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Nationally, the increase in the number of videotaped police shootings has caused the courts and many law enforcement agencies to become more transparent about their procedures and about the incidents leading to fatal encounters.

In Monterey County, the opposite seems to be occurring. The best example came this week after Salinas police shot and killed a knife-wielding teenager after efforts to subdue him failed. You likely have heard little about it. Because little information has been made public, the news coverage has been slight.

It happened around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday in the 600 block of Terrace Street in Salinas. Fourteen officers were involved and seven have been placed on routine administrative leave pending internal investigation into the event. Why so many? Who knows? We likely will never know.

The Police Department said the boy, rumored to be 16, had been wielding a knife, that officers had arranged for fire fighters to spray him with a fire hose and then shot him with rubber bullets and a stun gun. After he entered a residence, he was confronted by two officers and was shot when he turned toward them, according to Deputy District Attorney Ed Hazel of the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office.

Beyond that, authorities aren’t saying much, and are not even identifying the youth. Early on he was reported to be a teenage boy but even his age was withheld. Hazel told the Monterey Herald that his office was still deciding whether to publicly identify him because of his age. Hazel said at that time that the name would not be released this week.

UPDATE: Friday afternoon, the DA’s Office released the boy’s name as Marlon Joel Rodas-Sanchez. Witnesses told TV station KION that the youth had been renting a room in the area

At the Salinas Police Department, Chief Adele Frias said there would be no comment.

So what are we left with is that brief description of the incident from Hazel. It’s in the paragraphs above. That’s about it.

Under the previous Salinas police administration, a political decision was made to have the District Attorney’s Office take the lead on investigating police shooting cases, making it Police Department policy not to make any comment on the incident or the process. No matter what questions arose. No matter whether the officers’ actions were being misconstrued or mischaracterized. No comment.

When Hazel was asked for more information this week, he said he couldn’t provide it because he didn’t want to interfere with the Police Department’s criminal investigation. Not any investigation into the shooting but into the actions of the boy. Police Department refers questions to DA. DA says can’t comment for fear of interfering with the police.

Contrast this with what has happened elsewhere.

In Ohio last year, when police fatally shot a 13-year-old boy with a BB gun and a 12-year-old boy with an airsoft gun, the names of the boys were made public within days. (In fairness to local authorities, it appears from the news coverage that the names were released by Ohio authorities but the information might have come from the families.)

In Aptos in November, a sheriff’s deputies shot and killed 15-year-old Luke Smith, who was high on LSD when he stabbed some of his family members. Within days, authorities there released police video of the incident, which showed officers making repeated attempts to have the boy drop the knife.

When can we expect to see body cam video from Wednesday’s shooting? Probably never unless a news organization goes to court to try to force the issue. Protocols haven’t been established on when videos will be made public in Monterey County, or at least as far as we know.

Salinas police and the District Attorney’s Office have succeeded in limiting any immediate fallout from this boy’s death but it comes at a cost of maintaining trust in the community. Helping to keep things quiet is the reality of media shrinkage, with local news crews generally too small and overworked to knock on doors in order to find out what witnesses saw.

I have no reason to suspect the police did anything inappropriate, though every case like this should raise questions about the general police approach to erratic behavior and should prompt comparisons to how such situations are handled in other countries. I am not pushing for additional information because I think it will make the police look bad. I want to see more information to see if there are any lessons to be learned and I don’t want the police to be the sole judge of that.

Back to the identification. Hazel said Thursday that he has not released the name because he is researching the law to see if it is permissible. He could not cite a statute, case or anything else sanctioning hiding the name of someone shot by police, juvenile or adult. State public records law makes it clear that information should be released absent statutory authority or a compelling reason to keep it private. The law does shield the name of juvenile offenders in most cases but those rules have not been construed to apply to the deceased. (Despite official interest in protecting the youth’s name and reputation, do not be surprise if his criminal record, if any, leaks out.)

Hazel correctly noted that the law also allows information to be kept private if its release would jeopardize a criminal investigation. In this case, I suspect that release of the name might lead an additional reporter or two to knock on a door but it is difficult to imagine how any investigation would be compromised.

In cases like this, authorities often adopt the view that information that can be withheld should or must be withheld. The result, I’m afraid, is suspicion that shades opinions of law enforcement even when law enforcement has acted entirely appropriately.

