On the evening of June 3 the Fullerton City Council heard a report from Police Chief Dan Hughes about the arrest of live-streaming “citizen journalist” A.J. Redkey the previous month. Council member Bruce Whitaker, seconded by Mayor Pro Tem Greg Sebourn, had asked for the item to appear on the agenda in response to public questions about the expense and purpose of sending six officers to Pasadena to arrest Mr. Redkey for a non-violent misdemeanor in May. The Chief reported that the actions of his officers were in line with other arrests. He also insisted that the department did not target for arrest those who video record their actions, saying “We could care less if they’re live-streaming.”
The scheduled report afforded the Chief a chance to quote statistics about arrests, and to offer a narrative meant to establish the rationale for the department’s forceful response to the January 18 protest, but left unanswered questions.
Never did the Chief address repeated and virtually identical allegations made by two other “citizen journalists” that his officers had uttered threats and gloating remarks to arrestees locked up in a police vehicle following the January 18 protest in front of the department headquarters. Both claimed that an officer opened a police vehicle door and said the words “Not Guilty” to them and others arrested for allegedly failing to disperse from the protest. The officer’s words would have been a reference to the jury decision not to convict former Fullerton officers Manual Ramos and Jay Cincinelli in the death of transient Kelly Thomas that prompted the protest. Even more disturbing was the claim that another officer later told those arrested that they would be sent to Santa Ana, where twelve OC Sheriff deputies were waiting to “beat their fucking faces in.” Chief Dan Hughes ought to be prepared to offer a report about these allegations of outrageous behavior by his officers at the soonest possible opportunity.
In the end, we were left with platitudes of support for the FPD by the reliably compliant council majority of Mayor Doug Chaffee and Council members Jan Flory and Jennifer Fitzgerald, and a dissatisfied crowd of audience members unconvinced by the Chief’s assurances that they themselves were not the targets of police harassment. This uncomfortable impasse needn’t persist. The establishment of a fully independent Fullerton Police Commission could offer substantive responses to unanswered questions and, at least partially, resolve the constant state of mistrust on the part of some community members and the FPD. A rightfully empowered commission could offer a more independent and comprehensive response to public complaints.
It will be instructive to learn what, if anything, the Office of Independent Review, who have been tasked with periodically assessing the Fullerton’s Police Department’s performance, has to say about the entire affair. In the meantime, a functioning civilian Police Commission could have been conducting its own investigation. How many raucous evenings of complaints against the FPD is the Fullerton City Council willing to endure before it will even consider establishing such a commission for the public’s peace of mind?