Roundtable: Losing Teachers, Police Review Board, Michael Crowe
May 25, 2012 1:11 p.m.
Guests: Will Carless, Investigative Reporter, VoiceofSanDiego
JW August, Managing Editor, 10News
Mark Sauer, Senior Editor, KPBS News
PENNER: Today is Friday, May 25th, and I'm Gloria Penner. You can join our conversation about teacher layoffs, monitoring the police department, and this week's development in the 1998 Stephanie Crowe murder case. With me at the Roundtable are will car little, reporter at voice of San Diego. Good to see you again.
CARLESS: Always a pleasure.
PENNER: JW August, managing editor of 10 News. JW, I'm delighted you were able to be with us.
AUGUST: Top of the mornin' to ya!
PENNER: And Mark Sauer, senior editor for KPBS news. Welcome back to the studios.
SAUER: Good to be here .
PENNER: The looming prospect of more than 1,500 teachers, counselor, and nurses in San Diego's school district sent shockwaves throughout the city from teachers and parents to the county's laborer council. The numbers mean 20% of teachers will be laid off if the board's decision holds. So Will Carless, what exactly did the board decide? What was their decision?
CARLESS: This was the final -- kind of the final step that the board can do in this whole process. This process started back in March, when they issued a -- I think a record-number of layoff notices. Those notices became kind of final layoff notices on Tuesday, which basically means at this point it's no longer a pink slip, it's no longer a warning. They are going to be laid off in the next few days. They can then be rehired, but it's not a case of canceling them off, it's a case of rehiring all of these teachers.
PENNER: This is scarier than it's been before. We've heard about the pink slips, and they've heard they're rescinded, and not many of them happen.
AUGUST: For years, it felt like they were crying wolf because we go through this every budget hearing, and nothing ever happened. But I don't think they're crying wolf this time.
PENNER: They're not, are they?
CARLESS: I'm certain they're not. Well, there's a lot of criticism and suspicion going around here. A lot of the teachers suspect that the school district has hidden money. The school district doesn't know how much money it's going to have next year. It has projections, but it won't know that until the state comes out with a budget in the summer. Certainly things could change. This number could reduce.
PENNER: And we're going to talk about whether there might be a pot of money that might come in from the taxpayers. But I want to hold off on that one without confusing the issue too much. Mark Sauer, the board voted for this, 4-1. Is there any possibility that the board of education could change its mind?
SAUER: Well, I think changing its mind is all relative to the money. Mathematics is what it is. The arithmetic is there. There may be some revenue coming back. It's always this murky, gauzy process early in the year because you're doing all these projections. But 1 in 5, 20% is a big number. These numbers wee talking about $80 million to $122 million in terms of these gaps. How do you get there? You got to write the checks. So it does seem that this isn't crying wolf again this year. This is really going to happen.
PENNER: Maybe not crying wolf, but it's crying out something because these numbers have to signify something in terms of how the students will be affected. In other words, how will the students feel the cuts?
SAUER: Well, there's a number of ways. Larger class sizes is one. And there was an interesting discussion in the national debate yesterday with Mitt Romney getting sideways with some teachers saying, well, larger classes really doesn't matter. We have bigger classes in the baby boom when I was a kid, and ask any teacher, and they pointed that out to the Republican candidate, ask any teacher, and they'll say, umm, yes, going from 26-28 to 32-35, maybe 40 kids in a class, makes a big difference!
CARLESS: And San Diego unified to its credit has managed to keep class sizes extraordinarily low for the last few year S, despite the state's budget.
PENNER: You keep them low by not firing teachers.
CARLESS: Exactly. They've managed to keep the cuts away from the classroom for a long time now. Now everything is coming due.
PENNER: JW, beyond the child in the classroom, how will the community feel the cut, for example, when these kids grow up? If the quality of their education hasn't been what it should have been?
AUGUST: Long-term, it's not a good thing for society. Especially a democratic society where the people growing up don't have a full well-rounded education. It's scary. We can't afford -- this is the most important thing we spend money on, this and our security are the most important things. Most of these dollars are salaries. And that's why there's a direct correlation between the cuts. This is not for building buildings more making new cafeterias. There's a small group, the counselors and nurses, and I just read an interesting survey, I think 100 of them are going to get laid off. California, with all the money we spend on education ranks 48th in the number of support staff for students. I think it's 1 per 845 student, and that is incredible. Out of all the states in the union, we're near the bottom in providing counseling and nursing for schools. And they're going to cut those!
