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Friday, July 25, 2008

Former Davis Police Chief Finds New Department Subject of Federal Class Action Lawsuit

Police Allegedly Targeting African-American Tenants in Antioch

According to a lawsuit filed by Antioch Community Members and four Bay Area non-profit civil rights organizations, the City of Antioch and its police department are engaged in a concerted campaign of intimidation, harassment and discrimination against citizens, specifically African-American residents, who receive federally funded Section 8 housing rent assistance.

This is the apparent culmination of a long and controversial dispute in Antioch between longer term residents and those who have moved their families to Antioch in search of more affordable housing.

The city of Antioch rejected the lawsuit's claims, arguing that
"any objective review of our city's policing efforts will reveal that these efforts are focused exclusively on criminal and/or dangerous behavior."
However, according to Brad Seligman of the Impact Fund, one of the four groups to file the lawsuit on behalf of community members in Antioch:
“There is no question that the City and its police department are targeting Section 8 families, particularly African American recipients... The Police have a deliberate policy of coercion, intimidation and threats that target these Section 8 families and their landlords. The City’s goal is to force these families to move out of town.”
According to a release from the ACLU:
Plaintiff Alyce Payne moved to Antioch with her children to show her family they could “make it” outside of Oakland and so that her children could attend public schools there. But after her landlord received several letters from the police department, her tenancy was terminated. Ms. Payne relocated her family out of the City.

“Everyone should have the right to live in peace in the community they choose,” said Payne, who testified before the Antioch City Council about the discrimination she encountered from police officers. “We all want to live in a place where our families and our rights are respected.”
The suit alleges among other things that the Antioch Police Deparment:
- Established a special unit in 2006, the Community Action Team (CAT) for the purpose of targeting Section 8 residents, and the unit has directed the majority of its activities at African American families.

- Frequently searches the homes of African American families in the Section 8 program (or those erroneously believed to participate in the program) without their consent and without a warrant in an attempt to gather evidence to be used against Section 8 participants.

- Engages in a pattern of informing neighbors of African-American Section 8 households that the household is receiving Section 8 housing assistance and suggesting that neighbors file nuisance or disturbance reports against the Section 8 household.

- Threatens landlords with letters and visits by suggesting that landlords will be held liable for the activities of Section 8 tenants, and police officers actively encourage landlords to evict Section 8 tenants.

- Attempts to pressure the local Housing Authority in charge of the Section 8 program to terminate the voucher benefits of tenants whom the police department has targeted. Over 70% of these attempts have been directed at African Americans. A majority of these complaints were not sustained by the Housing Authority.
According to the complaint filed, in July of 2006, the City and the Antioch Police Department created a unit called the "Community Action Team" or "CAT" within the department. The CAT has disproportionately focused on Section 8 voucher participants, particularly on those residing in the more affluent neighborhoods of Antioch. "The city and APD [Antioch Police Department] have specifically targeted African-Americans they believe hold Section 8 vouchers."

During this time, former Davis Police Chief Jim Hyde had become Chief of Police for the City of Antioch. While these processes were underway, he was clearly in the position to facilitate the program, and in addition "he is responsible for the administration of APD and the training and supervision of its officers." Furthermore, "Defendant City, APD and Police Chief Hyde are, and at all times material to this complaint were, responsible for the employment, training, supervision, and discipline" of three named officers.

Former Davis Police Chief Jim Hyde remains the subject of another federal lawsuit, this one stemming from the 2005 arrest of then-16 year old Halema Buzayan stemming from a disputed hit-and-run accident in a Safeway parking lot and allegations of unlawful arrest, poor police procedures, and violations of Miranda Rights. A judge in April of 2006 dismissed the charges against Ms. Buzayan. The Buzayan federal lawsuit is moving slowly through the court process, having survived efforts from multiple defendants to drop the complaint.

When Police Chief Jim Hyde resigned from the city of Davis, the city was rife with turmoil and complaints against the police department. The Buzayan case was the most publicized and notable. However, in February of 2006, a large number of African-American students and faculty, came before the Davis City Council to complain about racial profiling. In May of the same year, several hundred mostly African-American students marched from the Memorial Union on campus to the Davis Police Department.

While it was the efforts of the Human Relations Commission and my wife Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald, in pushing for police oversight and reform, that earned widespread media attention and criticism by many suggesting they had gone too far in their demands, it was the anger of these separate groups that contributed to an overall sense that the police department under Jim Hyde's leadership was under siege.

In June, following the 2006 elections, Jim Hyde abruptly resigned from his position at the Davis Police Department to take the same position for more pay in the City of Antioch.

As he left, he threw more fuel on the fire, blaming my wife, Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald, and the HRC.
"In my 27 years of government service, 10 years of clinical psychology and 16 years of working with nonprofit organizations, the HRC is the most dysfunctional and incestuous group I have ever witnessed. I hope that (the) City Council will correct this community problem."
The Davis City Council would act quickly before newly elected Councilmember Lamar Heystek, a strong ally of the HRC and supporter of reform, could be seated. On June 26, 2006, the Davis City Council voted by a 4-1 margin to disband the Human Relations Commission.

