Slingshot: Black Lives Don't Matter in Brea--Unless They're Blue!
Updated: Sep 19, 2020
In June, protesters took the streets in Uptown Whittier to demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jonathan Salcido. Anti-police brutality marches across the nation brought renewed attention not just to nationally known cases like the former two, but also local ones like the latter. Salcido, a 27-year-old man who suffered from schizophrenia, died in 2017 after Whittier policemen piled on top of him during a controversial arrest.
A recent online petition with more than 21,000 digital signatures demanded the firing of all officers involved in the incident.
But LaMarr Tinnin, one such cop, had already left Whittier Police Department by that time. His exit came shortly after a sizable $1.9 million settlement in the Salcido civil case last year. Tinnin didn't leave law enforcement for good; he merely cruised down Imperial Highway and got a job with the Brea Police Department.
There, in a North OC city that was a former sundown town and once dominated by the Ku Klux Klan, a Black Lives Matter demonstration in downtown attracted 300 people in June. Among the protesters? Brea Olinda Unified School District trustee Keri Kropke. She helped lead chants that day and joined an even smaller protest later that month where some protesters blocked traffic during the demonstration but no arrests were made.
It didn't take long for a political smear campaign to ensnare Kropke, who cast the lone vote against keeping an elementary school named after former Brea Klansman William Fanning in 2019 when it mattered (the board voted unanimously to change the name this summer after the Fanning family asked them to while still denying the history). Brea PD singled out the trustee in a summary email from interim Police Chief Adam Hawley to the city manager and council the evening of the second protest.
"It should be noted that although the group is small, they are vocal and non-compliant," the chief wrote in the June 30 email. "Also, it was reported to me that one of the protestors is a BOUSD board member."
Rick Clark, the political yapper behind the One Brea blog that faithfully churned out Klan-history denialism during the Fanning fight, sprang into action soon after. He wrote up the Hawley email, made unattributed claims that Kropke dropped F-bombs on the officers at the protest and harassed police elsewhere in the city, including during a July 2 stop of a homeless Black man for a reported petty theft from a bakery.
The officer? Tinnin.
Hawley sent the mayor and council a July 14 letter that doubled down on Kropke. "The protestors, including Ms. Kropke, began yelling at the officers using derogatory and profane language," the chief wrote. Hawley also detailed two conversations she had with police on the beat, including the July incident.
"During the conversation, Ms. Kropke twice uttered a highly inflammatory, racial slur," he wrote. "In response, the officer, who is African American, requested Ms. Kropke not to use that term."
Kropke responded to the allegations made against her with a statement to the mayor and city council.
"As a person who comes from both a union and law enforcement family, I am disheartened at the misinformation that has circulated regarding my interactions with the Brea Police Department," she said. "I have spent my career as an unapologetic champion for equality, diversity and inclusion and will continue to stand up for those values when threatened."
Kropke, who is the single mother of a Black son, denied calling the officer any racist epithet and, instead, explained what had been said about the homeless man at a local Subway. She also defended herself against the claim that she used foul language against the cops at the protest. Kropke asked for police recordings followed by a correction to clear her name.
Clark, who recently called this Mexican reporter a "cucaracha" on Twitter played the part of a public records martyr against the local Deep State in broadly seeking audio and video recordings into the allegations, including Kropke's cellphone video where she identified herself as a public official to officers. When much of what was requested was eventually produced, Brea took the extra step of issuing a Public Information Brief and a public Dropbox link for anyone interested in perusing police audio recordings, protest dash cam videos, transcripts, internal memos and more.
By doing so, the city dropkicked Kropke to the curb; Clark declared victory on One Brea.
"The release of exempt records in this situation is not a precedent," the briefing claimed. "In different circumstances, exempt records may be withheld."
In the document dump, an internal memo outlined Sergeant Robert Haefner's unspecified claim that Kropke used profane language against him and the policing profession in general during an encounter at the June 30 protest. But he didn't identify her directly; the memo states that came later when Haefner relayed his experience with a woman to Brea police union president Sergeant Jason Celmer, who had previous contact with Kropke and said it was her. But for all the hours of digital audio recordings made available from numerous officers, none are from Haefner. Why not?
