Tom Butt
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  The Police Commission Debate Goes On
February 10, 2016

My E-FORUM posts, We Need to Support the Richmond Police Department, Not Bash It. February 7, 2016 and Chris Magnus - "A Huge Step Backwards for a City That Could Do So Much Better" February 5, 2016, have drawn lengthy responses from Mike Parker of the RPA and Councilmembers Jael Myrick, both of which are copied below.

Both responses are well written and articulate, which gives them the appearance of rationality. But I have to point out serious flaws in both the facts presented and the reasoning in both of them.

Myrick wrote, “So when Mayor Butt calls these actions “radical” and “draconian,” I honestly have no idea what the heck he’s talking about.” Well, maybe Myrick should call Chris Magnus and ask him to explain it to him. From Tucson, Magnus wrote:

"I can say with absolute confidence that NO other cities are following this model. It seems that no finding will suit the agenda some folks have unless it validates their preconceived notions about how that incident occurred. This has nothing to do with fairness or independence, but rather is entirely political. There are so many ways meaningful civilian oversight could be better achieved, but this is a huge step backwards for a city that could do so much better."

While “radical” and “draconian” were my words, I believe Magnus echoed my opinions by saying that “NO other cities are following this model,” and “this is a huge step backwards for a city that could do so much better.”

Why don’t I hear anyone arguing with Chief Magnus?

Regarding Perez, why investigate at all? Myrick has already made his mind up, writing:

"Let’s not forget the context here. An unarmed 24-year-old was shot and killed by a Police Officer who was sworn to protect him. In my view, there’s never really an acceptable excuse for that. Even if the Officer felt threatened, he clearly made a conscience decision to shoot to kill which I believe was unnecessary."

Similarly, Mike Parker does not need an investigation. He has also made up his mind. Parker wrote:

"The bottom line is that a young man, who did not have a weapon, did not threaten anyone, and had committed no criminal act (except perhaps being drunk in public) was shot three times by a person who was supposed to be acting for all of us in maintaining public safety."

What Parker conveniently leaves out is that in addition to being extremely drunk, Perez had shoplifted (that’s the reason Jensen was summoned to the liquor store) and had engaged in a desperate fight with Jensen while resisting arrest. While none of these, even taken together, should result in a death sentence, they are clearly a recipe for disaster, which is what ensued. All of the questions Mike posed don’t need an investigation to be answered. We already know the answers.

The action pushed by the RPA Councilmembers and Myrick that I find most disappointing is to require Police Commission investigations of any police action that results in a serious injury, even without a complaint being filed. This sends a message that a police officer is a suspect until proven innocent. It also sends a message that policing should no longer be a contact business. From now on, it’s “hands off,” or you may be summoned before the Police Commission.

The Police Commission was originally instituted to provide complainants with an objective review of their grievances. Complaints have dwindled to one a year. One a year? There must be a flaw in the system because we know the police are out there every day abusing our citizens. Apparently, there aren’t enough complaints to satisfy the City Council, so they found a way to gin some up. Now they will be automatic, even without a single complaint.

What I am hearing from residents is that they want more cops, more patrols and better response time. Instituting automatic investigations will unnecessarily tie up cops as witnesses, spend precious resources on investigations, and result in fewer cops on the beat, extended response times and more crime.

Finally, I find the aggressive approach of the RPA and Myrick to be both arrogant and self-righteous. When the three RPA Councilmembers were elected in November 2014, none of them got more than 17% of the vote, yet they now know all the answers, consider themselves representative of the majority of Richmond and refuse to collaborate or compromise on anything. Even Corky Booze with 31.4% of the vote got almost twice as many votes as the three RPA winning candidates.

Richmond Councilmember Jael Myrick responds to mayor: ‘Nobody’s bashing police’

Feb 9, 2016
By Councilmember Jael Myrick,

Over the weekend Mayor Tom Butt published two E-Forum pieces (the Richmond Standard re-posted one here) about the City Council’s recent decisions regarding the Police Commission Ordinance and the investigation of the 2014 shooting of Richmond resident Richard “Pedie” Perez.