What happens next is this. The District Attorney’s Office some months from now — or longer —  will announce that no criminal charges are being filed against any of the officers involved but it will reject any request for reports from the investigation on grounds that state law allows them to be kept secret. Allows. Not requires.

The Police Department will conduct an internal investigation and decide whether any of its rules were broken. We’ll never hear the results. The details of what happened in the 600 block of Terrace Street will never become public unless the family files and pursues a lawsuit. The authorities are asking us to trust them to handle such situations properly and then to fully investigate. In fact, we do trust them for the most part  but the trust fades when they won’t treat us like adults.

In many parts of the country, authorities have become more transparent, and that’s a good thing. In the short term, the release of more information rather than less can cause a temporary hardening of attitudes, but in the long term the public will be comforted knowing that the truth is not being hidden.

Fourteen officers were involved in an incident that resulted in the death of a 16 year old boy and the community doesn’t know much more than that. That’s transparency, Monterey County style.

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DA Dean Flippo and Police Chief Kelly McMillin update press on the torture murders of two Salinas children

UPDATE WITH INFO ON FUND FOR SURVIVING CHILD

Salinas Police Officers Assoc. Launches Fundraising Campaign for Child Abuse Victims

Salinas, CA — The Salinas Police Officers Association today announced the launch of a fundraising campaign for the three children who suffered severe abuse while in the custody of Tami Huntsman and Huntsman’s 17-year-old male companion. Officers have started donating to the account and invite members of the public to join in.

 

Huntsman and the young man were arrested on Friday, Dec. 11 in Quincy, California, after a nine-year-old girl was discovered suffering from serious injuries. On Monday, two other children who had been in their care were found dead in a storage unit in Redding, California.

The nine-year-old girl is being treated in a hospital and is in protective custody.


The SPOA has set up an account for the victims at the Central Coast Federal Credit Union in Seaside, California. The organization is consulting with charitable giving experts to ensure that funds raised will be used in the most beneficial way for the surviving girl and the two deceased children.

“This is the worst case of child abuse we’ve ever seen,” said Officer Jeff Munoz, an SPOA board member. “We know there are a lot of people who feel like we do, and want to do what they can to reduce at least some of the suffering.”

People who want to contribute can do so by check, cash or bank transfer, to the “SPOA Victims Fund.” The SPOA hopes to be able to set up an online donation form, and will announce that when it’s available.

Checks can be mailed to:

Central Coast Federal Credit Union
4242 Gigling Rd.
Seaside, CA 93955-6300

 

Donors can also make a deposit in person at the Salinas Police Department at 222 Lincoln Ave., Salinas, or any of the four Central Coast Federal Credit Union locations in Seaside, Salinas, Soledad and King City.

The Salinas Police Officers Association is the union representing Salinas Police officers.

ORIGINAL STORY STARTS HERE

 

HOLES IN THE SAFETY NET WERE TOO BIG FOR THESE BABIES

Early in my previous life as a police reporter, I learned that the interests of the media and law enforcement diverge rather dramatically in the wake of a big crime, one such as the recent horrendous murders of two Salinas children.

A wise police lieutenant explained it well. He said “you guys,” meaning reporters, want to know why something happened. What was the motive? What were the bad guys thinking? Did they plan this thing or did it just happen? How do they know each other? And, often, could this have been prevented? The police, on the other hand, are most likely overwhelmed with figuring out what happened and won’t worry about the why or the what ifs until much later, if ever.

Reporters want to tell a story. The cops want to arrest and convict somebody. Sometimes the agendas overlap but not by design.

The divergence was  clear Thursday as Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin and Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo held a news conference to update the press on what is beginning to be known, if only for the sake of simplicity, as the Tami Huntsman murder case.

McMillin provided a timeline in an attempt to shorthand what is turning out to be a remarkably complicated, multi-jurisdictional case that resulted in the deaths of two little battered children and the near death of a third. For law enforcement’s initial purposes, it started Dec. 11, a week ago, when a sheriff’s deputy in the Northern California foothill community of Quincy discovered a 9-year-old girl, believed to be Huntsman’s niece, who had been abused and neglected to the point that she weighed just 40 pounds.

Though signs of abuse had alarmed neighbors and relatives for months or longer, discovery of the emaciated girl required some solid police work by a young deputy, said McMillin.

DSCN0080Huntsman, 39, and her 17-year-old boyfriend, Gonzalo Curiel, were arrested that day in Quincy. They had been living in Salinas until days before their arrests. Two days later, acting on a tip from Salinas, authorities  found the abused bodies of two other children, 3-year-old Delylah Tara and 6-year-old Shaun Tara, in a Redding storage locker. They are believed to be a niece and nephew of Huntsman. Some information has come out about the condition of their bodies. You don’t want to know. The 17-year-old boyfriend apparently told the cops where to look.

There are other children. Twelve-year-old twins, probably Huntman’s by an ex-husband, a hip hop BMX bike guy, and there’s probably an older one as well. Detectives are using pencil to draw the family tree. Erasures are likely.

The main bit of news arising from Thursday’s news conference was that the autopsy Wednesday in Redding concluded that the cause of death was a “pattern of abuse” that had occurred over more than a few days, apparently starting in Salinas. Flippo also announced that his office plans to charge Huntsman and Curiel with murder with special circumstances, including multiple murder and torture, that could qualify them for the death penalty. Other charges are likely as well. Authorities in the other counties have turned over the prosecution to Flippo.

Beyond that, there was not a lot of information though there were a lot of questions from reporters. In some cases, the chief and the DA knew the answers but couldn’t provide them for fear of messing up the investigation. In other cases, they simply didn’t know. The two dead children are believed to have been from San Bernardino, where their mother was killed in a traffic accident. According to press accounts, their father handed them over to Huntsman for safekeeping when he went to prison. Are the dead children siblings? Maybe, said the chief. Is the 9-year-old girl their sister? Hard to say. When people go to prison, who decides where their children go? No one seemed to have that answer Thursday.

In all, the Salinas Police Department has about a dozen detectives on the case and the DA’s Office has about the same number of investigators. Add in the investigators from Plumas and Shasta counties and there are more than 30 investigators assigned. Most of their reports haven’t been written yet. At this point there probably is no one person who knows most of what the investigators have turned up.

Want to know more? Go to Facebook. Apparently there’s quite a bit about this case there and some of it might even be accurate.

Twice, Salinas police officers had gone to Huntman’s Fremont Avenue apartment to check on the children’s welfare. Once everything seemed fine. The other time no one was home. Four times, case workers from Monterey County Child Protective Services went to the home. Details of those visits aren’t available because records of CPS are confidential. When investigators went to the apartment after the bodies were found, they found it hard to believe people could have been living in such conditions, Flippo said. He didn’t elaborate.

The Sacramento Bee reported late Thursday that Tami Huntsman’s mother, Joy, said she had called CPS several times to report unsafe living conditions at her daughter’s apartment, near her own apartment. She referred to her daughter as a “monster.”

Will the DA’s Office investigate whether CPS should have done more? Huntsman was prosecuted a decade ago in Santa Cruz County for child neglect. Obviously authorities should have taken the kids away from her at some point but did the authorities ever have the evidence needed to do so? Macmillan said some of the complaints were anonymous so authorities had no where to turn when an abuse or negligence case didn’t pan out instantly.

Will the DA’s Office investigate whether CPS should have done more? That’s not our role, said Flippo, clearly not eager to wade not wade too deeply into the world of CPS workers, a world where damned if you do, damned if you don’t is the daily reality. At times like these, the confidentiality of CPS work is called into question but ultimately it is decided that putting it under a spotlight could do as much harm as good. It may be time to reconsider that conclusion.

In any event, will anyone in a position of authority ever be able to assure the public that someone has patched the cracks that these babies slipped through? McMillin didn’t have an answer to that, though he did say that his office would share all the appropriate information with CPS officials for that purpose.

One fellow at the news conference, the one who spent his previous life as a police reporter, pressed this concern to the point that the real reporters in the room started giving him funny looks. Isn’t anyone going to try to find out how the system failed these children, he asked. It wasn’t the system, McMillin said. It was Huntsman.

“Can you describe the injuries in any detail?” someone else asked.

“Actually no.”

McMillin has been a cop for 30 years or so and had never seen anything like this.

“It was terrible,” he said. I didn’t get the whole comment, but Ana Ceballos over at the Weekly did: “This is certainly, in my 32-year law enforcement career, the most egregious child abuse-homicide case I’ve ever seen.”

By the way, the Salinas Police Officers Association will be taking up a collection for the benefit of the 9-year-old. We’ll let you know the details as soon as they’re available.