The trustee is also identified in numerous dash camera stills as part of a protest incident review. "Protestors can be heard in the patrol unit audio/video chanting 'Fuck the Police!,'" reads one report. "Ms. Kropke was viewed in other patrol unit video walking southbound on the west sidewalk of Brea Boulevard and adjacent to the protestors. No audio or video recording was located identifying Ms. Kropke participating in the chant."
Imagine taxpayer money being spent ascertaining whether or not a trustee said, "Fuck the Police!" But that's Brea, folks!
Beyond the protest, audio and transcript files provide a window into the July 2 stop, when officer Tinnin questioned the homeless Black man before Kropke observed the encounter.
"I know how the system is, and that's one reason I became a cop," Tinnin told a questioning Kropke.
"I'm not trying to tell you anything," Kropke later said. "I'm just saying I've seen from multiple store owners here how this guy's treated. And he's treated like a piece of shit."
"Well, a lot of it isn't the color of his skin because they also get white and black homeless in," Tinnin countered.
"I don't see people, when they walk in the store, call a white person a nigger," Kropke responded, referring a second time to the Brea greeting the homeless man got at Subway.
"Have you considered using 'the N-word' instead of the full-on word?" Tinnin later asked.
Kropke honored that reasonable request; Tinnin called her "ridiculous" before parting ways.
Based on the whole scandal, it seems concerned Breans would rather have their officers left alone than tolerate any copwatching--or protesting. But according to the Salcido suit against Tinnin and other Whittier policemen, Salcido's mother was admonished three years ago when she tried to tell them that her son was unarmed, posed no threat and, due to his mental illness, needed help.
"Let the police do their job," she was told. Tinnin, the first responding officer, continued helping with the arrest.
By that time, officer Jim Azpilcueta had already laid on top of Salcido, who was face down on the ground, using his full body weight on him while Tinnin used a baton to pry his hands free for a pair of cuffs. More officers arrived. "Mrs. Salcido ran toward the mound of at least six officers now piled on top of her son who was still face down on the pavement and frantically trashing his legs back and forth," the suit read. "Suddenly, in the presence of his distraught mother, Jonathan stopped moving."
Attorneys for Salcido's family claim that Whittier police prevented medical staff at a local hospital from fully examining him, but not before an ER physician noted "asphyxia" as the cause or a contributing cause of death along with head trauma and "traumatic" arrest.
Los Angeles County district attorney Jackie Lacey, an African-American woman under intense criticism from the Black Lives Matter movement, cleared all officers involved. The report from her office actually cited "excited delirium due to or as a consequence of schizophrenia" as the cause of death, making Orange County district attorney Todd Spitzer look like Johnny Cochran by comparison!
Following Floyd's death in Minneapolis, USA Today repeatedly revisited the Salcido case, including with an article critical of excited delirium. "It's this nonexistent medical condition which they have invented specifically for these types of cases," said attorney Dan Stormer, who represented the Salcido family, in the article. "He died of suffocating and they tried to call it excited delirium but that has no traction in real medicine."
Of course, Kropke, who decided against running for reelection this year, knew none of this past history when she decided to copwatch. Officer Tinnin's interaction with the homeless man proved routine. Still, he's worth keeping an eye on. For anyone who needs convincing, there's 1.9 million reasons why.
- Gabriel San Román
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Winter is coming. The House Stark motto from Game of Thrones is all too real in 2020. The summer surge of Covid-19 in the United States will pale in comparison to what awaits in December, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. As many as 3,000 coronavirus deaths per day are expected to pile up. The nation will clear well over 400,000 deaths when New Year's Day arrives. But the magic-deprived masses remain hopeful that Disneyland will somehow emerge from its pandemic slumber just in time for the holidays. The search for clues is desperate, from sneaking a peek at horses on Main Street to seeking meaning behind health advisory signs popping up in front of the entrance gates. It's true that Governor Gavin Newsom says California is getting closer to issuing guidelines for reopening the Happiest Place on Earth. New coronavirus cases in Orange County have trended downward for weeks now, including hospitalizations. But reality is still imposing its will. Disneyland cancelled its Candlelight Ceremony. It turns out having a Christmas choir perform during a pandemic isn't the best idea.
It's hard to see the sense in opening Disneyland just in time for the cold, flu and, now, coronavirus season when experts are calling on people to prepare to hunker down.
Maybe this night before Christmas, it'd be better if a creature doesn't stir in the resort.
Especially a Mouse.
Lead image: Salcido before the lawsuit alleges more officers piled on / court documents