Before I get into the specifics of what we did and why I believed it was necessary, I want to state that I consider Mayor Butt a close partner and ally on most of the important issues facing the city of Richmond. I intend to continue working closely with Mayor Butt on our many shared priorities for this community. As it relates to this issue, however, we simply have a different perspective.

First, let’s be clear about what the Council did and what the Council did not do. We did not take any punitive action towards Officer Jensen or any of the Richmond Police Department. We did not direct staff to implement any new policies that hamper the ability of Richmond Police Officers to do their jobs. We simply directed staff to change the Police Commission Ordinance to allow for automatic investigations of incidents that result in fatalities or serious injuries and directed the Police Commission’s next Investigative Officer to take a look at the September 2014 Perez shooting once that individual is in place. So when Mayor Butt calls these actions “radical” and “draconian” I honestly have no idea what the heck he’s talking about.

I will concede that the specific phrase “serious injury” did cause concern early on in the discussion. I was worried that such ambiguous language could be applied in such a broad fashion that could become problematic. During the course of our deliberations, however, Councilmember McLaughlin suggested a more specific definition for “serious injury” and the City Manager committed to bringing back a definition that is “workable from a workload perspective that meets the spirit of the discussion.” So again, I’m at a loss as to what is “radical” or “draconian” about that.

Much of Mayor Butt’s two E-Forum’s dealt with the issue of trust. He criticized me and the other three colleagues who supported these actions for not having sufficient trust in our Police Department. He specifically took issue with my analogy of trusting the Police Department to investigate itself being similar to trusting Chevron to do the same thing, calling that analogy a “visceral verbal attack.”

So let’s put this all in context. It was Mayor Butt who first brought up the issue of “trust” during Council deliberations, he suggested that moving forward with these actions would send a signal that we don’t trust our own Police Department. I responded with what I thought was a very logical common-sense statement that I wouldn’t trust anybody to investigate themselves and used Chevron as an example. Mayor Butt suggested that was an inappropriate analogy because Chevron is an outside entity and the Police Department works for us. Okay, how about instead we use the Richmond Housing Authority. When the Council made the decision to expedite the relocation of Hacienda residents two years ago and provide stricter oversight of Housing Authority properties, nobody argued that such decisions showed a mistrust of Tim Jones or Housing Authority staff.

There’s a broader point here. Whether you’re talking about the Richmond Police Department, Chevron or the Housing Authority, it is not the job of public officials to simply TRUST that people are doing the right thing. It is the job of public officials to provide oversight and enact policies that ENSURE that our constituents are protected. That is all we are attempting to do here.

Furthermore, the tone of Mayor Butt’s E-Forum’s (particularly the second one) seemed to suggest that anything short of a lemming-like unquestioning support of everything the Police Department does is somehow “bashing” or showing “antipathy.” Let me be clear, I believe the Richmond Police Department is the best and most community oriented in the Country. BUT NOBODY IS INFALLIBLE. I understand that the Perez incident only involved one Police Officer out of over 170 on the force. This one Officer’s mistake should not and does not reflect negatively on the others. But to suggest that we should not try to learn from the incident and change our policies to allow for more oversight in the future out of some unshakable faith is just silly.

Finally, as always the argument was made by Mayor Butt and others that this was somehow politically motivated or specifically “RPA-driven.” This charge has been made after virtually every vote I’ve casted this past year, except the times when I’ve voted against the RPA where I was clearly motivated by my campaign contributors and corporate interests(it’s not possible that I’ve actually voted my conscience on any issue, ever). But on this issue, the charge of this being “RPA-driven” is particularly ridiculous. The most vocal supporter of the action we took on the Police Commission is Commissioner Felix Hunziker. While Felix supported these actions, he’s been very outspoken in his opposition to the RPA on virtually every other issue. From the Soda Tax, to Richmond CARES (eminent domain), to Ban the Box, to Rent Control, if the RPA is for it, Felix has been against it. So when Felix and the RPA end up on the same side of an issue, it’s time to stop talking about political motives.

