OXNARD, CALIF. — Citing confidential personnel records, police officials declined to release an administrative report that concluded the allegations that some Oxnard police officers earn and put on so-called “shooting tattoos” after they have been involved in shootings are unfounded.
American Justice Notebook requested a copy of the report last week from Police Chief Jeri Williams who said she would release it after information such as names was redacted from the report.
Monday, however, police officials had changed their minds.
American Justice received an email from Oxnard Police Records Manager Sylvia Paniagua stating that a copy of the “tattoo investigation report” would not be released.
“The report requested is a confidential peace officer personnel record” and therefore, exempt from public disclosure, Paniagua stated.
“Accordingly, no records can be provided in response to your request,” she said.
Noting that the person denying the request is Professional Standards Commander Randy Latimer.
Attorney Peter Scheer who is the executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, said the report appears to a public document.
“It looks to me like the police department has to release most of this report under the Public Records Act,” he said an interview.
The First Amendment Coalition is a nonprofit organization based in San Rafael that deals with issues involving free speech, government accountability and other civic matters.
Scheer said Oxnard Police Department is withholding the report because police personnel files are secret and confidential.
“But that won’t wash because they can release the report after redacting and removing the names of officers involved in this investigation,” he said.
Once that is done, Scheer said nobody will be identified in the report, and it will no longer be an issue.
At a time when the “relationship with local communities and the police is fraught with distrust and suspicion,” Scheer said the police department should be bending over backwards to release this investigation.
“Instead of bending over backwards” to find ways to keep the report secret, he said.
In an interview last week, Chief Williams had said she is “very happy” the allegations were unfounded, adding that Oxnard police officers neither “celebrated” nor “commemorated” shootings, including fatal shootings, by putting tattoos on their bodies.
Chief Williams stated that the accused officers cooperated with the investigation.
“The accused officers cooperated with investigators, and provided the investigators with visual confirmation,” she stated.
The investigators noted that none of the officers had tattoos that were consistent with the description provided by American Justice Notebook.
Also City Manager Greg Nyhoff had noted that “It is critical that our police officers have the trust of the community. While I agree with the conclusions of the investigation, I do not condone any symbol or action that could be construed as glorifying the use of force. This is especially important in light of recent tragic incidents around the country. I am pleased that the Police Department took decisive steps to have this matter investigated independently.”
Law Firm and Its Contracts with City of Oxnard
The San Francisco-based law firm of Renne Sloan Holtzman and Sakai,was hired in September by the city of Oxnard to conduct an administrative investigation.
American Justice has learned that since October, Renne Sloan Holtzman and Sakai has signed two consulting agreement with the law firm totaling $650,000.
The first agreement was signed in September 2014 for $400,000 for consulting work. Another agreement was signed in March for consulting services related to human services, according to city of Oxnard documents.
The Department of Justice has stated that it planned to review the report after it was completed.
“At this point, there is no federal investigation into the allegations that were examined in the report,” Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the department in Los Angeles, stated in an email.
The Allegations of “Shooting Tattoo” by Former Officer
A drawing of “Shooting Tattoo” by a former Oxnard police officer was provided last year to American Justice Notebook.
A former Oxnard police officer told American Justice Notebook that smoke can be tattooed to the barrel of the tattoo when the shooting is fatal. He provided the names of nine officers who allegedly have “earned” these tattoos and have put them on their bodies – two are retired and two of the officers are commanders with the Oxnard Police Department.
Two of the officers named were involved in fatal shootings, in 1994 and 2001. He gave the name of the tattoo shop in Port Hueneme where he believed these tattoos were put on officers.
The former Oxnard officer asked that his name not be used for fear of retaliation.
This source said today that he stands by this allegations.
Attorney “Skeptical” About Report
Attorney Ron Bamieh had said he is “skeptical” of these administrative findings. He said he saw two photographs of these shooting tattoos that were on two different Oxnard police officers.
Bamieh is one of the attorneys representing the Ramirez family in their wrongful death lawsuit against Oxnard. Ramirez died while under police custody in June 2012.
Critics and many residents have demanded changes in the police department, including calls to form a police oversight committee along with demanding more accountability of officers involved in the killings of civilians.
March’s fatal shooting of Meagan Hockaday is the latest fatal shooting by Oxnard officers.
Other police slayings are Alfonso Limon Jr and Jose Zepeda in Oct. 13, 2012. Before Limon was killed, Ramirez Jr. died June 2012 under police custody, followed by the slaying of Michael Mahoney in August 2012.
The shooting of Limon resulted in the city of Oxnard having to pay $6.7 million to settle the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Limon’s family which is the largest wrongful death settlement for the city of Oxnard.
Limon was shot between 16 to 21 times by four officers as he lay on the ground, according to the Limon family lawyer Adam Shea. Limon and his brother were walking home when they were fired upon by Oxnard officers looking for a wanted parolee Jose Zepeda who was also killed.
The District Attorney’s Office reviewed the Alfonso Limon shooting and ruled that it was “legally justified and not a criminal act.”
The Limon shooting was captured on video by Oxnard residents.
Criticism for 2001 Shootings in Oxnard
While the $6.7 million settlement of the Limon case is considered the largest amount that Oxnard paid to settle a wrongful death lawsuit, the city paid $1.55 million to the family of 23-year-old Robert Jones, a distraught young artist killed by police while cowering in his bedroom closet, according to a Los Angeles Times report.
In 2001, the Oxnard Police Department came under fire for five fatal shootings in the first eight months of 2001. Jones was one of those fatalities
A 2001 Los Angeles Times analysis stated that Oxnard police have fatally shot more people in the first eight months of 2001 than peace officers in many U.S. states and major American cities kill in an entire year.
Oxnard’s five police homicides this year equal the number reported since January by the Los Angeles Police Department, whose jurisdiction is 22 times larger than the 170,000-resident Ventura County city, the article stated.
Among California’s major cities, spokesmen said homicides by police this year total zero for San Jose, two in San Francisco and six in San Diego. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has recorded eight.
Only 16 states reported more than five police homicides for 1999, the last year for which the FBI reported justified killings by officers. Ten had no fatal shootings by police and seven reported only one.
In contrast to Oxnard, New York City, the nation’s largest municipality, with 8 million residents, reported nine justified police homicides in 1999, according to the FBI.
Republished with author’s permission.