ASSOCIATED PRESS, YAHOO NEWS, ASSOCIATED CONTENT, COPYRIGHT 2011
A number of people have complained that they like my regular, slanted, editorialized, opinionated and biased style of writing. I cannot do that, as this is intended for the mainstream news media, and I am reporting this story, not analyzing it. I will publish editorials as soon as this trial is over. The two comments that I made are that the hoopla surrounding the rumors in this case are apparently not borne out by the testimony thus far, plus the Plaintiff does not appear to be as seriously injured as thought. These are case facts and not editorial opinion. The tactic of exaggerated rumors is often used in a case which has been blacked-out and not reported by the news media, in order to have people demand to hear about it. This has resulted in the San Diego Union-Tribune and KGTV News 10 accounts.
For fifteen years, David Ross, known as the Water Man, has been supplying drinking water on hot summer days and blankets on cold winter nights for the San Diego poor and homeless. He has appeared at most of the Tuesday San Diego City Council meetings, too, in an attempt to get more toilets Downtown. A retired new car dealer, Ross was allegedly beaten by San Diego Police in 2009, as he handed out water and sandwiches to starving people.
Today in San Diego Superior Court Department 75, the courtroom of Judge Richard E. L. Strauss, he and his lawyers began action against the City. Represented by Scott Dreher, the famous ACLU attorney that had the guts to sue the City of San Diego in Federal Court over its Illegal Lodging Ordinance, and his partner veteran lawyer Matt Miller, Ross had one of the other Plaintiffs with him, a homeless man also beaten by police. Ross himself has never been homeless, and is a local Christian missionary.
Ross has supposedly suffered two strokes due to the incident, and was hospitalized in critical condition, but looked healthy today as his attorneys argued against the City over evidence issues. One television media outlet requested a camera in the courtroom, and the request was granted. Police Officer Stephens, originally charged along with another officer in the incident, was removed from being charged in return for his testimony later in the case.
Arguments were heard over whether earlier sworn depositions could be used, as one Plaintiff, Myron Hill, could not be located. He would therefore be unable to be cross-examined. Plaintiffs also objected to getting lengthy depositions papers less than a week ago from the City Police Attorneys. Jury instructions were also discussed, and both sides were told by Judge Strauss to argue that issue amongst themselves, only using him on one or two unresolved issues. Both sides have until tomorrow to file briefs on their positions.
The Plaintiffs complained that the City interviewed their clients without an attorney being present, despite the demand for one, and challenged whether certain of the experts are actually experts. The City apparently had its doctors examine the plaintiffs without any lawyers present, and no such exam would have been scheduled or permitted by their lawyers. The lawyers were invited, but locked out of the examination at the last minute. There were also questions as to the validity of any mental diagnosis, as well as the subjectivity of the evaluator. In other words, none of the mental tests performed were done by an independent doctor. In the end, the judge decided to allow the City to challenge credibility and mental state.
For several months, David Ross was investigated and under video surveilance, and the City would like to show some of the results of that surveilance that help their case. Attorneys for Ross said that they had no objection, as long as they received all of the out-takes and those portions of the tapes showing the good work done, too. Police said that no tapes of the good things done by Ross were made. Quite probably, best guess, the City hired a private firm to tape Ross, and the firm only submitted certain cuts to the Police. Attorneys for Ross also complained about predatory editing, where certain words and phrases were snipped out, changing the significance of the video. There were objections that videos of Mr. Ross were very unrepresentative of what he did, and therefore misleading. These videos, however, were permitted by the judge.
The police and City apparently wish to prevent any private or independent news accounts of the trial, while the Plaintiffs want same and to show what Ross does daily in his missionary work. Plaintiff’s attorney argued that Ross wants to show that he was attacked for no valid reason by police, and wants to prove his credibility. So, Ross wants to show prior news articles and television footage, as well as video of his own. So far, the police can show video and enter evidence detrimental to Mr. Ross, but he cannot also enter same to prove his credibility, lifestyle, etc. In the end, the Court determined that some of this may be relevant to the amount of damages, and will be permitted but very limited.
The City Police lawyers brought up the belief that the homeless are mentally ill, ever since President Reagan closed the mental hospitals. The judge didn’t buy that one, pointing out that Mr. Ross is not homeless anyway, and never has been. He has also never been regarded as mentally ill.
The City said that it wants to keep the jury from being exposed to the missionary work of Ross, and the Court agreed that keeping religious arguments out is important. Police argued that the religious mission of Ross is not relevant to the case, and may prejudice the jury into awarding higher damages. Lawyers for Ross argued that, among other things, he was deprived of his rights to Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech, so all of these things may be relevant to the case.
The City wants to make sure that it is clear that any damages awarded are not going to the poor, although Ross does use his own money, unreimbursed, both to pay for the Downtown San Diego toilets, and provide water and blankets. Plaintiff brought up that Officer McLoughlin, one of the accused, may have himself known about Ross from the news media, and intentionally targeted him. Plaintiff also mentioned that they would be calling police officers to testify against the police department.
One of the things that Ross is arguing is that he had an understanding between himself and police, among other things special parking privileges to do his work, and said relationship was damaged by the incident. His lawyers argued to bring in his family history, but the Police lawyers objected to that as prejudicial, and won that point.
Police wish to exclude information from previous lawsuits against the City, and previous issues of brutality. There is a huge wealth of information determined at length by other courts, some of it taking years to investigate and collect. That can be accepted as evidence, but as to including testimony from Police Internal Affairs hearings to determine officer wrongdoing, the words “Internal Affairs” will be prohibited from the trial, as prejudicial and too “television series”. Plaintiff’s lawyer argued that it will be difficult to refer to the information contained in past brutality investigations without using the words Internal Affairs to refer to same. The judge will not permit it. The officer involved has had prior disciplinary actions and investigations regarding this sort of complaint, and that cannot be admitted as evidence.
Police also wish to exclude certain testimony by Dana Terrell, a social worker assigned by San Diego County to help David Ross, as a social worker is not a psychiatrist, and therefore not someone who is an expert at diagnosis. Her diagnostic info will not be accepted, but she may talk about how this incident changed Mr. Ross, on the issue of damages. She is a psychiatric social worker, and most states would not allow her to diagnose a patient, as she is not a psychiatrist nor psychologist.
Lots of talk about one specific parking ticket, which would help Plaintiff show a view inside the police department, plus arguments over what constitutes a parking expert. The parking ticket may not be used by the prosecution. Other motions were unopposed, and granted, same not being discussed. The City wants Officer Stevens to be exempt from sequestration as a witness, but that was denied. The trial must be completed by Thursday of next week. Tomorrow, a jury will be selected.
Day two of the police brutality trial in San Diego. First order of business was jury selection, which took 4.5 hours. The jurors and alternates, a total of 14 people, include 5 males and 9 females. 1 is Black, 2 Oriental, 1 Hindu-India-Related, no Hispanics, and 10 Aryan or White people, all age 25 to 50.
Then, the opening statements by the Plaintiffs and the Defense, followed by the testimony of David Ross, the famous San Diego Water Man, the primary Plaintiff. The first thing obvious is that the followers of Ross, a missionary famous in the national news media, have greatly exaggerated accounts of what took place, perhaps to raise interest in the case. This may have worked, as the San Diego news media, which had been hiding this case largely, suddenly took interest, and a camera was in the courtroom today.
According to Scott Dreher and Matt Miller, lawyers for Plaintiff Ross, the case involves police intimidation, free speech and assembly, and illegal search and siezure. Ross passes out sandwiches and water for homeless and poor people in downtown San Diego every day. One day, a San Diego Police officer who was training a new officer drove up quickly, and slammed one of the followers of Ross into a brick wall. Ross objected as that being unnecessary and brutal, as well as for no valid reason, and was himself slammed onto the ground. A war veteran with hand combat skills, also a follower of Ross, saw that from a nearby assembly area, and tried to defend Ross against the attack. He was slammed into a police car.
David Ross, The Water Man, had worked for the Society of St. Vincent dePaul, Father Joe’s Villages, a Roman Catholic charity, as a caseworker for 9 years, eventually leaving to run his own charity for the past 6 years. He gives people hugs, converses with them, tries to help with their problems, and on cold nights, he passes out blankets for those who will be on the sidewalk overnight. He also pays for the rental and maintenance of several toilets in the downtown San Diego area. All of this is via his own money, from years as a Mercedes Benz car dealer in Los Angeles.
Ross is 73 years old, retired, and is the local minister who performs the funerals when homeless people on the sidewalk die of pneumonia. His own lawyers do not know this, but Ross is famous, and I have both attended, and reported on, his funerals. He also supplies fast-food such as pizza or hamburgers for a no-frills wake. (See “Huge Monument Honors Dead and Displaced Homeless”, February 2011 edition of the San Diego Homeless News, NZ9F.com/SDHN.)
As a result, David Ross has a following, and many, including most of the police (he is supported by and good friends with most police) listen to him. He also addresses the San Diego City Council on 10 AM Tuesdays, when they allow anyone to speak for 3 minutes per person. Police are scheduled to testify on his behalf against other police. The incidents involved occured in front of over 50 people. Ross, a huge police supporter for life, is extremely shook up and mentally distressed as a result of what happened.
He has in the past been punched by a homeless man, knocking out some of his teeth, stabbed with an icepick in an attempted carjacking, and broken bones when hit with a lead pipe, all in separate incidents. This one is the one he has not recovered from, however. His physical condition has not been that greatly changed permanently, but his mental condition is entirely another story.
The San Diego Police lawyers side of the issue is this: They heard a tip that drugs were being distributed by a man from the trunk of his car near Neil Good Center, one of the San Diego homeless refuges. When they arrived, between 60 and 100 people outdoors in the refuge became agitated and started shouting. The City says that “the area is a bad neighborhood, full of homeless people, who are often mentally unstable, dope addicts, drunks, losers, do not like police officers, and often carry weapons.” That is a direct quote.
They showed the jury a police mug shot of Myron Hill, one of the Plaintiffs, who was asked by the police to get out of the street where water was being distributed, and he said no. He was then escorted to the sidewalk area, and arrested. (A hacker got onto my website and changed the word “arrested” to “resisted”.) The sidewalk has a wall running along it, which “police know is a better position of safety, particularly knowing what they know about the homeless population.” Hill was handcuffed and placed on the ground.
David Ross, the primary Plaintiff, then began yelling and “interfering” with the officers dealing with Hill. The particulars were not given. One police officer then began shouting at Ross to get out of the street, and his followers nearby began yelling and screaming, which police called “pre-assaultive cues”. Police handling Ross observed him trip and fall, and eleven of his followers approached them. One named Marvin Britton, a decorated retired soldier, approached police even after they ordered him to stand back. Police used their hands to push him away 3 times, then used a tazer, called for backup, and aimed tear gas spray at the group. Britton was arrested for Felony Battery Upon a Police Officer.
City claims they used standard procedure and will call experts to testify. An orthopedic surgeon examined Ross on behalf of the police and claims that his physical injuries are mostly from the lead pipe incident years ago, and his refusal to have surgery. They also claim Ross to have had pre-existing Post-Traumatic Stress Dissorder problems, stemming from previous attacks by homeless people, not police. Ross plays tennis daily, using his supposedly crippled arm, although the people he plays with say they noticed poorer form.
The police say they had a legitimate reason to investigate, they have a very dangerous job, and this group generally dislikes police, is mentally unstable, uses drugs and alcohol, and carries weapons. They say that their actions were entirely reasonable.
Next, David Ross, the Water Man, takes the witness stand.
Mr. David Ross, the primary Plaintiff (person suing for damages) took the stand, and was asked by his attorneys about his lifestyle. He says he gets up around 7 AM, works out, and then plays tennis. After that, he goes to a storage facility to load up his car with water bottles, sandwiches, and blankets to be given away to poor people that day. On the day of the incident, there were hundreds gathered at the support facility, called the Neil Good Center, in Downtown San Diego.
Traffic was light, and since everyone knows him, he merely toots his horn and a line of people assemble to get what they need. He said he also gives out hugs, takes time to get to know people, tries to make them less embarrassed about needing help, and bridge the problem of the sadness, disconnect, and anger in the people. He said he could do none of that while working as a social worker, but as a missionary, he can.
Ross said he ran Mercedes-Benz auto dealerships for 14 years, including 9 years in Dallas and 5 years in Los Angeles. Asked why he gave up the car business, he said that he grew up poor in the Inner City of Detroit, and jumped at the chance to be somebody, a car dealer.
When his wife died, he became discontent with the money-orientedness of the auto business, and had long not been happy working in it. What made him happy was volunteering after work at St. Francis Center, in Los Angeles. A veteran of the Korean War, he got along well with the many military veterans living on the sidewalks.