Broadly speaking I believe we need to get past the place in Richmond, on this issue or any other, where we constantly question one another’s motives when we have disagreements. I don’t begrudge Mayor Butt or any of the Councilmembers who voted against the actions we took. I recognize that the seven of us each come with our own perspectives, ideals and worldviews and I believe that is a good thing.   That is how democratic bodies are supposed to operate.

At the end of the day the decision the City Council made here was fairly small. We are limited by State and Federal law as to how we can deal with situations like this. All we have called for was a Police Commission investigation to help determine what happened and how it can be prevented in the future and a change to the Police Commission Ordinance to allow for such investigations to be automatic in the future. The walls are not tumbling down.

Let’s not forget the context here. An unarmed 24-year-old was shot and killed by a Police Officer who was sworn to protect him. In my view, there’s never really an acceptable excuse for that. Even if the Officer felt threatened, he clearly made a conscience decision to shoot to kill which I believe was unnecessary. There is virtually nothing the Council is empowered to do that would ensure real justice after these scenario’s, so we used the little bit of power we do have to try and provide better civilian oversight in hopes that this won’t happen again.

I agree with Mayor Butt about all of the outstanding things our Police Department has accomplished. I also have the highest confidence for Interim-Chief Allwyn Brown and the highest regard for former Chief Chris Magnus, who I believe is a national treasure. That said, no one is infallible, and I believe when situations like the Perez incident occur those of us in power have an obligation to do whatever we can to try and prevent it in the future and if possible hold people accountable. That is all we are attempting to do here.

The photo was provided courtesy of the West Contra Costa Unified School District and shows Councilmember Myrick speaking at a district function.

An Open Letter to Tom Butt on the Police Commission Issue

Here We Go Again?

You seem to believe that an independent investigation of a police action that results in death or serious injury shows “distrust” or “bashing” of our police department. I think most Richmond residents support independent review of the police. It develops public support for the police and can provide information to reduce negative outcomes in the future. Do you oppose independent auditors examining the City’s books? Does requiring such an audit mean that you distrust Bill Lindsay and City staff? Or do you think that money is more important than the loss of a human life?

It appears that whenever the Council does not see things your way, you decide it is time to declare war on the Richmond Progressive Alliance and pursue a bridge-burning, scorched earth campaign. You start your message with straight out untruths and arguable “facts” and build from there:

"Here we go again. The vast majority of Richmond residents have no interest in an unprecedented, expensive and time-consuming expansion of the mission of the Richmond Police Commission to investigate incidents that have not even resulted in a complaint. But the Richmond Progressive Alliance believes that is now Richmond’s top priority, along with reopening an investigation into the death of Pedie Perez." (Tom Butt E-Forum 2/5/16)

The RPA has never said anything that suggests that investigations of the police should be “Richmond’s top priority.” The RPA considers the policies of community policing, jobs, housing, and the environment all to be high priorities. It does believe that investigations of serious incidents are an important part of strengthening community confidence in our police. Nor should such investigations be assumed “expensive,” as I will discuss later.

In trying to find ways to put the RPA down, you also show how out of touch you are with large segments of our community and with the justifiable alarm about police actions primarily in communities of color across the country. I say this with sadness about a Mayor I voted for and worked hard to elect. I am proud of Richmond, and proud of our police, and would like to be proud of our Mayor.

Tom, you are Mayor of Richmond. I think your personal attacks on Councilmembers do not move the city forward, and I don’t think the attacks reflect well on us as a city.

You say that “All [councilmembers who supported the resolutions] averred that the Richmond Police Department is the best in the world before proceeding to smash it with visceral verbal attacks.” There were NO verbal attacks of any kind on the Richmond Police Department --NONE. Nor was there even any criticism of the department. Here is ALL of what you give for evidence:

Jael Myrick argued that we should not depend on departments, or institutions investigating themselves. Tom, do you really disagree with that principle --especially for a public agency?

Eduardo Martinez had “already made up his mind, calling the Pedie Perez death ‘a homicide.’” Actually Tom, homicide legally means “death by another human being.” Homicide was the Coroner’s finding. The use of the term is not a judgment about whether the death is “justified.” (

You then throw in the irrelevant, insulting, and inaccurate charge that Eduardo is the “new Corky.” Eduardo was clearly very upset. His behavior was very different from his usual calm, respectful behavior. But at times council meetings and what goes on behind closed doors push buttons, resulting in angry responses. There are many public examples of you flying off the handle. You are in no position to be comparing an infrequent outburst with consistent disruptive behavior.

“Jovanka Beckles said that the Richmond Police Officers Association (RPOA) ’defended racist murderers,’ later trying to clean it up by explaining she meant police unions in general, not necessarily Richmond.” She made it very clear she was not talking about the RPD and the officers she works with regularly but about police unions and their sorry record in dealing with incidents of police abuse. See for example this article on the Chicago Police Union.

Gayle McLaughlin made “sure people recalled the racist and hateful hit pieces aimed at her by the RPOA several years ago.” Yes Tom, after you and others equated criticism of the RPOA with criticism of the RPD, Gayle did remind people of the history of the RPOA. But you did not mention that Gayle had positive things to say about the current RPOA and her report on fruitful discussions with the current RPOA President on these issues.

So Tom, you presented exactly zero examples of “bashing” the Richmond Police Department or the police other than that councilmembers and the RPA are critical of the record of police unions and that they believe that an independent investigation into the death of Pedie Perez is necessary.

Should there be an independent investigation?

You say it’s not necessary because there have been four other investigations.

The DA’s investigation was only about whether there was sufficient evidence for a criminal charge against Officer Jensen. The DA’s office has not earned the trust of the Richmond community in the way that the RPD has. Further the DA’s investigation did not address the many other questions involved in this death.

The Coroner’s inquest found that the death was not accidental but was indeed intentional. Which leaves one investigation done internally by the Police Department and one by a retired Police Captain hired by the RPD. As I think you should agree, internal investigations that report only summary conclusions that say everything is OK might not inspire confidence in those involved or communities that might be concerned.

There are several reasons why an independent investigation is necessary.

1. To try to clarify what actually happened. Maybe an investigation cannot clarify it further, but it certainly beats your relying on contradictory newspaper clips.

The bottom line is that a young man, who

  • did not have a weapon,
  • did not threaten anyone, and
  • had committed no criminal act (except perhaps being drunk in public)

was shot three times by a person who was supposed to be acting for all of us in maintaining public safety.

Yes, Tom, we probably can never determine with certainty what went on in Officer Jensen’s mind and whether he really feared for his life in dealing with Pedie Perez. But don’t you think that it is reasonable to consider that there is something wrong when an armed police officer can only deal with a much smaller, unarmed person several feet away, by shooting him?

Put another way: How would you respond if a relative or friend of yours got drunk and ended up shot? I bet the E-Forums would be demanding answers and not criticizing those who wanted an independent inquiry.

2. To see if there are answers to many questions which might lead to a change in police policy.

· Was Perez under arrest when he was told to sit down on the sidewalk?
· Why was Perez arrested in the first place, since apparently he was headed for
· Why were Perez’s fingerprints or DNA not found on the gun or the holster that he supposedly grabbed?
· Why did the officer not use his billy club, police dog, or Taser when trying to
prevent Perez from leaving after being order to sit on the curb?
· The videos show the officer several feet away from Perez when he shot him 3
times. What was the threat?
· Why did neither Officer Jensen nor the 2nd officer on the scene make any
attempt at first aid?
· Were the witnesses provided with translators?
· What were the results of the internal police investigations?

3. To strengthen the confidence that the community has in the police and in its relationship to the police
. Doubts about the way this incident was handled will not be lessened by everybody declaring their general confidence in our police. The way to do this is by an investigation that is as transparent as possible.

4. To possibly provide some justice for the Perez family.
In order to exonerate the police in this case and reduce city liability, some city officials have been trying to place all the blame for this incident on Pedie Perez. They demonize him, not by facts of what happened, but by tearing down his reputation: that he had an alcohol problem, that he had had minor run-ins with the law previously. All irrelevant to what happened September 14, 2014.


Let’s deal with some of the other issues you raise.

Community Confidence in police?
Yes there is good reason to be very proud of the police and the changes they have made, particularly in community policing. And that is shown by the increase in community support growing from 38% to 59% that you cite. But, Tom, that means that 41% of the Richmond population still does not have enough confidence in the RPD to give it a good or excellent rating.

Richmond exists in a national context. All across this country, communities are examining police policies and procedures for review of incidents that threaten lives. Millions of people are seeing videos like the recent one involving Alameda Sheriffs deputies:

or the one in 2014 involving Marion County, Florida deputies:

And there are national efforts, many coming out of Black Lives Matter, to try to figure out what police policies are the problem. See for example

Being a police officer is a tough job. That is why we give police weapons, equipment, extraordinary powers, a lot of training, and testing. But some bad cops get through; some good cops lose their cool and panic in stressful situations; some get enraged at situations and strike out. Some policies in some departments are bad policies. Most cops are dedicated and do a good job. That is why we need to be very careful to make sure that a couple of bad cops or bad policies do not ruin a good relationship between the police and the community. The best way to insure those good relationships is to provide transparency and citizen oversite. Tom, you call these “draconian measures.” What is your better idea?

Were the resolutions “entirely political” or part of a political campaign as you suggest?
What does this charge mean? The people supporting the motions actually went across the spectrum of politics in Richmond. The RPA’s active support and discussion of these measures involved no attack or criticism of any elected Richmond official. It is only you who has turned this into a general attack, personal and political, on other councilmembers.

Why require automatic investigation even if no complaint is filed?
As everybody on all sides knows, the more time you wait to start an investigation, the more difficult it is. When a death or serious injury takes place, the family is grieving and paying attention to matters other than filing formal complaints. This is especially true for people who do not know city procedures or have difficulties with English. If our aim is to avoid death and serious injury, then when one occurs, it means our system has broken down some, and we need to find out why, whether or not a complaint is filed.

Why include “serious injury”?
If someone is in a coma, is paralyzed, or has numerous broken bones, isn’t an investigation warranted? Or do we have to wait till someone dies?

Won’t all these investigations be “expensive”?
The Pedie Perez case was the only death from an officer’s actions in since 2007. There do not appear to be many serious injury cases largely because of the policies of the police department. The supporters of the resolution made it very clear that they were talking about serious injury despite your attempts to trivialize it with the example of an officer tackling a suspect. Originally, council members thought that “hospitalization” would be a good definition of “serious.” But Council member McLaughlin talked to the President of the Richmond Police Association, Ben Therriault, who explained that RPD policy is to have any injury treated at a hospital, so she proposed a legal definition. It was a case of the council working together to solve this problem and there was ready agreement to allow staff to try to draw up a definition of “serious” that would not be burdensome. The process can be further refined by the Citizens Police Review Commission to take a first look at all of these cases and determine which ones require more investigation and which can wait to see if a complaint is filed.

And if some investigations find problems or different policies that can avoid the loss one human life they are well worth it. They might also help the city to save money by avoiding suits and settlements like the $850,000 it just paid out to settle the death of Pedie Perez

For more, please see the articles posted at the RPA web site.

Mike Parker