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On The City Council Agenda – July 15, 2014

Hidden Agenda ClipartJudging from the length of the agenda, this week’s Tustin City Council meeting is liable to go a tad longer than the 52 minutes of the last meeting. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Closed Session goes into overtime.

The city council is still discussing the performance evaluations (and probably salary adjustments) for the City Attorney and the City Manager. I’m not sure why they have David Kendig under Public Employment as he is a contract employee placed there by the city’s attorneys, Woodruff, Spradlin and Smart. If they are unhappy with Kendig’s performance (face it, he’s no Doug Holland), they only need to make a call.

First up under Presentations is our old friend TyRon Jackson. Jackson is being honored for his Operation Warm Wishes project. Jackson is active with the homeless community as well as Tustin at-risk youth. His efforts have helped hundreds of families and kids in the Tustin-Santa Ana area and this award is well-deserved.

On the Consent Calendar, the city council will be asked to approve a $24 thousand dollar expenditure for Willdan Homeland Solutions to provide tech support for the annual Emergency Operations Center exercise. Not much money but one wonders about the justification for single sourcing the contract.

I hope one of the councilmembers will pull Item 5, Resolution for Completion of the Newport Bike Trail, for comment. I have ridden a lot of bike trails in the county over the years and I always thought the Newport trail was a pretty good one. The new trail is absolutely beautiful and functional. If you haven’t ridden it, it’s worth the trip. The contractor came in $53 thousand under budget, to boot. Pat yourselves on the back, city council.

I take issue with the John Wayne Noise Abatement Quarterly Report, however. The noise level at Columbus Tustin School was reportedly well below government thresholds. Perhaps they should move the monitoring station to my house where it is considerably louder. It should be noted, the city council took the easy way out by supporting the extension to the operating agreements, supposedly for fear it would open a can of worms. Note to Al Murray: sometimes you just have to take a stand on principle.

Hopefully a member of the public with some sense will bring up discussion of Item 11, Comment Letter Draft on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. In short, the city council is supporting the governor’s ill proposed effort to tunnel under the Delta to provide water directly from the Sacramento River to Southern California. Never mind we have been stealing their water since the 1930’s the proposal laughingly purports to be a conservation effort for the Delta when, in fact, it is likely to do the opposite. The city, which obtains nearly half it’s water by theft, is jumping on the Governor’s band wagon. I wonder if they see a value in his high speed rail project as well?

The final item on the agenda is a request for travel by Councilman Chuck Puckett to attend the re-accreditation ceremony of the Tustin Police Department. I haven’t asked but I presume Chief Celano (who should have the department webmaster remove the “interim” from his page on the TPD website) will be attending as well. Congratulation, once again, to Chief Celano and the men and women of the Tustin Police Department.

I have a feeling this will be a council meeting worth watching. And, as it seems the Orange County Register is slowly crumbling into the dust, I may be your only source for true, accurate and highly biased information. That means I will have to step up my efforts. I think I can, I think I can…

Impatient Protesters Push Council’s Buttons

credit: Voice of OC

credit: Voice of OC

Apologies, I have been away from the computer for a few weeks due to heavy commitments. This week doesn’t look much better. However, I thought I would at least try to bring you up to date on an issue that doesn’t seem to want to go away – and for good reason.

While preparing my regular report on the upcoming city council meeting, I had a chance to view the video from the May 6th meeting where local  citizens and activists from other cities managed to take up some time in public comments to -once again- protest the police shooting of Robert Villa. As you recall, protesters and outside rabble rousers managed to disrupt the city council meeting several weeks ago. At that meeting, the protests became so disruptve a visibly shaken Mayor Al Murray had to recess the council meeting. To his credit, he did not react to force the protesters outside. The May 6th protest was substantially less disruptive with protesters carrying signs and speaking in turn at the podium.

Villa’s mother was the first to speak and asked simply for the name of the officers who shot her son. Two other relatives of Villa also pleaded with the city council for action. One speaker, an outside rabble rouser who admitted he goes to various cities where police shootings have occurred, spoke “in support of the family”.

Mayor Murray, ever the gentleman, responded that the Orange County District Attorney’s Office was investigating the incident and the city would “make the findings known” to the public.

But, they weren’t done yet.

Other protesters, including the mother of Paul Quintanar who was killed in 2011 in a bizzare accident after a police contact, spoke to the council about putting a policy in place that would “help” the family members. The accident was investigated by the CHP and, I am sure, by the Tustin Police. I’m not sure what Marie Sales, Quintanar’s mother was looking for but it is a bit of a stretch to even blame the police for the young man’s demise since it was his running away from the police that inadvertently caused his death to begin with. Family members say they have trouble understanding why he chose to run. I imagine the police do too.

Sadly, Quintanar’s death followed that of his grandmother, who was also killed in a tragic accident near the location at where he died. That incident did not involve police contact, although the driver of the vehicle that hit her was not charged.

In any case, it is interesting to see the protesters coming from other cities (as if they don’t have enough to do in their own) to “support” the victims families here. It’s also interesting to see how the criminal and mental health history of the individuals is minimized by the protesters. While it is a sad day when anyone has to die, all circumstances must be taken into account. I would say after the District Attorney’s actions in the Kelly Thomas case, where a jury found the officers not guilty, his office is not likely to whitewash future officer involved shooting investigations.

