The Fresno police auditor’s latest public report shows the value of body cameras on officers in the field.
When the cameras are activated at the proper time, of course.
Police Auditor John Gliatta in his third quarter report reviewed several investigations by the Police Department’s Internal Affairs (IA) Division that were completed in the July-September period.
Two of Gliatta’s reviews show what I mean. The details that follow are from Gliatta’s report posted on the city’s website.
The first IA case involving an in-custody death was assigned in May 2017 but was not completed until this past August. That’s because the incident occurred in a county island, thus giving primary jurisdiction for the investigation to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office.
In the late morning of May 10, 2017, a resident from the area of East Saginaw Way and Van Ness Avenue (Old Fig Garden) called the Sheriff’s dispatch center to complain of a suspicious person. Deputies were dispatched to the area.
The suspect would later be identified as Joseph Perez. His bloodstream contained a level of methamphetamine more than 24 times above the established toxic level. He would not live through the day.
Just a few minutes after that first call to SO Dispatch, three Fresno police officers riding in the same marked car saw Perez, who by this time had made his way two blocks west to Palm and Santa Fe avenues.
“The officers were unaware of the pending FSO call for service,” Gliatta writes. “Perez was yelling at passing motorists and appeared to be in need of assistance.”
The officers made contact with Perez. He was cooperative in the beginning. Still, the officers thought it best to handcuff Perez for his own safety. His previous erratic behavior clearly indicated the potential for a sudden change in the relationship.
“One FPD Officer did activate his body worn camera,” Gliatta writes.
Over the next 10 minutes, deputies arrived on the scene and an ambulance was requested. The police officer requesting emergency medical services initially recommended a Code 2 call – urgent but no lights or sirens. Very quickly, however, the officer upgraded the call to Code 3 – lights and sirens.
Perez had resumed his erratic behavior. He had become combative. He was difficult to control, despite the handcuffs. Among the concerns of officers and deputies on the scene: Perez would injure himself.
“Perez was held against the ground on his stomach until EMS arrived,” Gliatta writes. “Both officers and deputies could be heard numerous times telling Perez to relax and they were trying to help him.”
The challenge at this point was getting Perez safely into the ambulance. He was headed to a Welfare and Institutions 5150 hold.
The emergency medical personnel told officers not to turn Perez over but “place their backboard on the back of Perez until he could be restrained to the board,” Gliatta writes. “While being restrained Perez continued to be combative and EMS twice requested an officer sit on top of the backboard. Once restrained it was determined Perez was unresponsive.”
CPR was administered to Perez at the scene and in the ambulance en route to Community Regional Medical Center.
“Unfortunately Perez was later pronounced deceased” at CRMC, Gliatta writes.
According to the coroner’s report, the cause of death was “compressive asphyxia during restraint,” Gliatta writes. I take that to mean Perez, with all that weight on him while first responders tried to secure him to the backboard, suffocated to death.
Gliatta writes that it is “reasonable to conclude officers given the same set of circumstances would have determined Perez’ behavior as dangerous to himself, as well as the safety of the officers, FSO deputies, and the public. The FPD officers used the minimal force which was reasonable to control Perez from what they viewed were his attempts to harm himself. Also, a FPD Sergeant was the on-scene supervisor and was present for the duration of the incident.”
Gliatta writes that, the Internal Affairs investigation found the officers to have acted within the boundaries of applicable court cases and department policies. Gliatta writes that the IA findings were “appropriate.”
In conclusion to the Perez case, Gliatta writes that “the officers on the scene were following the direction of the medical staff when they were instructed to sit on the backboard, which was also recorded by the body worn camera and confirmed by an Emergency Medical Technician and a FSO Sergeant during follow-up recorded interviews.”
The second incident investigated by Internal Affairs and reviewed by Gliatta in his third quarter report occurred at about 4 a.m. on New Year’s Day 2018. Ah, yes, Fresno and its New Year’s Eve celebrations!
It turns out that a man named David Olivas placed a 911 called to FPD dispatch, saying someone was trying to break into his house. The call was suddenly terminated. Attempts to reach Olivas were unsuccessful. A few minutes later, Olivas’ neighbor made a 911 call. Olivias had asked the neighbor to let FPD know that someone was trying to break into Olivas’ house.
“FPD Officers were then dispatched and arrived on the scene with body cameras activated,” Gliatta writes.
To make a longish story short, the two officers took up positions to cover the front porch of Olivas’ house. A man was seen on the porch. It turned out to be Olivas. The officers told Olivas to come to them, but he refused to comply. Olivas then pointed what appeared to be a weapon in the direction of one of the officers. The other officer, fearing for his partner’s life, fired two shots at Olivas. One of the shots hit the door frame next to Olivas.
A 90-minute standoff ensued. Olivas finally surrendered himself to the officers. No one was hurt. The weapon in Olivas’ hands had been a BB gun which, Gliatta writes, “a reasonable officer would interpret as an actual firearm if someone raised it in the direction of a police officer.”
Both IA investigations were completed in the third quarter of 2018. As Gliatta notes in his report, the Office of Independent Review sifted through all relevant information to determine that Fresno police officers in both incidents had acted appropriately and professionally.
This information, Gliatta writes, included “numerous hours of video and audio recordings of interviews of officers, witnesses, and body worn cameras.”