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Cops' Violent Past to Be Kept from Jury

A federal judge has ruled that jurors must not learn about the scores of complaints filed against the two Oakland police officers who fatally shot a local barber.

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Over the years, Oakland residents have filed scores of misconduct complaints against the two police officers who shot and killed Derrick Jones, a 37-year-old barber, in 2011. The two cops, Omar Daza-Quiroz and Eriberto Perez-Angeles, had previously been involved in the killing of another man. In addition, records show that there have been 74 use-of-force complaints lodged against Daza-Quiroz alone. There's also evidence that the Oakland Police Department, because of its failure to live up to court-mandated reforms, neglected to properly track the two officers. Nonetheless, a federal judge ruled last weekend that jurors in a civil trial involving the Jones shooting must not learn about the officers' troubled histories or know of the department's failure to correct their behavior.

In her ruling, US District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzales Rogers stated that showing the jurors the seven hundred pages of internal affairs complaints filed against Daza-Quiroz and Perez-Angeles would require a "tremendous expenditure of time." The judge added that it "would essentially require mini-trials" for each complaint against the two cops, and could be "incomplete, confusing, and misleading."

The judge's ruling came after pretrial arguments made last week by attorney Ayanna Jenkins-Toney, who represents Jones' widow, Lanell Monique Jones, and lawyers representing the officers, the police department, and the city. Daza-Quiroz and Perez-Angeles killed Jones in 2011 after they said he dropped a digital scale — which the officers said they thought was a weapon — while running from them. The Alameda County District Attorney's Office exonerated Daza-Quiroz and Perez-Angeles of criminal wrongdoing not long after the shooting, but Jones' family filed two lawsuits against the city. In mid-February, the city council settled the suit filed by Jones' parents for $225,000. The suit by Jones' widow is to go in front of a jury on March 20.

Before Gonzales Rogers' ruling this past weekend, Jenkins-Toney had based a substantial portion of her case on the theory that Jones' death was "an unlawful shooting by two officers that have a high rate of using force during their contacts with the public during their relatively brief stint with the Oakland Police Department." Perez-Angeles joined OPD in 2007, while Daza-Quiroz signed up a year earlier. The two officers were also involved in the fatal shooting of Leslie Allen during a car chase in 2008, and Perez-Angeles was part of the Tango Teams at the center of OPD's crackdown on Occupy Oakland protesters in late 2011 and early 2012.

But Gonzales Rogers ruled that jurors will hear nothing of OPD's failure to revamp their procedures for dealing with problem officers, the Allen shooting, or the numerous internal affairs complaints against both officers. The judge also decided that documents from OPD's federal oversight would be too confusing for a jury without expert testimony to explain their meaning, and under the terms of the consent decree, could not be used to prove liability in other lawsuits. "[T]he Court finds that admission of the Riders case documents would be more prejudicial than probative .... Admitting the documents alone, without any context or explanation of their meaning by any witness, has the strong potential to confuse and mislead the jury ...."

Gonzalez Rogers foreshadowed her ruling during a March 13 pretrial hearing when she said, "I am not retrying the Riders case here," in response to Jenkins-Toney's argument that Perez-Angeles and Daza-Quiroz's misconduct was a direct result of inattention to the decade-old negotiated settlement agreement that came out of The Riders class action lawsuit. The rogue behavior of the self-styled Riders — OPD officers Frank Vazquez, Matthew Hornung, Clarence Mabanag, and Jude Siapno — was the reason why Oakland's federal reforms established "risk management" procedures to track and identify officers involved in high numbers of use-of-force incidents or who rack up disproportionate numbers of complaints.

But during hearings last week, Gonzalez Rogers repeatedly questioned whether court filings from OPD's decade-long federal oversight that resulted from The Riders' case are "self-authenticating documents" that can be used at trial without an expert to explain their meaning. The judge excluded internal OPD audits and court documents regarding federal consent decree compliance on the same basis.

Prior to her March 17 ruling, the judge also said an OPD captain and sergeant can't testify about their responsibilities for overseeing compliance with federal reforms pertaining to tracking problem officers and correcting at-risk behavior. According to Independent Monitor Robert Warshaw's April 2011 report, at the time of the Jones shooting, OPD was not effectively tracking problematic officer conduct.

There also is evidence that Perez-Angeles and Daza-Quiroz received an alarming number of use-of-force complaints — a warning flag for "at risk" behavior by problem officers that is a crucial part of the consent decree. Criminal records also raise doubts about OPD's decision to hire Perez-Angeles: When he was serving in the Marine Corps in 2000, Perez-Angeles and two friends severely injured a man during a bar brawl in Mountain View. Perez-Angeles was arrested and charged with battery, but pleaded no contest to an infraction in exchange for a suspended sentence.

When Jenkins-Toney argued that the officers' personnel records were critical to establishing her case during a hearing last week, Gonzalez Rogers replied, "Well, some are ambiguous." The jury, as a result, will not have an opportunity to review the records.

The jury also will not learn about the fatal shooting in 2008 of Allen, who was a passenger in a car that sped away from Perez-Angeles and Officer Jeff Camilosa. During the ensuing pursuit, bags of suspected drugs were tossed out of the car window, and the car eventually rammed Perez-Angeles' patrol car head-on. As Perez-Angeles struggled to open the driver-side door, Camilosa got out of the passenger side, pointed his service pistol at Allen and the driver of the car, Vernon Dunbar, and told them to show their hands. Dunbar then tried to put his car in gear, while Allen reached for the dashboard. Camilosa fired three times at Allen, striking him once in the head.

After the shots were fired, Dunbar put his car in reverse and slammed into a concrete wall, but was surrounded by OPD officers, including Perez-Angeles and Daza-Quiroz. Despite several officers pointing their weapons at Dunbar and ordering him out of the car, he hit the accelerator and drove straight at Perez-Angeles and Daza-Quiroz, who were fifteen yards away. Both officers fired at the car an unspecified amount of times, missing Dunbar. The Alameda County District Attorney cleared Camilosa, Perez-Angeles, and Daza-Quiroz of criminal misconduct in 2009.

Four witnesses saw Perez-Angeles and Daza-Quiroz shoot Jones, a 37-year-old barber, in 2011 — all of who will testify at the trial. None of the witnesses saw anything in Jones' hands, and Jenkins-Toney alleged in court documents that they were intimidated by Oakland police investigators who interviewed them about the shooting later that night.

After Jones' death, protesters demonstrated at City Hall demanding accountability. In addition, ex-BART cop Johannes Mehserle had just been sentenced to a light term for the January 1, 2009 killing of Oscar Grant just three days before Jones was killed. More than one hundred demonstrators were arrested that night. To mollify protesters, then-Police Chief Anthony Batts said he had referred the Jones shooting to the FBI. However, neither the FBI nor the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division would confirm or deny that they investigated Jones' death.

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