police abuse

Dec 082014

Police-ShootingOver the last three days, we’ve had two shootings of women  driving allegedly stolen cars by San Leandro Police Department officers.  One of them is in critical condition.   Police missed the other, a 16 year-old girl, though one bullet wheezed past a bystander and another hit a parked car a block away.  Fortunately, nobody was reportedly injured in that incident.  Shooting at a fleeing subject who is not a threat to the life of others is against the law.

There is no doubt that moral blame lies on the officers who did shoot. But the real culprits, the ones where most of the blame lies, are SLPD Chief Sandra Spagnoli and City Manager Chris Zapata.

While there are surely police officers who are itching to shoot someone, I believe most of them follow the protocols established by their chiefs of police. It would seem that SLPD’s protocols condone the shooting of fleeing vehicles.  The buck must thus stop with Chief of Police Sandra Spagnoli, who created such protocols.  But Spagnoli could only establish these protocols because City Manager Chris Zapata has disavowed any oversight of the police.  When I met with him a couple of months ago to discuss police misconduct, Zapata stated that the only time he has ever denied a request by the Police Chief was when she proposed that the City spend $60 million to build a new police department.  Zapata determined the City could not afford it.

Zapata did state that, contrary to the wishes of the Police Chief, he would disable the hidden microphones present in the surveillance cameras that were to be installed at City Hall.  But he admitted that he took that position after consulting with the City Attorney and learning that secret audio recording of private conversations, even in a public space, violates California’s wiretapping law.  Zapata stopped short of creating any audit requirements to ascertain that the microphones were, indeed, disabled.


Beyond these two situations, Zapata has given Spagnoli free reign.   The only “oversight” of the Chief there is, are weekly meetings with Assistant City manager Lianne Marshall, where, according to Marshall, the Chief informs her of the needs of the police department.

Mayor Pauline Cutter and the City Council have no direct oversight of the Chief, but they do of the City Manager. It’s time they demand accountability from him.


The City Council will hold their annual work session on the Police Department TONIGHT, Dec. 8, 2014, at 8 PM – after the swearing in of the new Mayor and City Council members.

On Thursday, Dec. 11th, the Police Department will hold an informational meeting on the police shootings. It will take place at the Senior Center (13909 E. 14th St.), from 5:30 to 6:30 PM.

Jul 202013

The following note was left by San Leandro neighbor Tom Kunich as a comment to a previous article on the San Leandro Police Department.  I think his story deserves more prominent attention.  Ultimately, it’s the story of how the SLPD lost the trust of yet another San Leandro citizen.

handcuffedhandsOn Saturday July 6, 2013, I received a doorbell around 8 PM. I opened the door and it was a young Hispanic woman of perhaps 18 or so who asked to use my phone. I was reserved but let her in and let her use my phone making sure to lock the door. The person she called went to voicemail and she hung up. She was crying so I asked her what was happening and she said she went to visit her sister or girlfriend or some such that was difficult to understand because of the crying. She said that her sister’s boyfriend lived several houses down from me.

She said that he was there alone and demanded sex from her and when she refused he said that he was calling someone that would come over and beat her up. She believed this a credible threat so she ran down the street ringing doorbells and I was the only one to answer.

When she didn’t get an answer and explained to me I called 911 and gave them all of the pertinent information. The operator asked to talk to her and she told the same story over again.

While waiting, here I was lecturing her that in order to remain out of trouble she must avoid all people that are trouble. Only minutes later I discovered something a lot more frightening than that.

We waited approximately 10 minutes and the doorbell rang. Because of the threats to her I looked first through the peephole. There was no one within sight. So I walked around to my bedroom and looked out of the drawn curtain and there was no one on the porch. Fearing that someone might be coming around back or some such, since she had been threatened, I pulled my .38 revolver and took it out of it’s holster and looked out of several windows from drawn curtains until finally I saw an officer standing out in my driveway. His car was parked down the block in a position that wasn’t obvious.

I went over and opened the door with relief and told him he could come in. He saw me placing my pistol back in its holster and taking it back into my bedroom. Apparently he told me to stop and drop my gun from out in the driveway but I was too far away to hear him with the TV on and the young woman crying. I came back out and he was still standing outside so I went our to explain what was going on. I was wearing a T-shirt and pants and it was obvious that I didn’t have any sort of weapon on me. He drew his large caliber pistol and pointed it at my head from about a foot away. He demanded that I sit on the lawn until other officers appeared and then they HANDCUFFED ME!!! And made me sit out on the curb with all of the neighbors looking out and seeing the police leading me around in handcuffs. If they were so afraid that I might have a hidden weapon why didn’t they frisk me or even ask for an ID? This was done for one reason only – to give themselves time to ransack through my home looking for other possible weapons or drug or some such. And yet without a search warrant this was completely and totally illegal.

They angrily asked me where my gun was and I explained where I keep it. Three different officers asked me this same question and since I almost had to shout it through my anger, now half of the neighborhood knows where I keep my gun. Again the fact that I own a weapon is none of the police’s business in a case like this.

Several officers went into my house and the sergeant finally appeared and asked if he could check the serial number to assure it wasn’t stolen. Since the pistol is probably 100 years old I certainly don’t know how they would ever be able to assure themselves that it was registered to me. It might have belonged to my father since I can’t remember ever buying it. The pistol was patented over 100 years ago.

After perhaps 10 minutes or more they came out and released me and then started talking to the girl as an afterthought. As far as I know they didn’t even try to question the perpetrator of the threat.

This is my home and I have the right to have any legal weapon and brandish it as long as I do not threaten anyone save for legal protection. Not only did the police check my pistol but they, without permission, ransacked all of the drawers in the bureau, the closets in two rooms, the hallway closets and down into my garage. And left things in a mess and me so upset that I cannot go to sleep any more than an hour or two at night. They had no right whatsoever to ask for my pistol let alone look for more weapons. This was simply illegal. It was a criminal action committed by the police who are supposed to be trained to know what a criminal action is and so have no excuse.

The police were fully informed of the situation from the 911 call. They never once asked me for identification and treated me in this manner. They almost didn’t bother with the girl who was the subject of the entire episode.

Is this what happens when you attempt to do a good deed in San Leandro? I wonder what became of the neighbor who offered sanctuary to the women who escaped from ten years of imprisonment under Raul Castro. I suspect that the San Leandro Police would have beat him senseless with nightsticks and stuck a gun in his face and jailed him while looking the other way while claiming that there was no evidence to question Castro.

The actions of the police department of San Leandro were little more than that of a gang and they committed a criminal act against my person and property.

When I contacted the Chief of Police she turned it over to an assistant. After he heard my story what he essentially said was that once the police officer saw a gun he had free rein to do anything he and his gang members wished. This was entirely supported by the duty sergeant that was on the scene. The Chief’s assistant stated that I could lodge a formal complaint on a form if I wished and that he would send me one. He was polite but was nothing but another member of the gang. They have more than enough information to take this to a higher level and are accomplishing nothing more than a delaying tactic.

I have also contacted the San Leandro Mayors office and it was demoted to being “overseen” by the City Controller. I never heard from them again.

There needs to be major changes in the management of the police department and possibly the other city offices as well. Having a police force that believes that they are above the law cannot be allowed to stand.

Questions that come to my mind:

1. If the police had ANY reason to be worried about me in the first place they could have listened to the 911 recording. If they still had misgivings the single officer only had to wait a minute or so for the other cars to show up. Why did he ring the doorbell if he was frightened?

2. When I came out he acted as if he was frightened that I might have a gun on me still. If that was the case why even after handcuffing me was I never searched? The only reason has to be that because I was wearing a t-shirt and pants and it was obvious that I was unarmed and no threat. So WHY was I handcuffed?

3. Why was I never once asked to provide an ID? Obviously because I gave my name and address on the 911 call and was looked up.

4. Since I was outside of my home why did they not call the woman outside instead of illegally entering my home? Of what interest was my gun to the police? And why was my home illegally ransacked? Does anyone believe that after having a gun placed to my head and being handcuffed by little more than a gang that I should have refused them anything they were demanding?

5. Why was the man who provided safe haven and called 911 the person that suffered from this act of kindness and as far as I could tell the instigator of the threat left entirely alone?

6. Of what use at all is a 911 call system that results in this sort of police action? It is bad enough that it takes so long for police to arrive. In a serious case they could only arrive after any actions. Would I ever call such a so-called “service” again? A resounding NO! So why are we paying for it?

I do not know about the rest of this city but I do not want to pay my taxes to hire a police force that is so frightened that they act irrationally. This appears to be a matter for the state Attorney’s office to investigate since there’s no local actions equivalent to the seriousness of the crime.

And who am I? I am retired and living on Social Security. I was an engineer and scientist who spent the better part of my life developing medical instruments some of which may save your life some day. I’m a Vietnam Veteran.

Is this what you expect from San Leandro City officials and police?

Jun 062013

mengelsuitIs High School Teacher SLPD’s latest victim?

Earlier this week, the San Leandro Police Department issued a press release announcing the filing of charges for “possession of child pornography” against Rick Styner, a teacher at San Leandro High School.  In one day, the reputation of a man that, by all accounts, had been honorable and respectful of his students, has been destroyed, possibly beyond repair.  I don’t think any of us can imagine the social opprobrium the Styner family is experiencing right now.  And yet, a careful reading of the facts as reported in the news stories do not show any actual criminal conduct by Styner.   Regardless of what happens to the charges, whether they are dismissed or whether Styner is tried and found innocent, his life and career has been ruined by Chief Sandra Spagnoli and the San Leandro Police Department.  And he is not the only one.

False Arrests at Marina Park

Last year, the SLPD issued another press release, featuring the pictures of two older men and accusing them of loitering around the bathrooms at Marina Park to solicit men for sex.   The community reacted immediately, calling these men every name in the book and instantly assuming they were guilty.  Even I, while arguing that their conduct was not a crime unless they actually intended for someone else to unwittingly witness a sex act, assumed that the basic facts of the press release were true: the men were hanging out around the bathroom hoping to pick up other men for sex.  I was wrong in making that assumption.  Simply put, the SLPD’s press release was a lie.

The lie was most egregious in the case of Michael Woody.  Woody had stopped at the parking lot near the Marina Park bathrooms with the intention of using the facilities for their intended purpose.  An undercover SLPD officer was loitering around and tried to engage Woody in conversation.  When the officer followed Woody into the bathroom, Woody became understandably uncomfortable and decided to leave.  The officer followed him to his car and arrested him as he was turning on the engine.   Woody had never indicated any interest in engaging with the police officer on any activities.  No charges were filed against him.

Steven Mengel, on the other hand, did show interest when a twenty-something plain-clothes officer Matthew Barajas approached him as he was sitting inside his car, parked in a public street, and propositioned him.  They made a date to meet the next day at noon near the bathrooms.  When Mengel arrived, Barajas showed up with a “friend”, now identified as Sargent Brian Anthony.  They agreed that Anthony would serve as a “look out”, making sure nobody came, while Mengel gave Barajas a hand job in the bathroom stall.  Before he had the opportunity to do so, he was arrested.

As I mentioned after the men’s arrest, California law only criminalizes sexual conduct in public, when it’s done under the reasonable belief that it could be witnessed by others who would be offended at the sight.  Clearly, that was not the case in this case as officer Anthony’s “job” was precisely to make sure that nobody would witness the act.  Disregarding the law, the SLPD officers not only arrested Mengel but they issued a press release falsely accusing him of loitering with the intent of engaging in illegal acts.  He was actually charged with this offense – which suggests to me that we should give little credence to any charges the Alameda County District Attorney levies against anyone -, but the charges were dismissed by the court.

Unfortunately, it will ultimately be San Leandro residents that have to pay for the SLPD’s misconduct – the city has been hit by a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Mengel, Woody, and all other men who have been subjected to similar actions by the SLPD.   While the lawsuit does not specify an amount for damages, similar lawsuits have resulted in settlements in the six and seven figures.  So much for Mayor Cassidy’s argument that the City should give Chief Spagnoli a raise because she would save the city money on lawsuits.

The Styner Case

(Update: the actual court documents in this case show that the charges are bogus).

What happened in the Marina Park should warn us against jumping to conclusions on the Styner case as well.  Indeed, a close examination of the facts on this case show that it’s not only weak but suspicious.