Asked about the day of the event, he said he had 100-150 people who wanted water, and with hugs and conversation that might take 5 minutes per person. He had been working 45 minutes when suddenly San Diego Police Officer McLaughlin, the only person civilly charged in the case, suddenly drove up, stopped his patrol car abruptly, and his car doors flew open.
Mr. Ross said this startled him, because usually the police wave and drop by to talk. Police have in the news media claimed that Ross is a major factor in their community relations, and helps keep the homeless calm and non-violent. San Diego Assistant Police Chief Boyd Long, who deals with homeless issues, helped him set up a storage locker facility for the poor to keep their clothes and other posessions in, thus having less clutter of same on the streets downtown. A prettier environment for everyone.
Ross said that on the day of the incident, Officer McLaughlin showed very quick, angry, and aggressive movements, and when that officer took hold of his friend abruptly, he asked the officer to calm down. “Shut the [F-word] up!” was the reply he got from Officer McLaughlin. Ross asked why he (his friend) was being roughed up, and was again told the same expletive.
This friend was then thrown violently against a brick wall by the police officer, an ex-Marine in the Military Police. He told the officer to stop, and the officer screamed at him, spun him around, forced him to the ground, and then screams were heard in the background. The several hundred people across the street at the center were now watching.
He tried to get up, but his arm hurt too bad, and the officer, McLaughlin, accused him of faking being injured. There was then screaming, yelling, and panic from the shelter. Witnesses outside of the trial claim that at this point the huge gates were locked, locking the crowd in a fenced-in area (shown above), so that no one could get out and possibly harm the police. Private security is used at the center, and they rapidly take preventive action.
One very large man, a Vietnam Veteran and also a former Military Police officer, had already run out of the gate to try to defend missionary David Ross from attack by the police. Shortly thereafter, police backup arrived in large numbers, and surrounded Ross, protecting him. One officer said of Laughlin, “He’s lost his mind. He needs anger management.”
Paramedics then arrived and took him to a hospital for X-rays. At the hospital Police Internal Affairs apologized to him and took a 30-45 minute recorded statement. Leaving the hospital, he had a bad headache, arm pain, soreness, and confusion. Some loss of arm motion. Unable to sleep, friends dropped by to comfort him. He received physical therapy, plays tennis to recover, and has continuous haunting dreams in which police chase him and laugh at him.
He saw a therapist years earlier when attacked by a homeless person he was trying to help, but he had not seen her for years, and now returned to therapy, paying with his own money. He continued in psychiatric therapy for 2 years. He said that his emotional problems were because he always considered the police his allies and protectors, and now one attacked him. “Police are my partners”, he said.
Photos were shown of the area where he parks his car to hand out water. This is across the street barely visible in the photo, past the fence in the upper right. It is clearly visible through the bars of the fence. David said that he has had problems driving, and also lifting up cases of water, due to injuries suffered. He said that his parking spot across the street was unofficial, but police never bothered him for parking there.
He was asked if any officer on the day of the incident asked him whose car it was, or said he should not be parking it there, and he said no. He gets help from Gary Limpic, a marriage counselor from his church, to lift heavy cases of drinking water, when he buys them or picks them up from storage. He said that he has had to use rubber braces to play tennis, and has never recovered 100%. He does shadow boxing, and both that and tennis, he says, requires an excellent sense of balance.
The police cross-examination of David Ross asked him about his leaving St. Vincent de Paul, over a disagreement. He said that the problem he had was that they were using computers and not any one-on-one contact in order to handle case work. He said that made people a number, and he hated depersonalization. Insufficient personal contact, he said. He was asked if the streets were dangerous, and agreed that they were. He has been attacked at least four times, becoming injured each time. Once, he lost several teeth. He was also asked if his getting people in line and out of the street was an orderly process. He said that he does the best he can.
He says that he tries to get everyone out of the street. He was asked about shopping carts in the patio area, shown in the photo. He said that there was no real commotion at the facility until the officer slammed one man’s head into the brick wall. Then there was shouting. And, the officer (Laughlin) came over and grabbed him. The veteran who tried to rescue him from the police officer got his head slammed into a parked car. There was a question as to whether the officer may have kicked him, or tripped him, or he did not know what. He said that he felt pushed, but did not know how it was done, it was done so fast. There seems to be some who gave depositions that the officer also kicked him once on the ground. He is uncertain, and says it was like being in the Twilight Zone.
He had never seen this officer before. He was asked if his right shoulder injury was actually due to a lead pipe attack he received earlier. He has been diagnosed with chronic insomnia and depression.
Next witness is Harry Miller, not related to Matt Miller, a lawyer in this case, who was asked why he was at Neil Good Center that day. Miller said he had financial problems and was in foreclosure. He needed to register to receive services in case he needed them in the future. Asked if he had met David Ross, he had. He was asked if there was a commotion before Mr. Ross was on the ground, he said there was not. He said he personally now felt fear of police as a result of this incident.
He said there was a conversation between Officer McLaughlin and David Ross, and the officer was very upset. His tone was loud, nasty, and there was a Black man pleading with the officer and saying “What are you doing?” Then the Black man (Vietnam Veteran Military Police Officer Marvin Britton) was arrested.
He said he was in shock and did not like what he saw. When backup arrived, he complained to a police officer that he knew and trusted. He was interviewed at home by Police Internal Affairs.
Next witness is Marvin Britton, just mentioned above. A large Black Vietnam Veteran, walking with a cane, he testified that he went to the Neil Good Center for months, and saw David Ross a lot. He buys the daily newspaper, and sits down to read it at one of the tables. Eventually, somebody shouted, “Something’s happening!”
He saw Officer McLaughlin place his hip into Dave and flip him on his back, and then raise his foot to give him a military heel-stomp. He explained what all that was, and said that the officer was angry, with his head as red as a beet, sort of like having a bad day. He said the maneuver he used on Ross was extremely fast, so fast that most people do not even know what is going on, and is called an NVA Flop. Asked how he knew what that was, he stated that he used to be an MP, a military police officer.
Britton said he injured his left side, hip, and shoulder in the incident, and has had to walk with a cane ever since police threw him into a car for trying to rescue Ross that day. He said that he was really “pissed off”, because the officer had to take the same oath as him, when he became a police officer, to Protect and Serve. In the hospital, he said that if he ever ran into Officer McLaughlin in a dark alley, he better have his weapon with him. Britton is very big, strong, but not getting around too well, due to his injuries in the incident.
Next, witness Larry Johnson, a plumber from central San Diego, 33rd and Market. He said he goes to Neil Good Center a lot, and was dropping off some deodorant and soap that day. He said he sees David Ross there a lot, and observed Officer McLaughlin knocking a bottle of water out of Mr. Ross’s hand that he was trying to give to the officer. Both were yelling, and he thought McLaughlin kicked Ross. Then, chaos. People yelled, “Call 911!”
Finally, police and an ambulance. A Sergeant talked to him about giving Internal Affairs statements, which he did. Asked about street crimes, and police protecting themselves, he said he understood that. What he wanted to know is how people protect themselves against renegade cops. He also said that Myron Hill was not interfering with traffic, as the police suggest, and that there were about 20 people getting water from Ross. He said that Ross was not kicked nor tripped. He said that the officer tried to “slam him” (Ross), but Ross tripped. Asked what was meant by “slamming”, he said that is when a police officer forces someone’s head into a wall, like they did to the person named Hill.
New witness, Ronald Seno, met David Ross 5 years ago and has played tennis with him almost every morning the last 3 years, as his tennis instructor. Seno is a tennis pro. He said that the time of the incident greatly reduced the ability of Mr. Ross to play tennis, and he has had to change his racket from a professional tennis player racket to now one used by elderly people. Seno said that Ross has improved the past 2 years since the incident, but is only 60% as good as he used to be. He said that there was a problem with his range-of-motion and his follow-through.
New witness, Gary Limpic, partner of David Ross, who is a marriage counselor, music pastor, and with Mr. Ross runs the Ninth Avenue Check-In Center, a storage facility for the San Diego homeless to keep their posessions in lockers instead of all over the streets. He was not present at the incident, but has often helped “The Water Man” pass out water. He has known Ross 3 and a half years, and stated that the incident had Ross unable to do anything at all for two weeks, nor carry water for 5 or 6 weeks, so he had to unload and give out the water himself.
He said that he often saw the police stop and talk to David, and they had a good relationship, David and the police. He was asked if he would be willing to lie for his partner Ross, and said that he would not.