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UPDATE: ANN HILL’S RESPONSE TO COMMENTS ON HER ORIGINAL COLUMN, PRINTED BELOW
I could have remained silent. According to some of the responses to my commentary, I should have remained silent. It was a difficult decision whether to come forward with the information I shared about the second district supervisorial candidate John Phillips. For those who have not had any negative experiences with him and who wrote about him glowingly, that is your good fortune and that is your right. I tried to focus on some traits I witnessed that would raise serious questions about this candidate’s fitness to be one of five county supervisors. Each candidate – Mitchell and Phillips —
in this race has his loyal supporters. I wrote for the undecided voter in the second district who is seeking information on both candidates. Perhaps there is someone who has known Ed Mitchell for more than thirty years who can share information about him. Sharing information is not “ranting”. Let’s continue to share information about both candidates.
Ann Hill

 

 

COLUMN BEGINS HERE

The race for District 2 supervisor has focused primarily on whether voters want a third pro-development vote on the Board of Supervisors or whether they want a majority of smart-growth county supervisors. This is a reasonable assessment of the major difference between John Phillips, who is getting lots of money from developers and builders, and Ed Mitchell, who draws support from conservation and environmental groups. But it fails to look into the character of either candidate. I do not know Ed Mitchell, but I have known Judge Phillips for more than thirty years, and I am concerned about certain traits he has displayed in two prior positions of authority: assistant district attorney and Monterey County Superior Court judge.

Supervisorial candidate John Phillips

Supervisorial candidate John Phillips

Judge Phillips was my boss in the District Attorney’s Office before he became a judge. The DA’s Office was a boys’ club when I was hired in 1981. There were just a few women attorneys. The men were in control and Judge Phillips was the alpha male. Some would say that most men who are his age (70 and up) have a history of sexist remarks in their past, because “that was their generation.” I am nearly 70 and I believe that most men in my generation were not as blatantly sexist as many of the men my age with whom I worked in the DA’s office. And Assistant District Attorney Phillips was the leader of that pack.

As a judge, John Phillips was very concerned about the rights of the criminal defendant – rightly so. However, he often did not show the same concern for victims or witnesses who came to court to testify – particularly female victims and witnesses. The case that stays with me involved a gang drive-by shooting in South County. As the deputy district attorney prosecuting one of the gang defendants in the car, I had subpoenaed to court a teenaged girl who had also been in the car at the time and could identify who had done the shooting and who was driving. With the help of an investigator I was able to persuade the girl and her mother to come to court, so the girl could testify against one of the defendants. She was our only cooperative eyewitness. Naturally, both she and her mother were terrified of retaliation by gang members if she took the witness stand. Somehow, she summoned the courage to be sworn in and to identify the defendant as one of the participants in the shooting. She testified before Judge Phillips, who turned to her at the end of her testimony and criticized her in front of a courtroom full of people for what she had worn to court.

In my eyes, the witness had on a clean, pressed, age-appropriate outfit with several layers on top, including a transparent blouse that was over another opaque top. But to Judge Phillips, it was not her courage in coming forward in the face of certain violence against her and her family that he noted. Rather he chewed her out for wearing clothing that he felt was suggestive. The girl left the witness stand in tears. She told me that the judge made her feel like a prostitute. A male deputy sheriff sitting in court who was waiting for another case commented that Judge Phillips was way out of line in the way that he had humiliated the young witness.

This incident was troubling when it happened, and it is still troubling because it makes me wonder whether Phillips would treat a young woman who appears before the Board of Supervisors in the same manner. Maybe he has matured since leaving the bench and establishing the Rancho Cielo youth camp but can we take the risk that a candidate with a history of sexist remarks to and about females has become enlightened and is no longer disparaging of girls and women? More than half of Judge Phillips’ constituents are female, and many women and girls appear to speak before the Board of Supervisors. Will their comments be taken seriously, and will they be given a fair shake if  Judge Phillips is a supervisor, or will he focus on their style of dress or find some other sex-based reason to put them down?

My concern is based in part on Judge Phillips’ reaction to a written complaint filed against him with the Commission on Judicial Performance by the young girl and her mother. An investigation was conducted by the commission. I was contacted and asked if I had witnessed any inappropriate treatment by the judge. The defendant’s attorney was contacted too. I was told the entire investigation was confidential and that I should feel free to speak truthfully. I told the investigator that I had indeed witnessed the judge browbeat the young witness about her clothing choice  and that she had felt degraded by his treatment and told me she would never return to court to testify. The defense attorney warned me against being honest with the investigator, because Monterey County is small and the legal community is even smaller.

