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  • Writer's pictureGabriel San Roman

Slingshot: Key Takeaways From OIR's Annual Audit of Anaheim Police

Dear Subscribers: 

Ever hear of the Office of Independent Review in Anaheim? What about the Public Safety Board? 

Out of the Anaheim Riots came the call for a civilian review board with subpoena powers. City officials opted for an auditor model, instead, that placed Michael Gennaco's OIR in tandem with a pilot Public Safety Board. 

Audit the police? I must have missed that protest sign!

Sadly, the two organizations are still more than any other city in Orange County can boast. And they're keeping busy with actions demanding attention. 

In June, councilwoman Denise Barnes requested a presentation of two annual reports, one from the OIR and the other from the Public Safety Board. Last week, the OIR delivered its December 2019 independent review of Anaheim PD's major incident, use of force and internal affairs investigations before the board. On Tuesday, it's council's turn. 

Before that, I read through OIR's 85-page report and its accompanying 39 recommendations for the Anaheim Police Department to adopt. It's a thorough treatment, although unnecessarily vague about the police shootings and other major incidents where it concerns officer names and the deceased.

Key sections include reviews of certain Anaheim police shootings, in-custody deaths and the department's dreadful response to the 2016 Ku Klux Klan rally turned melee at Pearson Park. The OIR's recommendations may seem milquetoast, especially as they're worded, but the group's ability to access police materials provides for insights not to be ignored. 

Evaluating Anaheim PD's Major Incident Review Team (MIRT) process, the report looked at the Nov. 2016 fatal shooting of Adalid Flores, an unarmed man gunned down with a cell phone in his hand. Gennaco, a former trial attorney with the Department of Justice, reveals that two other officers turned off their body cameras earlier in their shifts before the shooting. When confronting Flores, a rookie cop correctly identified the cell phone in his hand; officer Lorenzo Uribe oddly uttered "Don't say that!" 

Uribe (and only Uribe) opened fire on Flores, killing him, after he apparently made a furtive movement with the cellphone mistaken for a gun. 

During the MIRT interview, Uribe believed the rookie cop's observation and statement to be wrong--and potentially dangerous at the time. The fatal shooting was found to be within policy. 

OIR recommended a more thorough squaring of an officer's recollection versus recorded evidence as well as pursuing policy concerns, such as turned off body cameras, even if non-disciplinary in nature.

Hard hitting, I know. 

Another evaluation of MIRT's work on a Mar. 2016 shooting of a knife wielding man who took two young girl employees hostage at Subway raised more eyebrows. Sergeant Daniel Gonzalez used an AR-15 in rescuing the girls without fatally wounding the man. Reviewing body camera footage, the report called out two other officers' inappropriate, unprofessional comments on the perimeter before the shooting. 

"Fucking head shot, fucking problem's over," one said. 

"If he gets far enough away from her, knock him blind, dude," said another. 

Even more curious is the highlighting of "significant inaccuracies" in the OCDA report. The investigative letter into the Gonzalez shooting claimed the man held the knife by one girl's throat and was fired on when he moved his arm. Only problem? "In the officer's interview, there is no such recorded observation," the OIR report reads. Instead, Gonzalez stated that he saw the man making a ducking motion.

Recommendation: Anaheim PD should advise the OCDA to correct such artistic license in the future! 

Sergeant Gonzalez appeared in another OCDA report about another incident later that year. He supervised a carotid hold when a pair of officers attempted to arrest Vincent Valenzuela on June 2, 2016, but left him comatose, instead. The MIRT "uncharacteristically" didn't suggest any action items when looking the matter over and only one officer was ever interviewed. This for an incident that became the biggest judgment against Anaheim PD in a wrongful death civil case when a jury awarded Valenzuela's children $13.2 million last year. 

In December, the OIR suggested ending carotid holds--or at least limiting them to deadly force scenarios. After the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis in late May, chief Jorge Cisneros opted for the latter.

For as lackluster as the MIRT's work on Valenzuela's case proved to be, a member of Anaheim PD's command staff wanted a "major incident" review of the Feb. 2016 Klan melee, but the request was rejected. An After-Action report conceded that "an initial visible presence of officers may have assisted in deescalating the situation before it became violent." 

Such a pitiful attempt at self-reflection was insufficient. Scandalous, even. 

"APD missed out on chances to learn from the KKK event in systemic, department-wide ways," the OIR report read. "APD leadership lost a messaging opportunity with regard to its commitment to self-scrutiny. It also invited questions both within and outside the department as to whether potential criticisms were being inappropriately muted because of the APD personnel who may have been involved in the pre-planned decision-making." 

Recommendation: When Anaheim PD puts out misleading or inaccurate information about an incident involving police, they should quickly clear up any confusion! 

No matter. Journalism stepped in to uncover the truth beyond what public information officers and top brass offered to the public. 

After the melee, where a Klansman stabbed multiple people, my reporting in the OC Weekly and a complaint filed by Duane Roberts exposed former chief Raul Quezada's lies in public regarding what his force knew and didn't know about the Klan's rally plans. He also lied about the time the Klan actually arrived despite copious police reports accurately detailing it. 

Damage control 101. 

The Anaheim Police Association cited my reporting in their press materials after union members voted no confidence in Quezada's leadership. The scandal contributed to his early retirement before turning 50. 

Cisneros, the current chief, responded to the OIR report in February by agreeing with 35 of its recommendations. He disagreed with four key suggestions including that officers involved in shootings be interviewed before the end of their shift and be disallowed to review body camera footage before doing so. 

Where it concerns the Klan melee and Anaheim PD misinformation, Cisneros called the matter an "anomaly" while stressing the department's commitment to accuracy in all communications. 

Especially with the absence of a subpoena-powered civilian review board, it's up to the press and an engaged community to hold the chief and his force accountable with consequences, not recommendations. 

- Gabriel San Román

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Your Mouse Muckraker / Photo by Federico Medina

Mouse Muckraker

Faced with a lethal virus, what's the fate of living wages at the Disneyland Resort? 

For non-union hotels that are subsidized, rising pay is secured through 2022 under Anaheim's minimum wage law passed two years ago. Collective Bargaining Agreements that unions struck with the Mouse House to bring the wage floor up to $15 an hour are also legally binding, but vary in commitments. 

The Master Services Council, comprised of four major unions, had its last contractual wage boost to $15.45 an hour arrive on June 16, 2020. But Disneyland and California Adventure remain closed with tens of thousands of workers furloughed. 

The contract expires next June, the first of a slew of living wage agreements to do so, but what will the Disneyland Resort look like by next summer?  

Last September, Workers United Local 50 inked a contract boosting pay, making the largest single union at the resort the last to take a living wage victory lap. Only, by mid-March, coronavirus presented a series of new challenges, worker safety chief among them. 

The Coalition of Resort Labor Unions insist that Disney provide coronavirus testing for its workers while maintaining proper staffing levels needed to carry out extra sanitizing duties. At some point, workers at the Anaheim theme parks will return with living wages in tow.

The disconcerting question is: how many will remain?

Wall Street analysts Cowen and Company forecasts a loss of 32 million guests to Disneyland over the next two years. It doesn't see a return to profitability for all Disney theme parks until 2025. 

Less guests means less workers. 

And once those living wage contracts expire before 2025, will the Mouse House bring its losses to the bargaining table in trying to nickle and dime the workforce that remains? 

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