Black Lives Matter IE Wants Community Oversight
By Dianne Anderson
For a second stint, Sheriff-Coroner John McMahon has been reappointed to the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training where he will continue to review new curriculum, new requirements from legislature, participate in training standards, and the framework for law enforcement statewide.
The POST Commission also sets minimum requirements for basic academies, training for deputies and new officers, a 42-hour training requirement for community-oriented policing, implicit bias, racial and cultural diversity.
McMahon, 56, of Hesperia, said his agency provides 52 hours of training at their academy.
Among his goals, the department is seeking more diversity, which he said has good participation from Latino applicants, but they are trying to attract more Black candidates.
“We’re doing extremely well with Hispanic candidates, although the Hispanic population makes up 53% of our county, they are actually the majority. African American we’re still struggling, we rely heavily on the community,” said McMahon, who has served on the POST commission for three years and was recently reappointed by Gov. Newsom.
McMahon, a Republican, said he supported AB 1299, which was vetoed by Gov. Newsom. If passed, the law would have required that the POST commission be notified if an officer resigned or was fired during a misconduct investigation.
But currently, he said officers involved in a serious misconduct event could resign, making it hard to complete an investigation. It leaves the door open for the officer to get hired in another department.
As a process, he said there are two parts to officer involved shootings. One is investigated on the criminal side by an investigations division, the same unit that handles homicides for eight of the ten police departments in the county. The D.A.’s office then reviews the evidence to determine criminal misconduct or if the shooting was justified, and publishes their results.
On the administrative side, he said officer involved shootings investigations are also conducted internally to determine if any policy violations of the county occurred by the employee in the shooting.
“Shootings might be legally justified in the criminal arena. If we find that policies were not followed then the employee could be disciplined,” he said.
Their agency doesn’t have community oversight of police misconduct or police shootings, rather an “Information Exchange Committee” made up of faith-based, education community, the business community, meets quarterly. Members are walked through events, such as officer involved shootings, where they learn why and how the situations were handled.
He said they do their best to screen for the right candidates, but bad officers can slip through.
“When you do a background investigation on a potential employee, you wouldn’t see that. That’s a concern for all of us, I don’t want to hire someone who is running from a problem,” he said.
He said the county sheriff’s department was among the first to report data to the state Attorney General’s office under the Racial Identity Profiling Act with six months of 2018, and all of 2019, and continuing.
For those seeking information on local misconduct cases, the DOJ RIPA board allows open access to statewide data on law enforcement stops based on race, gender, location, the reason for the stop, and whether the person was searched, cited or arrested.
Donovan Caver, a member of Black Lives Matter IE, said that a big part of the problem is law enforcement’s in-house investigations and lack of community transparency.
Along with many other civil rights advocates statewide, BLM IE supported SB 731 calling for complete transparency and background checks of all officers. That bill failed to pass, but was designed to strengthen community oversight.
“Civilian oversight addresses community concerns from civilians, and has the power to hire and fire and subpoena officers. That’s great in L.A., but you come to this county with open white supremacy and you’re not going to address this without addressing white supremacy.”
He wants to see something similar to what Los Angeles County initiated earlier this year when the Board of Supervisors established Sheriff Civilian and a Probation oversight commissions.
Anything less is akin to the fox guarding the henhouse, he said.
“It’s more like a fox in hen’s clothing,” said Caver, who also sits on a legal team with BLMIE. “You run into the sheriff here and it feels like you’re running into somebody fifty years ago.”
Without proper civilian oversight, it’s also hard to tell how many misconduct cases go under the radar, he said.
In one federal lawsuit late last year, the DOJ alleges that Hesperia received substantial support from the Sheriff’s Department on evictions under a rental ordinance to stem the city’s growing Black and Brown community, called a “demographical problem.”
Another case that BLM IE advocated was Jimmy Walker, who claims that he was harassed and repeatedly arrested so much so that he feared for his life. Walker is now working with a law firm.
They also raised awareness of the 2018 case of Lajuana Phillips, 36, who tried to return her faulty Mercedes to a car dealership to get her money back. The owner called the sheriff’s and the officer ended up shooting and killing her.
The D.A.’s Office determined the officer was justified in the shooting.
“She wanted the car, but it was giving her problems. How that escalates into shooting and killing an unarmed Black woman is beyond me. The officer said she tried to run him over. I don’t believe it at all,” he said.
In June, Caver was arrested with others peacefully protesting the Lawrence Bender case in front of the San Bernardino courthouse, known as the “IE 11.” In all, he said the sheriff’s arrested 15 BLM IE members and protest participants.
For Caver, advocacy with Black Lives Matter Inland Empire is personal.
In 2012, he claims he was pulled over by a sheriff for a busted headlight, and both he and his friend were badly beaten. But a long winding case cost Caver his job because of time he had to take off to fight in court for two years. Eventually, the case transferred to a new judge. The sheriff told the court that all evidence against Caver had disappeared, and the judge threw out the case.
“He beat the hell out of me. When I go to trial, the sheriff said I tried to grab him, pull him into my car, and I’m getting charged for attempted assault on an officer. I had to fight for my life just to avoid going to jail,” he said.
On fixing the system, he doesn’t have recommendations, other than a good start might be addressing how officers can lie on police reports, which is a crime, but they’re never prosecuted.
Even in court, he said falsified police reports typically result in a slap on the wrist.
“To be honest, the judicial system is so skewed toward protecting misconduct, that tremendously impacts the lives of people in the Black community,” he said.
For more information, see the DOJ RIPA data
For more information on
BlM IE, see https://www.facebook.com/blacklivesmatterIE