After the investigation was concluded, a year-end report of the Commission was issued that indicated that a Monterey County Superior Court judge had received a letter of reprimand for inappropriate comments to a female witness. While no case name was cited, it seemed clear to me that Judge Phillips had been reprimanded. Sometime after the report came out, another Superior Court judge came to me at a Bar Association meeting and told me that Judge Phillips hated me because I had “beefed” him to the Judicial Commission several times. Never mind that I had not ever “beefed” Judge Phillips to the commission – I had just answered the investigator’s questions honestly – from that time on I knew that I would not get a fair shake in his courtroom.

What is most disturbing about Judge Phillips’ reaction to a complaint about his performance as a judge is that he blamed the witness and the prosecutor who presented the witness for getting him in trouble. He apparently never saw anything wrong in his mistreatment of the terrified young woman. Furthermore, he jumped to the wrong conclusion about me – based on no evidence – that I had filed complaints against him – and then he shared this mistaken belief with at least one other judge. He never confronted me directly with these false assumptions, but knowing his belief that I had “told on him,” I made every effort to avoid holding any hearings or trials in his courtroom, especially any that involved women or girls as victims or witnesses.

The negative traits that I have witnessed in Judge Phillips – sexist remarks, poor treatment of a witness, inability to acknowledge one’s own bad behavior, developing and holding a grudge based on a mistaken belief – are not traits I would like to see in any elected official, especially one of our five county supervisors. If you don’t acknowledge that you have done wrong and learn from your mistakes, you just keep making the same mistakes. That is the concern I have with supervisorial candidate John Phillips. The five supervisors vote on issues of importance to all of our lives in Monterey County. We cannot afford to have even one of those five decision-makers relying on personal biases rather than the facts presented to the board.

Retired lawyer Ann Hill was a deputy district attorney in Monterey County for 32 years. 

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4:40 p.m. Update: District Attorney’s Office says Alvarado had attempted to set curtains on fire at his family home and would not comply with police direction when at least two officers arrived. When told to put his hands in the air, the DA’s Office said, he instead went at the officers with a cell phone in his hand and was shot. DA’s Office said it did not know whether a Taser or other device had been used.

Update: Monterey campaign manager and public relations specialist Spencer Critchley says in comments below that the no comments from the officials do not reflect a no-comment position. It’s just that they can’t comment. Critchley is the acting public information officer for the Salinas Police Department.

Text of original piece:

If Salinas police had arrested Frank Alvarado early Thursday, they would have been required to provide some details, starting with why he had been arrested. State law mandates the release of some basic information in order to prevent what would amount to secret arrests.

But since Alvarado was killed, state law apparently doesn’t require the Police Department to say much of anything about it. Salinas police and the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office essentially have revealed nothing about what led to the 5 a.m. shooting on the east side of Salinas.

So what we have here amounts to an almost secret killing.

The District Attorney’s Office will now conduct an investigation. It will interview the officers involved and any witnesses. It will look at photos from the scene of the shooting, examine bullet casings, examine Alvarado’s criminal record, wait several weeks for results of toxicology testing, and then make an announcement.

Unless DA investigators determine that the officers acted criminally, all the public is likely to hear about the outcome is that charges will not be filed. Then the Police Department will announce some time later that no department policies had been violated.

Details? The whats and whys of what actually happened? They may never be made public. If the investigations support the officers’ actions, officialdom may find it necessary for the sake of argument to say what Alvarado did to prompt the shooting, but if any contrary evidence exists, we’re not likely to hear about it.

It is easy to understand why the authorities would want to keep the information under wraps. This was the fourth case this year of Salinas police fatally shooting someone, and the most recent previous case prompted considerable protest after a video went viral showing officers shooting a man who may or may not have been threatening them with pruning shears.

The authorities don’t want more protest marches, more angry neighborhood meetings. But there is some reason to suspect that this official silent treatment could backfire. The public, and especially Alvarado’s family, will want answers. The authorities, after formally adopting a no comment posture, could find themselves locked into that posture, no matter how awkward it becomes. Anyone thinking the public reaction would be “oh well, that’s the way it goes” ought to think again.

This is not to suggest the police did anything wrong. Alvarado was a parolee with a history of violence. But the police don’t answer just to themselves or the District Attorney’s Office. They answer to the public. This “no comment” position isn’t acceptable.

Salinas police officials have said they are working to regain the community’s trust. They are going about it entirely the wrong way.

A reporter for the Salinas Californian tweeted this morning that DA Dean Flippo “may” have more to say later today. Go for it, Dean. You’d be doing the community and probably even the Police Department a favor.

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LAWYER CALLS  COUNTY COUNSEL’S ROLE A CASE OF “BREATHTAKING” CHUTZPAH

In response to a Monterey Bay Partisan editorial, the best-known First Amendment lawyer in California says the Monterey County District Attorney’s investigation into alleged Brown Act violations by the Board of Supervisors amounts to a sham or, in other words,  a truth-defying Catch-22.

Terry Francke of Californians Aware said in an email to the Partisan that county officials set the rules for the inquiry and the DA’s Office went along, unfortunately and unnecessarily.

“To me, the most curious aspect of the DA’s ‘investigation’ is the contention that the investigator had no more right than anyone else to obtain access to the minutes or other records documenting or relating to the board’s disputed closed sessions,” Francke offered. “The investigation was undertaken at the invitation of County Counsel, and if that invitation did not waive any privilege of confidentiality, I”m not sure why not. Actually, one might have expected the DA to insist on such a waiver as a precondition to his involvement.”

The District Attorney’s Office announced this week that it had found no evidence to support allegations that the supervisors had violated the state’s open meeting law by holding closed-door policy discussions during repeated personnel review sessions with five top county managers, including County Counsel Charles McKee. Though one press account reported that the DA had “exonerated” county officials, Chief Assistant DA Terry Spitz said his investigation didn’t answer the question of illegality since he was not provided access to information beyond what the supervisors and county officials told him. The investigation began after information leaked from one of dozens of such performance review sessions showed that the supervisors had spent considerable time secretly discussing Salinas River water rights issues during what was purported to be a performance review of county water manager David Chardavoyne.

“One can’t ask for a clean bill of health while declining to disrobe for the doctor.”

Though some of the confidential personnel sessions were attended by county advisory board members, Spitz said Wednesday they weren’t interviewed because it wasn’t felt they could add anything to the supervisors’ denials of wrongdoing.

Francke wrote that without access to documentation regarding the meetings, “an inquiry requested by the county counsel seems more like a professional courtesy rather than an independent exercise of law enforcement. And the chutzpah of the invitation itself, intending to withhold the central evidence, is a bit breathtaking.  One can’t ask for a clean bill of health while declining to disrobe for the doctor.”

Francke, who has been involved in countless public records cases, opined that no privilege attached to records of the contested meetings and he challenged the authority of an appellate court ruling to the contrary.

“Courts have repeatedly held that in California, privileges to keep information from being disclosed in an official proceeding are found exclusively in the Evidence Code, as codified by the Legislature, not in some appellate decision purporting to interpret the Brown Act.  And the Kleitman case, cited for the existence of such a privilege, is greatly if not entirely undermined by the subsequent passage of Proposition 59 in 2004.  That measure among other things made it a constitutional requirement to interpret limitations on access to meetings and information narrowly, and affirmative access rights broadly.  Thus the notion in (the) Kleitman (case)  that the Brown Act makes direct inquiry into closed session behavior taboo because of privilege, as well as the notion in the other case underpinning the supervisors’ position—that closed sessions for performance evaluation must be broadly interpreted to include not only the quality of the employee’s work but its results and their future direction—stand the constitutional canon of construction on it head.”

Francke noted that the supervisors had selectively wielded privilege, which often can amount to a waiver of any privilege.

“They could have stood their ground, citing Kleitman, and refused to submit to the DA’s interviews. Instead they cooperated in that unsworn process, but then relied on the Kleitman shield from disclosure to withhold the most telling evidence of what they had said and done in the closed sessions: their own contemporaneous records.”

The attorney was so struck by the county’s position that he sent along an excerpt from the book Catch-22.

 Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

“‘That’s some catch, that Catch-22,'” he observed.

“‘It’s the best there is,'” Doc Daneeka agreed.

 

Francke’s official biography:

Since 1980 Terry Francke has been helping journalists, citizens and public officials understand and use their First Amendment, open government and public information rights.

Francke and his daughter, Emily, founded Californians Aware in the spring of 2004. The idea setting this nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest norganization apart is that working with public-spirited citizens, journalists and government officials and employees at the same time can effect a change in the overall landscape, and improve the public trust while also making openness more convenient for those at the gates.

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Francke previously served 14 years as executve director and general counsel for the California First Amendment Coalition, after a 10-year post as legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

Over all these periods Francke has fielded tens of thousands of phoned and e-mailed queries on press and citizen rights; written the most widely used guidebooks to the law governing open meetings, open courts and public records in California; served as an advisory panel member to the National Center on Courts and the Media; taught journalism law at the Department of Communication at Stanford University; and served as an expert contributor to the 1994 major revisions to the Ralph M. Brown Act and Propositioin 59 of 2004, making open government a basic right of citizens under the California Constitution.

Francke is a 1967 graduate of the University of Notre Dame and a 1979 graduate of McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific. Prior to his legal career, Francke worked as a weekly newspaper editor and in military and local government public affairs positions.

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 UnknownI made two calls Wednesday to Terry Spitz, the longtime chief assistant district attorney for Monterey County.

The first was to wish him well in his retirement, which begins this week, and to thank him for always having been so professional and pleasant in his many dealings with the local press. Believe it or not, all public officials aren’t always such a pleasure to deal with. Spitz also has a tremendous legal mind, making him a great resource to everyone in the courthouse.

Then I read news accounts of the DA’s Office ending its investigation into allegations that the county Board of Supervisors had systematically violated the state’s open meetings law by repeatedly conducting policy discussions with top county managers in closed-door meetings disguised as confidential performance reviews.

A news release from the DA’s Office on Tuesday had announced that the investigation had concluded without uncovering any evidence of wrongdoing. It mentioned that the DA’s Office had interviewed the five county supervisors and the county managers who had undergone those performance reviews. Among the managers  interviewed, of course, was County Counsel Charles McKee, who had given the supervisors the go-ahead to hold such meetings in the first place.

None of those county officials believed any laws had been broken, the news release said. We’ll have to assume that McKee didn’t break from the pack.

Here’s why I called Spitz the second time. He was in charge of the investigation, and the release didn’t mention anything about others who were at those meetings. At least one member of the board of the county’s Water Resources Agency attended at least one of the review sessions with David Chardavoyne, chief executive of that agency. At least one member of the county’s advisory board on Natividad Medical Center attended one or more performance review sessions involving the supervisors and Harry Weis, chief executive of the county hospital.

One of those sessions with Chardavoyne was the Nov. 5, 2013, meeting that led to allegations that the supervisors were breaking the rules. A powerpoint presentation for that meeting later leaked out and seemed to show that the supes and Chardavoyne had held a lengthy discussion of major policy changes involving Salinas River water rights. Farm interests were surprised, and not pleased, to hear about that secret discussion. Private personnel evaluations are supposed to be about performance. Public policy issues are supposed to be held in public.

So what did members of the Water Resources Agency board and the Natividad board have to say about what went on in those closed-door meetings?

Who knows.

They weren’t interviewed, Spitz told me Wednesday.

How come, I asked.

Because, he explained, the supervisors and the managers had all been questioned and each had the same account: The meetings had stayed within legal bounds.

“Why didn’t you question the other board members?” I asked.

“We didn’t see the need,” he replied.

I do not enjoy arguing with Spitz. I really don’t, and I suspect the decision to let it go at that was not his. But what this amounts to is interviewing the suspects and their underlings without talking to independent witnesses who were, A., not being asked to incriminate themselves and, B., not being asked to potentially tattle on their bosses.

Spitz said the confidentiality that attaches to personnel reviews prevented his office from reviewing records from the suspect meetings, and he wasn’t sure how many people other than the supervisors were present at the meetings in question, dozens of meetings over the course of the year.

Spitz told the Monterey Herald on Tuesday that his investigation could be revived if additional information becomes available. He also said that while there is no real evidence of wrongdoing, the “political question” of whether the supervisors broke the law has not been answered. I won’t argue with that though I do expect to hear some in the county, such as McKee, declare that they have been exonerated.

Fortunately for those who are concerned about public policy and the various ways politicians keep the public out of the loop, litigation over the meetings continues. The Save Our Peninsula Committee goes to trial against the county in August. Here’s hoping the judge doesn’t restrict testimony to the suspects.

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