To be very honest, this blog would likely not exist had it not been for the events in the Spring of 2006 and the actions by Chief Jim Hyde that led the HRC being disbanded.

Even two years later on the campaign trail, I ran into a number of individuals who still hold anger for the fact that Chief Jim Hyde was perceived to have been run off by Cecilia and the HRC.

And yet at the same time, it seems to me that Chief Jim Hyde was a huge precipitator of both the underlying problems in the Davis Police Department as well as an instigator to many of the tensions that arose in the Spring of 2006. When he left, overnight, tension plummeted. Even more than the hiring of a police ombudsman, the hiring of Chief Landy Black in the spring of 2007 served to cut down on the public complaints. I am not suggesting that things are perfect, I still think things could be better, but we have also not had public marches in the streets the last two years. We have not had hundreds of young African-American students coming into city council complaining about police tactics. In my dealings with Chief Black, he has always been willing to listen and has been completely professional, even on those occasions when we have disagreed.

As Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald said to Davis Enterprise reporter Claire St. John during her run for City Council in a Davis Enterprise article:
"I think we all learned from that process," she said. "How communications, situations, can be improved. It's those experiences that make us better people."

Escamilla-Greenwald said the things that came of that time have improved the city. The City Council, although it rejected an independent police oversight commission, did appoint a police advisory commission and hired an ombudsman. The new police chief, Landy Black, is a good fit for the city, Escamilla-Greenwald said.

"We have a new chief of police who is doing a great job as far as I've seen," she said. "I've met with him, I did a ride-along with the police, that was an eye-opener. People are happy, from what I hear. There's now a process in place."
While the situation in Antioch may be somewhat different from that in Davis, the basic scenario seems to follow a similar pattern. The police are alleged to take an overly broad approach to law enforcement. It is unclear the extent to which Section 8 Voucher recipients are being perceived to be causing problems or if they are actually causing those problems. But irrespective of that point, the response by the police in Antioch seems to be to allegedly harass all African-Americans, regardless of their Section 8 status. This is the heart of the racial-profiling allegation.

What we see then is a pattern of behavior not only in terms of police profiling, or perceptions thereof, but in terms of the handling of the matter.

Throughout the Buzayan case, a more honest and forthright approach really could have avoided many of the lawsuits and legal remedies that ultimately resulted.

The acrimony between the police and the HRC did not necessarily have to result from events.

As Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald wrote in 2006 in response to Jim Hyde's parting words:
"After many months of hearing from members of the public, last summer we met with the police chief over concerns about the growing number of complaints about police misconduct. These meetings and interactions quickly turned adversarial as the police chief became defensive. Instead of engaging in public dialogue over these very serious issues, Chief Hyde retreated--he cut off communications with the HRC, he pulled his liaisons to the commission, and began a concerted public campaign to discredit the efforts of the HRC to reach common ground on reforms that could be done within the department."
"The Human Relations Commission, after hearing repeated accounts from credible citizens in our community, recommended the formation of a Citizen's Review Board of the police department. The Police Chief reacted negatively and with attacks upon the HRC as well myself and members of the community for even suggesting such a body. Once again, Chief Hyde reacted defensively and inappropriately instead of working with the community to resolve these problems."
The situation could have been diffused, perhaps by both sides. The City Council could have approached this by simply acknowledging a potential problem but suggesting that the civilian oversight board would be problematic in Davis. Instead the city endured attacks and allegations and heated rhetoric. No doubt everyone involved could have handled things better.

But we what see now is a pattern. That pattern has repeated itself in Antioch, far away from Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald, the HRC or even the Vanguard.

At the same time, the response from the Antioch City Council is eerily similar to that in Davis.

Former Councilmember Ted Puntillo at the time of Hyde resignation called Hyde
"a very talented and probably one of the best chiefs that we could ever hope to have."
On Wednesday, the Contra Costa Times reports similar comments from the Mayor of Antioch as well as City Councilmembers.

On Tuesday, the Antioch City Council approved a nearly $17,000 per year raise for the Police Chief.

Antioch Mayor Donald Freitas:
"The salary increase has more to do with salary compaction but it also reflects an endorsement of Chief Hyde and the outstanding job he's doing. He has performed exemplary in the last two years, and has moved the department into the 21st century with the use of new technology. He's well-respected by the men and women under his command, as well as the community."
Councilmember Arne Simonsen:
"I'm sure there are other cities that would like a police chief like Jim Hyde... but I think the majority of people in Antioch would like him to stay."
I think the Davis Police Department is far better without Chief Jim Hyde here. Much work remains to be done, but so far, Landy Black's tenure as Police Chief has gone off without major incident. The city has been relatively calm since the departure of Jim Hyde. That and subsequent law suits in Antioch simply cannot be mere coincidence.

The Vanguard will continue to monitor the situation in Antioch and in the coming weeks, we will be speaking with some of the attorneys involved in the lawsuit down there and also possibly updating the public on the ongoing Buzayan Federal Lawsuit that is currently working its way through the Federal Court in Sacramento.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting