SLPD officers involved in fatal shooting identified.
Anthony Morgan and Ryan Gill have record of police brutality.
The arrest of San Leandro Police Officer Jason Fredriksson for furnishing marijuana to a confidential informant with whom he was having an affair has put the San Leandro Police Department (SLPD) in the spotlight. In its wake, there have been several allegations of misconduct by Fredriksson and other San Leandro police officers. The SLPD has responded with its usual wall of silence and the City Council continues to look the other way. It’s hard to know how deep the problems at the SLPD are, but it’s becoming more and more clear than the Fredriksson case may be the tip of the iceberg.
In late December 2010, a San Leandro police officer shot to death Gwendolyn Killings, an African-American woman from Hayward. Killings was driving a car that had been reported stolen earlier in the day; SLPD officers spotted it and chased it until it crashed just after the Oakland border, near the San Leandro city limits. The passenger got out of the car and fled. The two officers got out of their own car; one officer chased the escaping passenger while the other approached the stopped car. That officer shot and killed Killings while she was in the car. The police would later say that the officer was afraid Killings would put the car in reverse and hit his partner. However, witnesses said the car was boxed in and couldn’t go anywhere. The SLPD has not disputed that account. The case is being investigated by the Oakland police as the shooting happened in Oakland, but no report has been released so far.
The Oakland Police, however, have released documents identifying Ryan Gill and Anthony Morgan as the two SLPD officers involved in the incident. We don’t know at this point which officer shot Killings but both officers have a history of allegations of police misconduct that should concern anyone interested in having a clean police department.
Ryan Gill, 33, is an affable and well-liked officer. He was named San Leandro Officer of the year in April 2011 and is admired for his broad knowledge and as a mentor of younger officers. He started his police career in the Oakland Police Department and was there for 7 years – which casts doubts on how objectively Oakland PD will investigate their former colleague. In 2003, Gill shot to death an unarmed man. Gill and his partner entered the apartment of the victim while he was sleeping, woke him up and claim they were trying to restraint him when he struggled and tried to get Gill’s gun. Both Gill and his partner shot him. The City of Oakland settled the ensuing lawsuit. In another lawsuit settled by Oakland, Gill was accused of beating a man while arresting him. In a third incident, Gill walked out of a review board conduct hearing where he was to be questioned about a charge of falsely arresting a teenager after his partner ram a car into him.
Gill’s partner, Anthony Morgan, has spent less time in the press but probably just as much in the courtroom. A quick search of the district court’s database shows two recent lawsuits against Morgan for police brutality. One was settled, but the other one is still open.
Unfortunately, the Killings shooting has not been the only recent killing at the hands of San Leandro Police. In 2005, SLPD officers tasered a man to death; the city settled that lawsuit for nearly $400,000. And Morgan is far from being the only SLPD officer with a history of brutality. Tricia Hynes, the lawyer most often appointed by Meyers Nave to represent the city in litigation, boasts on her webpage of how – thanks to her representation – the City of San Leandro only had to pay a few hundred thousand dollars in damages to seven plaintiffs who were beaten by a dozen SLPD officers while searching a home during a 4th of July party. She is even prouder of another case in which the brutal beating of an unarmed man by SLPD officers only cost the city $20,000.
Gill was hired by then-Police Chief Dale Attarian, an old-style San Leandro cop during whose tenure the City was subjected to multiple lawsuits for civil rights violations, sexual harassment and discrimination and police brutality. Attarian was hired by former City Manager John Jermanis, himself a product of the old-all-white-boys network that ruled San Leandro for decades. Jermanis’ hand-picked successor, Steve Hollister, was a former policeman and did not keep a close eye on the SLPD. Under both men, SPLD officers learned that they could do as they pleased with almost no risk of consequences.
It’s a new day in town, however. Sandra Spagnoli was recently hired as Police Chief with the express purpose of reforming the department – at least ridding it of its culture of sexual harassment. It is too soon to know whether she’ll undertake real, rather than purely cosmetic reforms. So far the indications are mixed – Spagnoli investigated the allegations against Fredriksson, but only after an independent witness had contacted multiple authorities with his accusations. Spagnoli has done nothing to discipline the handler of a police dog that got loose and killed another dog earlier in the year – and Gill was named “officer of the year” after Spagnoli became Chief.
San Leandro needs more than a perhaps-well-intentioned Chief of Police to clean up the Police Department of any criminality or maverick behavior by its officers. It needs elected officials willing to tackle the issue of the police head on. This is hard, because politicians usually kowtow to the police union in order to get their support during elections – Council members Ursula Reed and Joyce Starosciak, in particular, have relied on heavy police support for their campaigns. Starosciak herself is married to an Alameda County Deputy Sheriff. However, even the strongest police advocates should note that a department that allows criminal behavior and abuse by its members tarnishes both the city and the institution of the police itself.
The City of San Leandro needs to do two things to nip this problem in the bud. One is to appoint a strong City Manager with experience dealing with insubordinate Police Departments. The other is to form a Citizens Police Oversight Commission (aka Review Board) to evaluate complaints of police misconduct, help set hiring practices and discipline standards and act as a liaison with the community. Currently, the city of Oakland is considering following San Francisco in getting private citizens to investigate allegations of Police misconduct, we might want to look into that as well. While Police Officers are protected by an incredibly generous bill of rights, a Citizens Commission could at least identify systematic problems within the police department and push for their resolution.
The question is whether the City Council has the political will to push for a meaningful review of what’s really going on at the Police Department, or whether the powers-that-be in San Leandro will just hope that the community forgets about the recent incidents and pray that there are no big scandals during their term of office.