. A thousand people, mostly young and mostly from Anaheim, descended on downtown following a weekend of back-to-back police shootings that killed Manuel Diaz and Joel Acevedo in July 2012.
Fires burned. Windows shattered. Stores got looted.
One year later, a sizable march filled Anaheim's streets for hours, casting the city as the epicenter of police brutality in the state. After that, protests dwindled, both in size and frequency.
I walked alongside Theresa Smith from Wal-Mart to the Anaheim Police Department in December 2014 in marking five years since five officers gunned down Caesar Cruz, her son. By then, the unleashed energy from the riots already waned.
In an essay I wrote in 2017, I declared the Anaheim Revolution all but dead.
But the work of holding police accountable continues, as does Smith's activism.
Part of her continuing crusade came in advocating for SB 1421, a state law giving the public greater access to police records. It took effect last year. The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California tested it with a records request for documents and files related to the Cruz case on behalf of Smith and the California Justice Teams Network.
Anaheim sought to bill them $3,000 for the time and labor needed to "extract" exempt information from audio and video files.
That January, as a staff writer for OC Weekly, I requested the files of four Anaheim police shootings, including Diaz and Acevedo. The city attorney sent me a letter demanding a $17,920 deposit for the same! The ACLU also did a deep dive request for all available records under SB 1421 dating back to 1999. Anaheim said sure, as long as the group ponied up $128,000.
In late May, the tables turned. The California Supreme Court ruled against Hayward in a case that disallowed cities from passing the cost of redaction on to the person or organization requesting police audio and video files.
Smith revived her request. "It's the law and I'm entitled to them," she says of the records. "Law enforcement needs to obey the law like we all do. No one is above the law. "I similarly refiled my own request, adding the March 6, 2012 shooting of Martin Angel Hernandez in the mix.
And then came a cause for alarm. Anaheim city council was set to authorize the destruction of records older than two years, including police department files related to disciplinary action, deadly arrests and shootings.
On July 14, the ACLU sent a letter to Anaheim city officials, one threatening legal action.
"The records the department seeks permission to destroy unquestionably include documents that are responsive to ACLU SoCal's requests," it read. "The department cannot receive a public records request and then decide to destroy responsive documents rather than turn them over."
Debate turned to council on Tuesday. "We're not going to destroy any documents subject to a Public Records Act request," said Robert Fabela, city attorney. "That [has] been made clear to [the ACLU]."
A motion to exempt police records in question failed. A majority of council members felt assured enough by Fabela's promise to proceed forward.
Will the records requested be honored and turned over? Will they be destroyed after being fulfilled? Eight years after the Anaheim Riots, questions remained unanswered.
- Gabriel San Román
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Your Mouse Muckraker / Photo by Federico Medina
Orange County is four months into the coronavirus pandemic and Anaheim finally decided to enlist in the mass testing effort. Last week, Mayor Harry Sidhu announced that the Anaheim Convention Center would become the site of free, drive-thru testing by appointment.
"As Orange County's largest city, Anaheim is meeting the challenge of coronavirus," said Sidhu. "No other Orange County city has the spaces and the skills to make this happen on this scale. Anaheim is proud to do our part to address rising cases in our city and across the county."
Too little? Too late?
Back in March, amid postponed conventions and an indefinite shuttering of Disneyland, Sidhu's had more pressing priorities. By the end of the month, he championed an emergency economic recovery plan that featured a $6.5 million bailout of Visit Anaheim, a nonprofit that promotes the tourism industry.
Critical reporting hooked the Mouse House into headlines, but documents obtained by the Slingshot! show Carrie Nocella, a Disneyland Resort lobbyist, denying her company playing any role.
"Agenda item tonight asking Anaheim to give 6.5M to Visit Anaheim to promote stakeholders like Disney for three months," councilwoman Denise Barnes messaged Nocella. "Is this Disney's intentions?"
"This is not an ask from Disneyland Resort," Nocella responded. "I think this is more the Mayor's (and Visit Anaheim's) desire to get the local economy going again. We have not taken a position on this. Visit Anaheim markets the Anaheim Convention Center to attract conventions and fill non-Disney hotels. Disney markets our parks, our hotels and Downtown Disney. Visit Anaheim's efforts complement ours."
(A quick visit to Visit Anaheim's social media operations shows that they boost the Disneyland Resort directly and quite often).
As the controversy over the bailout brewed, Visit Anaheim defended itself saying its work with a reduced staff already secured two conventions this year and eight future ones to come. The total economic boost to the area was touted at $475 million.
But now, the Convention Center is a testing site for frontline workers, those experiencing symptoms and those who've been exposed to infected people. That's a tacit admission of Anaheim's pandemic reality over its economic fantasies.
Duane Roberts, a longtime activist, blasted the council for its misplaced priorities back in March.
"I think it is downright immoral for this body to even be wasting its energy talking about 'tourist marketing' at this time," he wrote to council. "Our number one priority as a city should be focused on stopping the spread of the COVID-19 virus among the general population, not spreading $6.5 million in public funds to the mayor's friends."
Four months later, Disneyland remains closed and Anaheim's a hot spot for coronavirus infections in OC. People are visiting the Anaheim Convention Center, but only to get tested.
Heckuva job, Harry!
Orange County became a national embarrassment--again!
Last week, the OC Board of Education approved guidelines for children to return to school without masks or social distancing. Even though the board has no jurisdiction over individual districts, the headlines grabbed attention at the county's expense anyway.
As more critical coverage took over, attention focused on the white paper that guided the board's vote. Its principal author, Will Swaim, founded OC Weekly in 1995, but is now the head of the California Policy Center, a Tustin-based nonprofit that's decidedly pro-charter and anti-union.
"Parents, not government officials, are in the best position to determine the education environment that best suits their children. If a school district is unable or unwilling to provide that education, parents should be allowed to send their children to a district or charter school that will provide that education."
There you have it.
I worked at the Weekly well after Swaim but I assume he knows better. The latest tax forms for the California Policy Center listed his salary at $148,500. It pays better to pretend not to know better, but what else is new?