It took almost two years, but the two officers who killed a mentally ill black man on Del Paso Boulevard are, mercifully, no longer with the Sacramento Police Department.
How that happened, we may never know.
All we know is that on a July morning in 2016, police were summoned to North Sacramento to deal with Joseph Mann, who had been waving a knife and fighting invisible enemies. Randy Lozoya and John Tennis showed up minutes after their fellow officers. Instead of helping to de-escalate the situation, they tried to hit Mann with their police cruiser and then shot him 18 times.
Lozoya retired in April. And Tennis, we know thanks to a statement from police Chief Daniel Hahn, had his last day with the department last week.
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What we don’t know is whether Tennis was fired or retired, and whether either officer faced discipline. Once again, California’s overly protective privacy laws are getting in the way of the transparency and accountability that the public deserves from law enforcement agencies. Too often, cops with a hidden history of questionable behavior remain employed until it’s too late.
This has to change.
“I wish we could lay the whole thing out,” Hahn told The Bee. “I hope that people will trust that we will hold our folks accountable and we’re always looking to be on the cutting edge of how we interact with our community.”
But even he must know that trust is hard to come by in this era of viral videos showing cops shooting unarmed people of color. That’s a shame.
The police unions that refuse to support any law that would let disciplinary records be released to the public, and the legislators at the Capitol who heed their lobbying, aren’t doing anyone any favors. Instead, the unions are undercutting the voluntary efforts by city governments and police departments to rebuild relationships with residents.
In Sacramento, for example, after years of demands by activists, most sworn officers now wear body cameras and carry less lethal weapons, such as pepper ball guns. And thanks to action by the City Council, the department also updated its policies to require officers to use lethal force as a last resort, and mandated that they rely on their advanced de-escalation training to defuse tense situations.
But perhaps most meaningful of all, the Sacramento Police Department is now required to release video of all officer-involved shootings within 30 days, after years of refusing to release any footage, no matter how mundane.
Hahn has gone above and beyond that requirement, though, releasing video of other, older incidents to increase transparency and appease activist groups, such as Black Lives Matter Sacramento.
Meanwhile, other law enforcement agencies, continue to use California’s privacy laws as a shield and an excuse to put off becoming more transparent and accountable to the public. This is a tactic frequently employed by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, for example, even while its deputies have cost taxpayers millions of dollars to settle lawsuits for excessive force.
Whoever succeeds Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones must do better. That includes Chief Deputy Kris Palmer, the department veteran whom Jones endorsed last week.
But in the end, it’s the Legislature that must step up and help the public shine a light on law enforcement. It shouldn’t take another fatal police shooting to break down the barriers of distrust.