The Agenda: The cops, the city attorney, Hillary and Bernie ….

... we ask why the police union is celebrating a city attorney filing and whether the Supreme Court vacancy changes the presidential race

When you’re the San Francisco city attorney, you have to defend your client, and sometimes your client is the Police Department, which is getting sued by the family of a young man killed in an inexcusable shooting.

It's going to be hard to argue that this was ok in any court
It’s going to be hard to argue that this was ok in any court

But that doesn’t help the politics of headlines saying that Dennis Herrera found the shooting of Mario Woods to be “lawful.” Neither does the fact that the deputy city attorney handling the case is a former lawyer for the Police Officers Association.

I get it: Herrera has very little choice. He has to find some way to defend the city when its position is, frankly, indefensible.

But you would think the city would be ready to settle, quickly, and keep this out of the courts, where the outcome will only be much, much worse. When someone has a legitimate claim against you, you settle that claim. And this one is pretty clearly legit. Meanwhile, Herrera’s legal filing has already thrilled the POA. Union President Martin Halloran notes:

The conclusions drawn by the City Attorney’s Office are consistent with the position the POA took after the preliminary facts of the investigation became known to us. Since this incident the officers involved, the SFPD as a whole, the Chief, and the POA have been bashed and unjustly vilified by some in City government and by organized groups in San Francisco based on a false narrative and 8 seconds of video. The POA is pleased that the City Attorney is setting the record straight.

Actually, Herrera isn’t “setting the record straight.” He’s making a legal argument, defending the city in a lawsuit, as he is legally required to do. Only a court can “set the record straight,” based on evidence that’s presented.

But it just looks bad.

This case is going to settle. No way Herrera is taking this to trial. And it’s going to cost the taxpayers a lot of money. And I don’t think that number is going to go down as a trial approaches, since the city has essentially zero chance of winning.

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The unexpected death of Antonin Scalia puts the US Senate right in the center of the presidential campaign, and raises some interesting questions. For starters, if the Senate won’t confirm anyone Obama nominates – and that’s what some Republicans are saying – the GOP looks really bad. (Meanwhile, some critical cases the right wing thought the High Court would use to do things like disempower unions aren’t going anywhere.)

The stalemate, which leaves a court divided 4-4, means that on most of the key legal issue of the year, the (very mixed) circuit courts of appeal will get the final word. Neither side likes that.

And it might remind voters that there is more than the presidency on the line in November.

Here’s a thought, out of the history books.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan won the presidency in a landslide, carrying 44 states. His coattails were long: For the first time since 1952, the GOP took over the Senate. Such notable Democrats as George McGovern, Birch Bayh, and Gaylord Nelson lost their seats.

In part as a result of that shock, House Democrats from more moderate districts were afraid to challenge Reagan’s agenda, and despite fierce opposition from Speaker Tip O’Neill, Reagan’s first budget passed the House. Although the Dems still controlled that chamber, the Reagan Revolution was in full swing by 1982.

There are lots of arguments about Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, about pragmatics and ideology, about George McGovern losing to Richard Nixon (although Nixon was far more of a centrist on domestic policy than Reagan, who ran with ideas as far to the right as Sanders is to the left and beat an incumbent moderate president).

We’ll let that go for a moment with this concept. The Dems actually have a chance at reclaiming the Senate. But there’s no way Clinton creates a political movement that forces the Republicans to rethink their politics; no way she is the progressive Reagan who will fundamentally change the direction of the country. Maybe with Sanders there’s a chance.

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But back to the cops.

The chief thinks the solution to the lethal-force problem is Tasers, and all I can imagine is seeing those half-dozen cops in their firing squad circle surrounding Woods, and all of the firing their Tasers at once, and the young man dying of a heart attack. The problem, as we have pointed out before, is that SF cops seem to be able to ignore existing rules and training with impunity; what makes anyone think they would do better with another type of weapon?

Most of San Francisco government seems to be on Ski Week or something – the Board of Supes isn’t meeting, most committees aren’t meeting, the Planning Commission meeting is cancelled – but there are two items of interest at the Police Commission Wed/17.

The chief will explain his plans for “re-engineering the use of force” at the Police Academy. And the panel will discuss the proposal by Sup. Malia Cohen for an automatic review by the Office of Citizen Complaints for all officer-involved shootings.

Oh, and there will be some debate on the issue of why the cops and the mayor aren’t cooperating with the district attorney’s blue-ribbon panel on police shootings. The commission has been asked to provide the blue-ribbon panel all materials that are given to new commissioners; some of those are, apparently, under attorney-client privilege. So the commission has to vote to waive that.

Should be an interesting discussion. 5:30pm, City Hall room 400.

  • M. Montrouge

    “I get it: Herrera has very little choice. He has to find some way to
    defend the city when its position is, frankly, indefensible.”

    Redmond’s not a lawyer, and he clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about. What sort of crime does he thing has been committed exactly? You are basically signing a death warrant when you have a weapon and don’t comply with the police. It doesn’t matter how many bullets were fired or that they don’t know how to deescalate a situation with someone clearly mentally ill. Are those problems? Clearly, but you’d be pretty hard pressed to find a law that was violated in that shooting.

    “The chief thinks the solution to the lethal-force problem is Tasers, and
    all I can imagine is seeing those half-dozen cops in their firing squad
    circle surrounding Woods, and all of the firing their Tasers at once,
    and the young man dying of a heart attack.”