At this time, 3 PM, Wednesday, April 20, my website, NZ9F.com, was brought up by the data processing clerk during a break, and scrolled to my photo on Home Page. As I do have a few stock photos of the Neil Good Center on the site, no problem. I complained to the Bailiff that the jury should not have access to anything like this, not even in the background, and was told that internet access in the courtroom was prohibited. No one on the jury, which was on a break, saw anything, and the site was no longer on the computer by the time they returned.
I normally wear a hat, shirt, or similar, with my website logo on it, but intentionally did not do so, for fear the jury might find it. Because nearly nine thousand people wanted the complete and uncensored story, this contains everything, even that which the jury is prohibited from seeing, plus information that neither the judge nor the lawyers involved have. The alternative would have been closed-circuit television transmission for a large crowd, but given the fact that Ross is the religious leader of some people, and the nature of the trial, this could prove to be a dangerous undertaking. So that is why I am covering it in such detail. This is the radio broadcast of a football game, and I am giving the play-by-play. My being in the courtroom means that many people do not have to take off work to be there, too.
Next, a new witness, Officer McLaughlin himself, who is the primary person to be accused of wrongdoing here. He has been a police officer for 12 years, and prior to that a military justice investigator with NCIS for a year. Before that, he was a United States Marine for 8 years, in the Military Police. He began as a San Diego Police Trainer 4 years ago.
He complained that people on the day of the incident were “milling about”, and the area of the homeless had a lot of drug use, illegal (on the sidewalk) alcohol use, many assaults, and the Neil Good Center was “almost exclusively homeless people.”
On the day in question, he was investigating drug activity, from a tip he got earlier. The form used for interviews of informants and tips was presented on a viewing screen, but most of it was blacked out. One thing that was listed was “pushing shopping cart.” He said that when he arrived at the Neil Good Center he saw people looking into the trunk of Mr. Ross’ car, and thought he might be a dope dealer. Then, he saw that he was only handing out bottles of water.
Much trial testimony has been over whether the car of Mr. Ross was parked legally or not, and how heavy the traffic was. Officer McLaughlin said that he noticed Myron Hill in the street by Ross’ car, and told him to get out of the street. He replied, “No, I’m getting water.” He said that he grabbed Hill immediately instead of issuing a ticket because it was a dangerous spot. Asked if any traffic had to swerve to avoid him or Hill, he said no. It should be noted that 17th Street, in question, is one-way and extremely wide.
He was asked about a woman who ran when he drove up. He was then asked why he used force against Myron Hill, and he said that Hill tensed up and dragged his feet. As it turns out, Hill is in jail during the trail, having been arrested for selling cocaine, but he, too, complains about excessive force in the incident, is one of the three Plaintiffs suing for damages, and will testify later on videotape.
The prosecution wants the police report, filed by McLaughlin, entered into evidence, but the police themselves, who are the Defense here, do not want that, and the judge ruled that the jury does not get to see the police report. Asked whether Ross requested that anyone else interfere (that could be considered inciting a riot), McLaughlin said that he did not. Asked if there is anything wrong with people (Ross) talking to police, he said no, but yelling at police in such a way that many spectators notice in a negative way interferes with police work. He said that when Ross yelled, so did the crowd. It has been mentioned, but needs to be noted that Ross is their religious leader.
McLaughlin said he had to wait two minutes for backup, and during that time, Marvin Britton came out of the Neil Good Center. He is a large ex-Military Police officer, same as McLaughlin. (Witnesses that I spoke to independently, not expected to testify at the trial, said that when Britton, who acts as a “bouncer” helping with security, went out to “rescue” Mr. Ross, the gates to the center were locked, locking most everyone else in.) McLaughlin was then asked if Ross posed a threat, and he said he did not. Ross is in his mid-70s. McLaughlin said he grabbed his hand, then felt it slip away, and Ross stumbled to the ground of his own clumsiness.
He said he felt frustrated and nervous, but not in danger. He also thought Ross was faking injury. He said that once Ross saw the laser light from his taser on his body, he stopped being aggressive. He was asked why his partner, officer Stevens, the rookie on his 5th day as a San Diego Police officer, had neither his taser nor his gun drawn. He said Stevens was over near the wall, out of danger, with Hill handcuffed.
He said that when backup arrived, there where then police everywhere, and no more problem. Asked why he did not ticket Ross for illegal parking, he said the scene was too chaotic.
Next witness is rookie Police Officer Brian Stephens, who was unfortunate enough to have this be his fifth day as a police officer. He was being field-trained that day by his partner, veteran officer McLaughlin, who just testified. Originally charged himself as a Defendant, he was removed from being sued today in return for his testimony.
He said that he an McLaughlin were there looking for drug sales, but immediately saw that Mr. Ross was not doing that. The situation was peaceful and orderly. He said he had no problem with where Mr. Ross was parked, and did not consider any situation dangerous. He was asked if when he parked behind Mr. Ross he put on his flashing lights to warn traffic, and he said that same was unnecessary because the street is very wide.
He said there was very little traffic, persons around Mr. Ross’ car did not seem in any danger nor dangerous themselves, and his partner, McLaughlin, grabbed Hill within 5 seconds of telling him to get out of the street. He said an inappropriate amount of force was used to pressure Hill against the wall. He said that when Ross approached McLaughlin, he was given the NVA Flop. He said no one there was an imminent threat. He said that the reason Ross was flopped is that he was red-faced, yelling, waving his arms, interfering with their investigation, and drawing the attention of over 100 spectators across the street.
Their agitation led to Marvin Bitton coming across the street. He was asked if Ross asked for help, (which under terrorism laws would automatically be considered inciting a riot), and he said that he did not ask for any help. Stephens was then informed by the attorney questioning him that mere words do not count as interference with police work, and that verbal protests without any touching are permitted as Free Speech. (He was once an ACLU lawyer specializing in Free Speech.)
Cross-examination by the City and Police lawyer brought up the Training Manual of the San Diego Police Department Academy, and its official guideline called the Force Matrix. The matrix consists of a do-or-don’t guide for matching the behavior of a suspect or person being arrested with the behavior that the officer should respond with. It consists of various levels or situations, and tells how much force is acceptable, too extreme, or even not extreme enough. It is a standard part of police training.
The Force Matrix lists 5 basic levels of suspect behavior, from noncompliant (refusing to obey an order) all the way to imminent threat of the officer becoming murdered by the suspect. Stevens characterized the threat level of Hill as active resistance, one of the step levels, which would justify being tackled or sprayed with chemical mace, but no use of a gun or taser. Asked what the threat level was of Mr. Ross, he replied “None.” (That would mean, theoretically, even touching Mr. Ross was too great an amount of force.) Asked if he knew Mr. Ross before the incident, he stated that he did not.
Officer Stephens is testifying against the San Diego Police Department, his current employer, and against a fellow police officer, his partner. This is significant.
Next witness, San Diego Police Captain Christopher Ball, who said that David Ross is a fixture on the street, a known homeless advocate, and provides things that even help the City, such as paying for toilets. Asked if Ross has permission to park his car in a particular spot, he said there was no protocol for granting anyone permission. He also said that he had never told Ross not to park there, either.
He said that sometimes distribution of water is quiet and orderly, and other times it is rambunctous, water being thrown like a football pass. He testified that other service providers also use the Ross parking space in question. Asked if he had ever wanted the car ticketed, he replied, “We give tickets to address problems, when, in the mind of an officer, a problem needs to be addressed.”
On the way out of the courtroom, he shook the hands of Plaintiffs Ross and Britton, in front of the jury. I have never before seen a police officer shake the hand of someone in a courtroom suing his department. I was shocked.
Next witness San Diego Police Captain Mark Jones, who said he was aware of the incident. He said that there were no special police parking policies to deal with the needs of homeless service providers like Mr. Ross. He was asked if he knew who Ross was before this incident and said that he did not. On his way out of the courtroom, he, too, shook the hand of Ross.
The next witness, San Diego Police Chief of Patrol Operations, Assistant Chief Boyd Long. He said he has known David Ross for years, and knew him while a patrol officer, Sargeant, Lieutenant, and now as one of the Chiefs. They have talked more than once a week, but he never met Ross in-person until the incident. He was asked about Mr. Ross’ illegal parking spot, and said they discussed it about a year ago (this was a year after the incident). He said that Ross is famous, and he read about him long before ever meeting him. He, too, shook the hand of Ross when leaving the courtroom.
Chief Long is someone that I have met, when I published an article previously on police harassment and the homeless. We spoke, and I told him of my 8 years as a cop. He is more of a psychologist, like myself, and believes that police work is easier if you get people to obey the law to begin with, rather than punishing them for breaking it. Since this incident, Long has been placed in charge of police liason operations involving the homeless, and most of the leaders, including Ross as religious leader and myself as newspaper editor have his personal cell phone number.
Next witness, due to scheduling difficulties and a trial running more quickly than the time it was all supposed to take, is the videotaped testimony of Myron Hill, the third Plaintiff, who is the one ordered to get out of the street, refused to do so until he got his bottle of water, and may have been slammed into a wall. His testimony was intended for a later day, but needs to be used to fill in time now. I liken it to the classroom speaker being late, and a film clip will be used instead temporarily. It is relevant to future developments in the trial, so not all of it makes sense yet.
Hill testifies from jail, taped April 6, and the tape is very snipped up and poor. He was arrested for transportation and sale of rock cocaine. He says traffic on the street was light, he never saw Officer McLaughlin before the incident, and that he often helped David Ross distribute water. He spoke of a previous police incident less than an hour earlier, where a woman was being sought and ran from the police. He said “people get upset because police will get in your face. They always gotta bother or do something to somebody.”
That line of thinking is called the “jailhouse mentality” in that it is the person who “snitches”, or tells who did something, that is the guilty party, as opposed to the one breaking the law. It is the same notion, however, as the “good olde boys”, where no corrupt gangster, politician, nor even police officer dares to “snitch” or “rat” on the rest.
When asked, he said that he couldn’t tell if McLaughlin kicked Ross, and he did agree that officers have a hard time on the street. I think Hill is mentally ill, out of touch, and maybe even high on dope, based upon the videotape. The point here, I think, is that it could be that any normal person may have used a little bit more force and shown a little bit less patience with him, based upon his personality. Therefore, you or I may have done the same thing as McLaughlin, who was being human, biased and all.
The last witness of the week is Dana Terrell, the clinical therapist of Mr. Ross. She is an LCSW, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, a California healthcare designation below a psychologist or psychiatrist, but trained at giving clinical therapies. These are people who help with problems, run therapeutic focus groups, help hospice people deal with Depression from knowing that they are terminal, and many similar things. She has 23 years experience, sees 35 clients a week, and specializes in treating PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
She is one of the therapists used by San Diego County in cases ranging from car accidents thru incest to assault. Ross saw her years earlier after being attacked by a homeless man, one of several such attacks. Terrell has also worked for the State of California, and San Diego Youth Services, which is a government-owned nonprofit dealing with adoption, foster parenting, juvenile delinquency, and a myriad of child-related issues, including molestation.
She gave Mr. Ross tests to determine his levels of pain, distress, discomfort, mental illness, and similar back when she saw him, two years before the incident. She also gave him similar tests after the incident, and said that those more recent tests show his mental difficulties had doubled, on an objective-items scale.
Many units of government use this sort of test, as it is difficult to fudge or fake, plus it requires far less education to use effectively than if you were to hire a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist. These objective tests are most often in probation and parole, but can be used for a wide variety of evaluations. A parole test may ask questions like, “How many times has this person tried to escape? How many times have they been placed in detention for fighting? How often do they call their family? How often do they go to church?” The designers of the test assign numerical values to each question, and then you add or subtract numbers to get a final score.
I have designed more than one such test myself. It can be used by almost anyone with a high school education, and there is no way to cheat on a diagnosis or evaluation, because you are merely counting factual things that either did or did not happen. No favoritism can be attached as a result of liking or disliking them, for example. Their disadvantage is that they fail to consider extenuating circumstances and anything unforeseen by the test designers. So a bartender will get a very poor score on the question, “How many people around you do you see drinking alcohol every day?”
Terrell finds that the reason this attack is so special for Ross, compared to other attacks, is that it was the police doing the attacking, and he normally depends upon them to defend him. The good guys become the bad guys, a breach of trust. Terrell said it is the difference between being raped by a total stranger versus being raped by your church pastor. There is an element of shock, disbelief, cynicism.
About the author: Prof. John Kitchin teaches a course in homelessness thru Milwaukee Free University, on the San Diego Homeless website, NZ9F.com. He publishes the San Diego Homeless News, wrote a book about the topic in 1995, and has written over two dozen editorials for major newspaper chains. He was educated in psychology at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, and has been a Red Cross volunteer, dealing with persons made homeless by disasters, for over 30 years. NZ9F is the callsign of his disaster relief communications radio station.
Trial Coverage Resumes Monday, April 25.