Some of the protesters mentioned they would be back at future city council meetings. If the reason is to force the police and DA into moving faster, they are wasting their time. If a police coverup is suspected, I remind them that all officer involved shooting in this city are investigated by the district attorney’s office. Perhaps they should move their protest there, instead. In any case, your voices have been heard by the public and the city council. Murray has responded in the only way he could, given the circumstances. At the least, future protests should wait until the outcome of the investigation, which Murray said would be made public.

As I mentioned, Mayor Murray reached out to the protesters saying City Manager Jeff Parker and Chief of Police Charlie Celano were more than willing to sit down with families and protesters to discuss the incident and what was being done. When I contacted the city, I was told that not one protester has called to set up that offered meeting. One has to wonder what the true reason for the protests were if not to begin meaningful dialogue.

No Rush to Judgement

credit: Voice of OC

credit: Voice of OC

If you attended the city council meeting on Tuesday, you might have decided to leave before the real business went down. That’s because an angry mob descended on the council hall demanding justice for a young man shot by Tustin Police last week. If you watch the video, as I normally do, you won’t see much of the crowd. That’s because the city, in its infinite wisdom, decided  to black out that portion of the video when the crowd got aroused and nearly stormed the dais. I’m sure that someone thought that was a good idea. What it really does is help inculcate a sense of a coverup.

Even though the city’s video cameras went dark during the protest, “someone” thought to notify the media who arrived with at least one camera crew to catch the action the city hoped they could squelch. So, if you want to see the missing 4 minutes, you can watch the entire sordid affair below.

In just over 4 minutes, the crowd of at least fifty people armed with protest signs, face masks and other assorted protesting paraphernalia,  interrupted, yelled, screamed and wailed laments toward the dais and the few “regular” folks who looked around for an easy escape. Many of the protesters were obviously locals or friends and family of Villa. However, there were quite a few protesters who were just as obviously from out of town. Notably, at least one Guy Fawks mask was seen and it’s a good bet that an organized protest like this would bring out the professional rabblerousers.

To bring you up to speed, on February 9th Tustin Police responded to a domestic violence call in apartments near Redhill and Nisson Rd. When they arrived on scene, according to the TPD press release, they were confronted by 23 year old Robert Villa armed with a knife. What occurred next is unclear but “more than one” officer shot the suspect who was later pronounced dead after being transported to Western Medical Center.

As is often the case, so-called “witnesses” came out of the woodwork to refute the claim of a knife. The OC Weekly, which takes every opportunity to slam police regardless of locale or reputation, was quick to interview family members who weren’t there and accept at face value their opinions on whether deadly force was necessary.  The family retained a lawyer (fancy that) who quickly disputed the police claim of a knife. They also indicated what a swell guy Villa was by saying he was reported to be working a regular job and attending college. He also had a family.

The lawyer, by the way, is Humberto Guizar who also represents the families of two men shot by police in Anaheim in 2012. Apparently, he makes a living on other peoples tragedies.

What no one bothered to say about the 23 year old Villa that you can pick up in the OC Register story (if you have a subscription) is that a man by the same name and birthdate had, “several previous run-ins with the law, including pleading guilty to felony burglary, felony inflicting corporal injury and misdemeanor violating a protective order in 2012, and pleading guilty to misdemeanor inflicting corporal injury on a spouse or significant other in 2011.”

At this point, there is not much to go on. Contrary to popular belief, the Tustin Police are not trying to hide evidence. There is no grand conspiracy to “get the cops off”. The truth is, like any investigation whether it involves cops or not, the facts must remain in relative confidence until it the situation can be sorted out.

But, the rabblerousers who hate authority and the police in particular, have been fueled by the Thomas Kelly murder, riots in Anaheim and recent officer involved shootings in Santa Ana. What they fail to understand is that Tustin Police Department, besides the OC Weekly’s meager attempts at slur, is an exemplary, accredited department. The former chief, with the help of our new Chief Charles Celano, had taken extraordinary steps to insure a high degree of professionalism and training of our department. I’ve had the opportunity to see that training in action more than once as they deal with mental health issues in our community. In fact, it was Chief Celano that initiated a short course in dealing with the emotionally charged, and often, mentally ill offender. The purpose of this training is, of course, to mitigate situations like the one that caused the death of Robert Villa.

For what it is worth, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, of which at least one investigator hails from Tustin Police Department, is investigating the officer involved shooting. So, no matter what the result of the investigation, in the eyes of Villa’s friends and family, it is already tainted and no outcome short of lynching the officers, whom they have already tried in the court of (their) public opinion, will satisfy their lust for vengeance.

As a former police officer and current peace officer with the second largest law enforcement agency in the county, as a 20 year resident of this community, I have a vested interest in this case. I don’t know any of the parties to the incident. What I do know is that we cannot take this case at face value. It is incumbent upon the community to await the outcome of the DA investigation and the city’s response.  While I would like to think the officers conducted themselves in appropriate fashion and used the appropriate amount of force, I am willing to see what the investigation reveals.

In the meantime, if the family really wants justice, they should not buy into the kind of antics and rhetoric displayed by outsiders and “Occupiers” at Tuesday’s council meeting. Mob rule is no rule. Wait to see what the investigation reveals. If there was impropriety by the police, those responsible should be called to account for their actions. To do any less is to bring less than honor to the memory of their lost one.