Thursday, October 13, 2016
[San Diego County] El Cajon police log 12 shootings in 10 years, one complaint last year
Blog note: this article references a 2015-16 county grand jury report.
Nearly two weeks after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man by an El Cajon police officer, street protests and demonstrations have faded but scrutiny of the city’s police force and its relations with the diverse East County city remain.
An analysis of officer-involved shootings by local agencies shows El Cajon police have shot 12 people over the past decade — the highest per capita rate of any agency in San Diego County.
Those 12 shootings — five of which were fatal — give El Cajon the highest rate of shooting per 100,000 people of any law enforcement agency in the county, according to an analysis of police shootings by The San Diego Union-Tribune.
The dozen shootings are the third highest of any agency in the county, trailing only the larger San Diego Police Department and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
While the rate is high, 11.83 shootings per 100,000 population over the decade, the raw numbers are low — 12 since 2006 for a police force in a city with a population a bit larger than 100,000.
City officials have said that relations between the department and its diverse population are good. In fact, the City Council formally rejected in August a recommendation from the county civil grand jury to establish a citizens review board that would review police conduct and complaints.
In its response to the grand jury, the city cited a remarkable statistic: In 2015, there were 93,000 “citizen contacts” by El Cajon police officers and only a single formal complaint was filed with the department.
It was not an unusual year for the department. In 2014, two complaints were filed out of 89,000 contacts, and the year before eight complaints were made out of 95,000 contacts.
Estela De Los Rios, a longtime civil-rights advocate in El Cajon who has lived there for more than 40 years, said she thinks the number of formal complaints is misleading.
“That’s not a credible number,” she said. “There’s no logical connection or correlation to what I hear. There are people in the community who are fearful of the police. Something is definitely wrong.”
The shooting analysis comes as the city continues to deal with the fallout from the Sept. 27 shooting of Alfred Olango, 38. Officer Richard Gonsalves fired the fatal shot, while Officer Josh McDaniel shot a Taser. Both officers are 21-year veterans of the force.
They were responding to a call, made nearly an hour earlier, by Olango’s sister saying he was acting strangely and needed assistance. The shooting occurred in a parking lot behind a taco shop after Olango suddenly crouched into a shooting stance and pointed an object at Gonsalves.
Police later identified the object as a silver, L-shaped electronic vaping device. The shooting triggered several days and nights of street protests that became increasingly violent. Protesters called for the public release of two videos of the shooting.
After first refusing to do so, Police Chief Jeff Davis released the videos on Sept. 30 to counter what he called an emerging “false narrative” of the shooting and to quell the protests. Since then the protests have faded.
The shooting data is compiled from a Union-Tribune database of all officer-involved shootings in the county.
After being shown the data Friday, a department spokesman said the agency wanted to review the information before commenting further.
“You provided the information to us and we are going to look at the statistics, confirm they are accurate, and figure out what the data means,” police Lt. Rob Ransweiler said.
El Cajon is a diverse city that has become a landing spot for refugees from the Middle East and other strife-torn countries. The city is 57 percent white, 28 percent Hispanic or Latino and 6 percent African-American.
Of the five fatal shootings there in the past 10 years, three of the people were white and two were black.
City leaders, including Mayor Bill Wells, have said in the wake of the shooting that police make a concerted effort to interact with the city’s diverse populations.
Wells said that the low number of formal complaints is proof that the department interacts well with the community.
“Overall, if we thought we had a serious problem, a citizens review board is something we would have considered,” he said. “We feel the system we have has been working well. The statistics bear that out.”
The grand jury report recommended a review board for El Cajon and six other cities — Oceanside, Carlsbad, Escondido, La Mesa, Coronado and Chula Vista. Each city rejected the call, said Melinda Richard, forewoman of the 2015-16 grand jury.
Richard said the low number of complaints cited by El Cajon in its response could reflect that citizens don’t have confidence in the system.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if people don’t complain as much because they don’t feel they are being heard,” she said. “I think in some ways that clearly supports our position that they should have an independent board to review these things.”
But Ransweiler said the low number of complaints is a credit to a department that has worked hard to connect with its community.
“I like to think it says we do our job well,” the department spokesman said. “We have a remarkable group of professional officers. We preach taking the time to listen to people and resolve situations.”
De Los Rios, executive director of the fair housing group CSA of San Diego County, said the department often does “good work trying to reach out to the community.”
But she added that she thinks citizens are too often “talked out of making complaints” by police.
“They’re told don’t put the complaint in. We will fix this problem,” De Los Rios said.
Citizens can file complaints by going to the station and filling out and signing a form or by downloading the form from the city’s website, Ransweiler said. The process is open and easy, he said.
El Cajon has had two fatal officer-involved shootings this year, including Olango’s. On Jan. 15, Kelsey Rose Hauser was killed by Officer Samson Pak, who had been with the force three years. The 25-year-old woman was a passenger in a stolen car that led police on a high-speed chase that ended with the driver smashing into police vehicles in a cul-de-sac and steering his car toward an officer on foot.
Pak fired four rounds at the driver, Geoffrey Sims, but struck Hauser and a dog who was also in the front seat. Sims and two other passengers were not hurt.
Veteran San Diego civil-rights attorney Michael Marrinan is representing Hauser’s family, who filed a legal claim against the city over the shooting.
“What was he thinking shooting through the passenger window, ostensibly to hit the driver?” the attorney said.
Marrinan said that he knows the department has made efforts to reach out to the various communities in the city, but the complaint data for the agency is surprising.
But Wells said the data reflects his own experience in the city.
“As mayor, I get lots and lots of complaints, but I don’t get complaints about the police,” he said. “If people thought we were shutting them down and not allowing them to make complaints, we would have heard about it.
October 8, 2016
The San Diego Union-Tribune
By Greg Moran and Merrie Monteagudo