Rick Styner is a Computer Science teacher at San Leandro High School.   On April 16, he was teaching his class how to transfer files between devices, when he accidentally clicked on a file in his dropbox folder, opening a nude photograph of himself.  The police have not described this photograph, but according to what a student of Styner’s wrote on Facebook, it actually focused on the tattoos that Styner sports on his thigh – he gets one after he completes a marathon -, and only incidentally showed his genitalia.  *Update*.  After writing this part I looked through Styner’s facebook page and found a picture of the tattoo.  It’s actually on his right hip, and while this particular picture is cropped, it’s reasonable to believe that the original might have shown part of his genitalia and might have been the one the students were exposed to.  It’s clear that the purpose of this picture was to show off the tattoo.  Styner got it in August 2012; the little balls signify the marathon’s he’s completed, the number signifies the distance of the marathon (26.2 miles) and the phrase means “will run” in a Tolkien language.

Immediately after this incident, Styner notified the school authorities and surrendered his school-issued laptop computer.  An unidentified school district employee proceeded to look through the computer where s/he allegedly found material that s/he considered to be disturbing.   The district notified the police, without first notifying the School Board.

The material in question seems to mostly consist of written erotica and is fully protected by the first amendment.  According to news reports, one of these stories concerned incest between two teenage siblings (update, this story appears to be “Flowers in the Attic” by V.C. Andrews) , and it included a naked picture of a woman who looked like she might be underage.  The Police has not said whether they have identified the woman or confirmed that she is, indeed, underage.  The picture has not otherwise been described, so we don’t know if it is actually pornographic (not all naked pictures of minors are; “Pretty Baby” can still be shown in theaters in California even though it shows a naked, pre-pubescent Brooke Shields.  Did you click on that last links? You are now in danger of having the SLPD arrest you for possession of child pornography.).

The police have also not stated whether the story had actually been authored by Rick Styner, or whether he had downloaded it.  If the latter, the police must show that Steiner actually knew the story contained a pornographic picture of an underage girl.  After all, it’s extremely common for people to download large story collections, and not necessarily read or examine every single one.  It’s also very easy to unwittingly receive material – specially via a dropbox account – that one did not seek or is aware of.  And it’s not always easy to be able to tell the age of a model by her picture alone, much less determine whether the picture is actually pornographic.  Is this picture of Brooke Shields child pornography? You tell me – but if you look, beware that the picture will be downloaded to your computer and you’ll be potentially just as guilty of possessing child pornography as Rick Styner.   Which is likely, not at all.  “Possession of child pornography” is an intent crime, so unwittingly downloading pictures that you don’t know to be pornographic is not a crime.

My personal feeling is that if Styner was, indeed, interested in child pornography, there would have been hundreds of child porn pictures in his computer, not just one of someone who looks like she may be underage and who is not apparently engaged in actual sexual conduct.

The second charge against Rick Styner is even more bizarre.  He is accused of going into the home of a friend, who had given him the key, and taking pictures of her underwear and running clothing.   He is also accused of putting the picture of the woman’s head on pictures of naked bodies.   Apparently, he also took something from the woman’s home, which the police would not identify.

Now, I understand that the Police is trying to suggest that he took pictures of the clothing because of some weird sexual kink – but I find it interesting that the pictures also included the woman’s running gear.  Could it be that Styner – a marathoner – was actually more interested in the brand and style of the clothing?  I don’t know if he actually removed an item of clothing from his friend’s house – the police has shown that it’s not above lying in print and they might have made this up so that they can charge him with burglary -, but  could it not have been for a similarly innocuous reason, such as showing it to his wife to see if she’d like one like it?

As for the photographs – putting someone’s head on someone else’s body, however disturbing, is definitely not a crime, which begs the question of why the police would make such a big deal about it.

I have not personally met Rick Styner – though he is a facebook friend of this blog -, and I have no insight into who he is.  I do know, however, that when I googled him, what I first found about him (other than stories on these charges) were stories about how when SLHS teachers were protesting having to put anti-LGBT-bullying posters on their classrooms, Styner said he would put two.   Given the clear anti-LGBT bias that the SLPD has shown, and which still lingers at the school district, it makes me wonder if there could be a connection there.

In any case, so far it does not appear that Rick Styner has committed any crime, at least no more than what I did when I googled images of “Brook Shields Pretty Baby” and automatically downloaded several of her underage and naked into my computer.  Then again, I would not be surprised if the SLPD was knocking at my home next.