Sometimes critical issues escape public scrutiny when they really shouldn’t. Such as this, for example:
Three Sacramento County Sheriff’s deputies fired 29 shots at an African American man near the Zinfandel Drive overpass of Highway 50, killing him. One deputy – Gabriel Rodriguez – fired 19 shots at 32-year-old Mikel Laney McIntrye. And Rodriguez fired the shots while crossing six lanes of traffic on Highway 50 on a Monday near the end of rush hour around 7 p.m.
It was May 8, 2017 and that date is significant, but more about that in a moment.
McIntyre, a Bay Area resident whose family says he was having a mental health breakdown, was killed in the barrage of gunfire triggered because, according to a law enforcement reports, he hit a deputy in the head with a rock during a confrontation, fled and then threw another rock, hitting the muzzle of a police dog pursuing him.
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First of all, that there was a virtual shootout at the O.K. Corral on one of the busiest commuter arteries in the region is remarkable. More remarkable is that it resulted in the death of an African American man but barely caused a ripple compared to killing of Stephon Clark by Sacramento Police in March. Or the killing of Joseph Mann by Sacramento Police in 2016, which resulted in the termination of one of the city cops.
That no commuters were hit with bullets in the shootout is unbelievably fortunate.
Now, stretching credulity further, let’s look at that date. More than a year later – about 14 months – the review of the killing by the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office is not close to being completed.
The officers involved in the killing have been back on the job for some time. It’s business as usual.
All of us are on the outside, looking in at the process of law enforcement investigating itself, controlling the flow of information, being far less than transparent and not answering simple questions such as: “When will the review of this shooting be completed?
So why hasn’t the case drawn the scrutiny of the Clark or Mann killings?
To begin with, it happened in the county of Sacramento and not the city – a huge difference. Unlike the chief of police in Sacramento, who reports to a city manager, who works at the pleasure of the city council, Sheriff Scott Jones is an elected official who really doesn’t answer to anyone about anything.
The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors votes on Jones’ budget, but it can’t jerk his chain the way the Sacramento City Council could lean on City Manager Howard Chan to lean on Chief Daniel Hahn. Hahn is not elected. He was hired by Chan and the council, and he has to be accountable to them.
In addition, McIntyre was not from Sacramento. He was in town visiting an aunt when he was killed, but his immediate family lives in the East Bay. No local base of people protested on his behalf. McIntyre’s mother – Brigett McIntyre – said the local chapter of Black Lives Matter approached her in the immediate aftermath of her son’s killing. But in her grief, she said she was not interested in protesting. She wanted the system to play out.
But last month, more than a year later, she said she got tired of waiting and filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the county of Sacramento and the city of Rancho Cordova. (The shooting occurred in a part of Rancho Cordova that the sheriff department patrols by contract.)
And so it goes. These incidents often end up in lawsuits because the families of people killed by law enforcement have no other recourse.
Here is how that plays out: The initial investigation of an officer-involved shooting is conducted by the colleagues of the officers who did the killing. The coroner of Sacramento County does an autopsy. The DA’s office reviews officer-involved shootings. Between the two agencies are often long lag times. How long? In 2017, Sacramento County had 11 officer-involved shootings and the DA’s office hasn’t completed and published a review of any of them.
Sacramento County does have an independent inspector general – former Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel – who reviews all shootings by county deputies. But Braziel publishes his full report after the DA releases its review.
So the question now is: What is in Braziel’s review of the McIntyre killing? As a former police chief, and a national expert on use-of-force policy, knowing whether Braziel believes the McIntyre killing is a bad shooting would be more than interesting.
Given the circumstances, did they have to kill him? Did McIntyre present a threat to citizens?
Well, the spokesman for the county sheriffs said there was “no traffic” around when county officers began shooting at McIntyre. He was running away. He didn’t have a gun. Clearly, McIntyre needed to be arrested.
But did officers need to shoot him? Did they need to fire as many rounds as they did?
Because the officers are back on duty, clearly their department has moved on from the shooting. But can, and should, the public?
County Supervisor Phil Serna has asked Braziel for a copy of his report. “While I understand you have a protocol of working alongside the District Attorney’s office, you also have an obligation to the Board of Supervisors who are ultimately responsible for directing the county’s legal defense if necessary,” Serna wrote in a message to Braziel.
The public has a right to know if this was a bad or unlawful shooting. Someone in the county has an obligation to streamline the process of use-of-force reviews because right now, you have silos: The county sheriffs, the coroner and the DA. It’s political. And if it’s not actually haphazard, it gives the impression that it is.
When a civilian kills a cop, we have a reasonable expectation of a timely and dispassionate investigation. But it doesn’t work the other way around. This is why people lose faith in this process, why they picket the DA’s office and why they file federal lawsuits. These prolonged investigations are the reason the public loses confidence in law enforcement investigating law enforcement.
This has to change in the long run. Did a man have to die for throwing a rock? Was it a justified shooting? Or not? The public has a right to know Braziel’s findings now.