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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Damage Control

In the spring of this year, a member of this community made a public records request for emails from the city council about the police and other peripheral issues. Not enough citizens recognize that written and electronic correspondence using public email accounts is public record and not private domain. At times these emails are very revealing because the public officials themselves are less guarded about their pretenses.

We have all by now seen the public response of the Davis City Council to many of the charges from the community of police misconduct. But it is rather telling the response that one particular member had the night when Jamal Buzayan, on June 14, 2005, went before council and told them about his daughter's arrest the night before.

Don Saylor emailed Police Chief Jim Hyde and City Manager Jim Antonen. Like most of us he wanted to know if it was true and why the arrest couldn't have waited until morning. But even within that context his overriding concern was damage control and not compassion or alarm.

He writes, "This is a flash point issue. The recent highly publicized arrests in Lodi have added to the already strong watchfulness and concern among the Davis Muslim community. I am concerned that we do not have a rift develop here. Perhaps it would be a good idea for Chief Hyde to make some contacts with Islamic leaders as well as the family to assure relationships do not crumble. Hamza el-Nakhal is a member of the Human Relations Commission and I know he would be willing to meet and discuss. I also know from past and ongoing contacts with the Muslim Community in Davis that the father who appeared in Council meeting is a prominent member of the Islamic center and well known to Hamza and others at the Center. I am happy to participate as needed and desired. But my real concern is that Chief Hyde be aware of this and do some outreach while this is still sparking and not yet a conflagration."

Hamza el-Nakhal was initially instrumental in trying to sooth over relations with the Buzayans. He worked hard behind the scenes and tried to convince Jamal Buzayan to take an arrangement of diversion--whereby his daughter would essentially admit guilt, do some form of community service and take some classes, and then have the incident stricken from the record. Eventually el-Nakhal's efforts were not successful. The Buzayans were determined to fight the charges. They hired top-notch attorneys to represent them.

Hamza el-Nakhal in the end believed he was misled. On April 14, 2006, he sent an email to Pat Snyder: "I am deeply disappointed with the law enforcement as more facts about the Bozayan (sic) case come out. Earlier, based on the information that I received, I requested Chief Jim Hyde and Deputy District Attorney Patricia Fong to drop the case. I was told the evidence is solid. However, in fact the evidence shows that this case, at best, was investigated and prosectued very poorly and at worst, there was clear discrimination."

The statement that was read at City Council by his daughter was even more pointed: "Today we come to you and ask that you look deeply into the police department. The facts revealed during the Buzayan case must not go without notice. The evidence clearly shows at best it was an extremely poorly investigated case and at worst it was a case of major discrimination, violation of civil rights, and misconduct by a police officer. It is hard to believe that something like this would take place in the 21st century in Davis, CA. This is very troubling for our community. It is even more troubling that such a police officer would be awarded and recognized as Police Officer of the Year. This action in itself speaks louder than anything that can be said. The defendant’s formal complaint against the police department was investigated by the Davis Police Department and determined to be unfounded. Based on the current facts I have serious questions about the professionalism of the police officer who investigated the original case and the defendant’s complaint. In fact, this episode casts doubt about the investigative process used for all of the unfounded complaints about the Davis Police Department on file. Originally I thought we could give the chance to the plan that former city manager Jim Antonen has had. This plan did not help us identify the injustice in the Buzayan case. The Buzayan case development makes me wonder about the purpose of the current review process and the effectiveness of the Community Advisory Board. For all of these reasons I did not attend the advisory board meeting in April as I did not want to be part of the cover up. The Buzayan family went to excruciating pain and expenses fighting their case. Because of them, our community will be better. They deserve an apology and recognition for standing up against the injustice. No one should go through what they have to go through"

While we see a clear transformation in the viewpoint of Hamza el-Nakhal, Don Saylor remains adament to the end. From the dais in April, he read a long and excuriating statement. "
This matter has been disturbing for many reasons. One of the most disturbing aspects of the situation is the one-sided publicity given to a matter that should have remained confidential for the reason of protection of the juvenile involved. Another disturbing aspect of the irresponsible treatment of this case by some in the media is that the facts of the interactions between the Davis Police Department and between the juvenile and her family have been misrepresented to the point of comic book caricature."

The implication of Saylor's statements were quite clear. His initial response was that of damage control. The agent he brought in to achieve that damage control became increasing concern that he was part of a "cover-up." The end, Saylor was able to achieve his damage control through the illegal release of selective tapes of the case and the one-sided commentary of the Davis Enterprise and its columnist Bob Dunning.

The family has now filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court in Sacramento. With the criminal charges now dropped at the order of the judge, the family will get its day in court.

---Doug Paul Davis Reporting