PENNER: What does that mean for the kids? If the counselors and the nurses aren't available to them? If you have, let's say, one counselor for every number of schools.
AUGUST: They're going to have less help, less oversight, fewer chances to have somebody to perhaps see a problem and address it. They're going to be busy.
SAUER: And there's a real inequality issue here. If you're looking at some of the more affluent areas of San Diego, the suburbs in San Diego, those folks are going to be able to, through their foundations, their family structure, they're going to be able to make up for a lot of this, what we're talking about with counselor, support, talking about reading to children in the home, all sorts of things that go into a well-rounded education. It's the marginal folks, where people are working two jobs and taking the bus every day and don't have that kind much or didn't have that guidance themselves, didn't have higher education. They don't have two parents with college degrees or advanced college degrees in many cases. I did a story many years ago interviewing some teachers of kids who really excelled and really did well. And what's the secret? Well, most of the teachers were at Torrey Pines high. They were in La Jolla. And these areas where you have within the family and within the community just a lot more resources.
PENNER: That's Mark Sauer, senior editor at KPBS. So we've talked about the problem. Now let's talk about the solution. Every problem should have a solution. Of and the San Diego imperial county a laborer council held a press conference yesterday to call for an answer to what they say is a teacher layoff crisis. Let's go back to you on this, Will. Is it a crisis?
CARLESS: Oh, absolutely.
PENNER: Is it a crisis?
CARLESS: No question, it's a crisis.
PENNER: What qualifies it as a crisis?
CARLESS: When 1 in 5 teachers are being laid off, that's a crisis in any measure of the word. And going forwards as well, this isn't a one-year thing. This is going to be a big problem next year, a problem the year after. We have a fundamental disconnect between how much money schools have to spend and how much it costs to hire the people who work at the schools.
PENNER: But the laborer council called this press conference. Usually when you call a press conference, you have something you want to announce of the did they announce a solution?
CARLESS: What they allowanced basically is the dynamic here is that the -- there are three basic solutions to getting out of this budget deficit. Of the first is what they do now, which is to lay people off. The second is that magically the school district gets a lot more money from somewhere. Nobody thinks that's going to happen. For few people think that's going to happen at this point. The third solution is that the union comes back and makes some concessions. One of the main reasons that the district --
PENNER: The Teachers' Union.
CARLESS: Yes. The Teachers' Union. The main reason the strict is in this much trouble going forwards, mat juvenile court of the deficit it's facing is it's due to start paying teachers a lot more. It agreed to a big raise in 2010, that raise is now coming due. It has a contract that says if has to pay those raises, and if it pays those raises, then it ends up in all this financial difficulty. So there's -- the solution the people are talking about, are the reason that the laborer council came out yesterday was to say hey, let's get the Teachers' Union and the district in the room together and see if they can figure out a way to not have those raises.
PENNER: That's not a new thing. Other people have called for the district and the union to start negotiating. Bonnie Dumanis is calling for the same thing. She says district officials have to acknowledge that they've made some poor financial decisions and consider reform. So she's reaching out and saying negotiate. But you can't force a union and the district officials to negotiate.
CARLESS: That's what's so interesting about yesterday's announcement. It's the laborer council. It is the most powerful union organization, the most influential union organization in the region. And what they're essentially doing as I put in my story yesterday, what Loretta Gonzalez is doing is laying out a carpet for bill Freeman to go, who's the head of the Teachers' Union, to walk into negotiations. She is giving her tacit endorsement to that process. She's saying hey, if you guys go do this, we'll understand why you're doing it, and from labor's perspective, we understand that it's time to start talking about whether you should be getting these raises and getting paid as much as you are.
SAUER: That was a really -- did you find this as extraordinary as I did?
CARLESS: Absolutely, yeah.
SAUER: It was one of those jaw-dropping stories, because did she go to Freeman and say, hey, we're going to do this?
PENNER: Tell us what Freeman is again.
SAUER: He's the head of the Teachers' Union. The president of the union. And so did she coordinate that or simply say, hey, you're stuck in the sand here, and your stance is just not working?
CARLESS: I honestly don't know the answer to that.
SAUER: Did she sand bag the guy or what?
CARLESS: I haven't managed to talk to him in the last couple days. I doubt he'd tell me either way because of all the politics involved in this.
SAUER: Did that come up at the presser?
CARLESS: I don't think she was. I'm trying to remember back. I don't think anybody asked her that. But certainly I'd be very surprised if there wasn't some behind the scenes communication between at least the CTA, the California teachers association, which is the parent body of the San Diego teachers union in San Diego. