Good and Bad News in California

California is a country all to itself, and eventually the things that happen there move across the United States.  There were good things that happened over the past two weeks as well as horrible things that happen to homeless people.  On Skid Row a homeless man was shot on the street after a struggle with the police.  In the courts, the San Diego residency restrictions on those with a sexually based offenders

Homeless Stand Down 2015

The man was identified as Charly Keundeu Keunang, a Cameroon national who travelled under an alias for years. He got into a struggle with the police and was shot multiple times.  It is amazing that this does not happen more with a community that lives in the shadow of such opulence and in such squalor.  There are thousands living on the streets of one the richest cities on the planets.  They pitch their tents at night and then are told to get up and move on in the morning.  They have not built enough housing and have cast away a segment of the population.   After a population is beaten, kicked, ignored and treated as an animal, the slightest match will cause an inferno. 

The good news out of California was the ruling that the restrictions on residency for sexually based offenders is unconstitutional.  This will force a rewrite of these laws that keep people homeless around the country.  These individuals are convicted for some of the worst offenses in our society.  They serve their time incarcerated and then get out and remain paying for their offenses for years and sometimes for the rest of their lives.  For what?  The number of stranger sexual attacks is tiny compared to the number of attacks by family and friends.  It does no good to restrict residency for sexually based offenders in proximity to a school or day care center.  It is setting up a protection zone against an enemy that is not at the door.  Predators are on the internet, at family functions, in the confessionals, and at public events.  As the court said, these laws just make people homeless.  What could be worse than a person with a history of violence toward women or children without a solid place to be monitored and angry that the State is barring them from living in most housing in the community. Besides aren't we evolved enough to believe in forgiveness?

Brian Davis

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Russell Family Releases Statement on the Settlement

Last week it was announced that there would be settlement in the federal lawsuit between the estates of Malissa Williams and the estate of Timothy Russell against the City of Cleveland in the shooting death from November 2012.   There were some toxic comments made by the Police Union throughout this process and again last week when the settlement was announced. 

We have a bias since both of the individuals killed by the police had experiences with being homeless and Michelle, Tim's sister, is a member of the NEOCH Board of Trustees.  We have hosted meetings with the police commander regarding this issue and the impact on homeless people.  And as citizens of this community, we were shocked by the militarization of a simple police chase that ended with the execution of two unarmed individuals.  We know that both individuals had large extended families who were all providing input into this lawsuit.  There was disagreement with executors and family and extended family over who should speak for the two people killed in a desolate area of East Cleveland. We know that the Williams' family were living on the edge and had a great deal of experience with poverty and have immediate pressing needs.  NEOCH had similar issues in the 1990s when we tried to settle a federal lawsuit involving three homeless people were dumped.  It is really hard to get all these individuals all on the same page and make policy changes.  These disagreements and the immediate needs of some of the parties made any settlement difficult.  Below is the statement issued by the Russell family members including our board member Michelle. 

The statement released Sunday evening by Paul Cristallo, attorney for the Russell family, said the following:

“From the day the Cleveland Police shot and killed Tim Russell, his family has been suffering. Tim’s father Dave, his sister Michelle, his brothers David Jr., Donald, Michael, as well as their spouses and children, lost a beloved family member in a gruesome execution that became a public spectacle. The Russell family did not ask for this tragedy nor the publicity that has come with it.

Rather than be able to deal with Tim’s death in a private and personal manner, the Russell family was put in a position of having to deal with the media, investigators, community activists, government officials, and, of course, public opinion.

 Before Tim’s body was laid to rest, the Russell family has had to deal with disparaging and hurtful comments. People who never knew Tim or Melissa posted tasteless, racist and mean spirited comments about them and their families. Yet as awful as many of those comments were, the Russell family has always appreciated that ignorant people exist, the internet allows people to hide behind anonymity, and that the only judgment that matters is the one that comes from God.

The Russell family’s strength and faith does not, however, make them impervious to insults.

Prior to any relevant facts regarding the shooting coming to light, the police representatives were calling this a “good shooting”. The police involved in the pursuit and shooting were lauded by union representatives as “heroes." We now know they were wrong. It is clear that Officer Michael Brelo, Police Supervisors and any of the Cleveland Police involved with the November 29, 2012 pursuit and shooting were not heroes; far from it. Mayor Frank Jackson, Attorney General Michael DeWine, Prosecutor Timothy McGinty, the U.S. Department of Justice Investigators and countless members of the community who appreciate what it means to shoot two unarmed people 137 times recognize that Tim and Melissa’s killing was a horrible tragedy.  

It is apparent, however, that the Cleveland police union representatives are going to continue in their desperate attempt to spin this tragedy into anything other than a complete debacle by some members of the Cleveland Police. They have committed to a public relations campaign that is simply baffling and will, ultimately, further alienate the Cleveland Police from the community they are hired to protect.

Evidence the most recent comments by union counsel and now defense attorney Mr. Pat D’Angelo. Apparently it wasn’t enough for the police union to denigrate Tim and Melissa while praising their (now disciplined or indicted) members for the unlawful pursuit and shooting. Tim and Melissa’s families are now being accused of being in it for the money and not having a relationship with the deceased.

Tim Russell had a close and loving relationship with his immediate and extended family. Tim regularly attended church with his family and was one of the founding members of “From Darkness to Light”, a registered charity which assists homeless people. His family loved him beyond words and they suffer his loss every day. Disparaging Tim’s relationship with his family or impugning their motives isn’t based in reality. It’s nothing more than disrespectful spin. It’s another ill-advised comment which is meant to distract and insulate the Cleveland Police from taking responsibility for their mistakes and shortcomings.

For police representatives or their attorneys to continue to make inaccurate, mean spirited statements in this regard, it tells us more about their motives than anyone else’s.  Regardless of your opinion relative to how the Cleveland Police handled this situation, and regardless of your judgments of Tim and Melissa, you don’t know how their families have suffered or what is in their hearts.”

Brian Davis

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The Path Forward in the Police Shootings

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless is thankful for the indictment of the officers and supervisors in the shooting of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, both of whom were experiencing homelessness.  [Full disclosure: the sister of Timothy Russell, Michelle Russell, is a board member of NEOCH and staff and board members attended the funeral of Timothy.]  This is going to be a rough path forward getting a conviction in light of a recent Supreme Court decision.  I thought that the Russell family statement was especially touching for a brother and son for whom they cared deeply. 

It is clear that there were many issues here, and the most egregious problems are now the subject of a criminal case.  The fact that Patrolman Michael Brelo fired so many times, reloaded, and got on top of the hood of the Russell vehicle to shoot down into the car is far beyond what could be considered legal self defense.  The five supervisors in the case who did nothing or did not relay information that would have improved public safety were indicted for dereliction of duty.  There has already been discipline and terminations for the police chase and the failure of supervisors to take charge of the situation.  The US Supreme Court, the law of the land in the United States, made it impossible to charge the officers for firing on the Russell car in a case that was hauntingly familiar to the Cleveland case.  The West Memphis Arkansas case, Plumholf vs. Rickard, involved a police chase of an unarmed victim and police only fired 15 times into the car.  The Arkansas case had dashcam video available, which was not available in Cleveland.  The Supreme Court in a unanimous verdict dismissed civil rights claims of the family against the police officer. 

This is going to be a tough case against patrolman Brelo for the County Prosecutor.  We are happy that these issues will be argued in an impartial court of justice.  Personally, I do not believe that the Russell vehicle was a threat to any of these officers, but we will never know because we do not have dashcam or any impartial witnesses.  I do not believe that Russell who was completely surrounded moved the vehicle when the officers had drawn their guns.  Going forward there are still some things that need to be done to assure that this never happens again:

  • The other 12 officers involved in the shooting have not faced discipline for excessive use of force while the City waited for criminal charges.  These officers need to face administrative hearings for killing Russell and Williams and endangering the lives of the other officer by firing in a semi circle.  
  • Dashcams need to be installed in every police vehicle along with the body cams in some groups of officers.
  • Police command needs to come to meet with homeless people to explain the entire situation and the changes that have been made to keep people safe.

Malissa Williams had an extremely tough life, but was quiet and scared every time I met her.  She was in and out of the shelters and had regular involvement in the criminal justice system.  We know that these legal issues involved her multiple behavior health issues.  She was a small woman who often dressed in androgynous clothing, but no one ever said she was an intimidating presense.  I never met Timothy Russell, but I know from the funeral that he was a giving personality who always had a pleasant disposition.  He did not complain and did not share his troubles or disappointments with family or friends.  Both were staying in local shelters when this police chase started in November 2012.  In the months after the shooting, many homeless people were angry and upset over the loss of Williams who was well known by the community.  There was a fear that this shooting, which began near 2100 Lakeside shelter, was a result of a police view of a largely forgotten population being punished for not submitting to overwhelming force. 