    That’s such a lazy and bad argument. Given the choice of having multiple tasers shot at you or multiple bullets, which do you think would be more lethal? As a matter of practice, cops aim for center of mass by the way. If the point is to reduce the number of officer involved shootings and deaths, it just makes sense to give them an option.

    • jhayes362

      Redmond is right. Herrera can’t make a legal finding because he’s an attorney for the city and is representing the cops in the Woods case. Only a court can make a legal finding. Headlines, reports, and press releases that say otherwise are wrong and probably ignorant of the facts.

      It’s true that bullets are usually more lethal than tasers. But depending the number and power, multiple tasers can be just as lethal.

      Did a mentally disturbed Woods sign his own death warrant? Yes, under the policies and procedures of the SFPD. Would this have been the case everywhere else in the U.S.? I wouldn’t bet on it.

      • playland

        True, Herrera can’t make a legal finding but he has stated his legal opinion and the basic rationale of a defense. So you dismiss him but you accept as “right” what Tim writes when he says that the claim against the city is legitimate and indefensible without offering any rationale? So judges and people you agree with can issue legal findings?

        The police had highly probable cause to believe that Woods had just assaulted someone with a deadly weapon (a witness ID’d him, he was carrying a knife and resisted arrest. And, FWIW, the victim’s blood was on the knife). Beanbags didn’t work, nor did mace (the autopsy showed meth in Wood’s system).

        And yes, while resisting arrest, Woods approached an officer while brandishing a deadly weapon that he had been ordered to drop. The fact that he had been shuffling his steps beforehand means nothing. Have you wrestled a knife away from a meth addict recently?

        The City probably will settle because that is what is typically done in these cases. But the concept that the claim is legitimate and indefensible is not an adult conculsion.

        • MKR

          If ten police officers armed with guns can’t subdue one guy with a knife they really have problems. Shoot him in the foot if you have to but can the cops just inadvertently administer the death penalty at will? If so we live in a much more screwed up society than even I thought

          • Kyle Huey

            Have you ever shot a gun? Reliably shooting a moving target in the foot is simply not possible.

          • MKR

            He wasn’t moving

        • jhayes362

          My point is that Herrera is doing what he is required to do. Our legal system assumes both sides making the strongest case they can. That is what Herrera has done and that is what I expect the attorney for the Woods’ family (Burris) to do as well.

          If the case is as strong as you seem to think it is, Herrera should take it to trial. If it is not, and the case is settled, it won’t make a whit of difference what Herrera or Burris said in the pleadings submitted so far. .

    • Steve Rhodes

      Tim is writing about a lawsuit, not a criminal case. And he is right a settlement is likely.

      Many police use of force cases which were ruled “justified” & no criminal charges were filed have resulted in settlements.

      From 2009 to 2014, San Francisco paid almost $5 million in lawsuits.

      From 1990 to 2014, Oakland paid $74 million in settlements

      http://oaklandpolicebeat.com/2014/04/oakland-spent-74-million-settling-417-police-brutality-lawsuits/

      People are killed by Tasers. At least 47 last year

      http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/05/police-tasers-deaths-the-counted

      And police often don’t follow their department rules for using Tasers

      http://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/miami-cops-misuse-tasers-with-deadly-results-6522644

      • Ringo

        Hmm. There is no criminal case here so the distinction is moot. If it was clear that the cops had committed a crime, and there was no reasonable doubt about that, then there would be charges. So Herrera is correct as far as that goes.

        A civil action is another matter, and of course anyone can sue anyone for anything. Such cases do settle routinely and in fact are often filed merely to try and induce a settlement. Even if the defendants are completely innocent, it can be cheaper, quicker and easier to pay off the plaintiff. Tort abuse is a national pastime in the US.

        Moreover, unlike a regular defendant, any award paid is not ultimately paid by the city. It’s not Hererra’s money and he can afford to throw a million at Burris to make him go away

        If a settlement is made that doesn’t mean the cops did wrong. It merely means that it is cost-effective to avoid the risk of a tainted OJ-style jury finding capriciously and egregiously.

  • MKR

    At least Scalia now knows what it’s like to get the death penalty

  • Ringo

    I would argue that it would be Obama who will look bad if he tries to rush through a nomination when an election is just a few months away. He had already had two bites at the SCOTUS cherry and the decent thing would be to pass the nomination on to the next president.

    And I would say that even if his two previous nominees were not exercizes in identity politics, which of course they were.

    • MKR

      Obama has appointed at least one Republican judge to the federal court in Chicago, possibly more. There are Republican judges who are balanced, moderate, intelligent and reasonable people just as there are DemocrAtic judges who are well qualified and moderate. Not all republicans are like Ted Cruz and the late justice Scalia .

    • Ragazzu

      Are you serious? The Constitution clearly provides that the President nominate Supreme Court justices. And Obama has nearly a year left in his final term.

    • jerzeygirl

      Rushing a nomination with more than 10 months to go in his term? They just don’t take that long – unless Congress refuses to do their jobs. Article 2, section 2 clearly states that the President shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Judges of the Supreme Court . . . In law, shall is mandatory, not an option. Oh and by the way, that nominee of President Obama’s – Judge Kagan? Scalia recommended her.

  • hiker_sf

    Even Ed Lee has called the cops killing of Mario Woods a “firing squad.’

  • Tod1732

    Many are willing to make a long-shot bet on The Bern and vote for him over Hillary. The 17 million poor and working-class people who got health insurance for the first time in their lives under the Affordable Care Act aren’t willing to take that chance.

    Think realistically and vote for Hillary Clinton for president.