Brian Davis

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Awful News Out of Orange County California

Ron Thomas and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas (photo by the Gaurdian)In 2011, two Fullerton California police officers beat to death a mentally ill homeless man named Kelly Thomas, 37.  The two officers were acquitted of all charges on Monday January 13 in an Orange County court room.  Thomas's mother was quoted in the Huffington Post as saying, "Part of me died that night...They got away with it."  Kelly's father, Ron, was a retired police officer who was devestated by his son's death especially with the release of the security videotape from a nearby building of the encounter with the police on that July evening.  (It is on the internet, but we will not provide a link. It is too gruesome to watch).

The jury deliberated for eight hours after the three week trial and acquitted the two officers on second degree murder charges for Officer Manual Ramos as well as involuntary manslaughter charges.  Officer Jay Cicinelli was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force in the criminal trial.  Thomas was beaten at the bus depot in Fullerton after he did not comply with former officer Ramos demand to sit on the curb.  The ten minute confrontation between the heavily armed police officers and the unarmed Thomas left him bloodied with broken bones and his face unrecognizable.  He was hit with a baton, tasered four times, punched, hit in the face with the butt of the Taser, pinned to the ground and kneed in the head.   Ramos put on latex gloves before the attack and told Thomas that he was going to beat him.  Thomas pled for his life during the attack, apologized, and then cried and called for his dad's help repeatedly.  All this was caught on tape and witnessed by numerous onlookers.   The pictures of Kelly Thomas in the hospital after his beating are gruesome and were posted on the internet.  Thomas died in the hospital five days later. 

With all this evidence, a jury decided that these two officers were not guilty of the charges.  The lawyers representing the officers focused on Thomas's previous acts of aggression that were a part of his mental illness.   They also claimed that Thomas kept fighting and the officers had to call for backup five times.  The videotape showed that the officers continued the beating even after Thomas went limp.  The defense team stressed that the officers were only doing their jobs.  After the verdict was announced the district attorney dismissed the charges against the third officer who was waiting trial on lesser charges.  

The family could now file a civil case against the officers for wrongful death and civil rights violations.  The FBI could re-open their investigation, which was stopped when the county prosecutor filed charges.   We are going to ask national mental health and homeless groups to push Attorney General Eric Holder to open a civil rights investigation into this case.  It is unbelievable that anyone viewing the disturbing video tape could not conclude that these officers prepared for an assault on Kelly Thomas and did not stop his beating until he had sustained injuries that led to his death.  We are all shocked that there will be no criminal charges against these police officers. 

Brian Davis

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Quick Takes

Edwardo talking to Media at CamelotEveryday I drive by the former Ward Bakery construction site at East 47th and Chester and view the building going on to develop a new headquarters for the Third District Police and wonder will the new building be haunted by the ghosts of Edwardo and Chief.   If people don't remember we have a number of stories in our Grapevine archive about the property called "Camelot" by a group of homeless people who lived there in peace for a couple of years.  There was a standoff between the police and homeless people when Mayor Michael White order the property cleared.  Lawyers (including our current Interim Executive Director) took the case to court, and while in the Justice Center that morning Mayor White ordered the wrecking ball to begin to tear down the building making the case moot.  This underhanded and dirty political move was not viewed favorably by the court, but the building was unsafe for the people to return to at the end of the day.  Since that time, Chief and Edwardo both passed away.  Are they still occupying that land and will they haunt the third district headquarters when the building is done?

Arnold Pinkney died yesterday.   He was a Civil Rights icon in Cleveland.   Here is a quiz which one of the politicians who were under the wing of Pinkney is not like the others: Mayor Frank Jackson, Jesse Jackson, Louis Stokes, Mayor Michael White, and Mayor Carl Stokes?  All were helped into office by Arnold Pinkney running a populist campaign.  One violated the population by becoming increasingly isolated, surrounding himself with people who were interested in enriching themselves, and turned on the people who elected him such as homeless people.  No points for a correct answer.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.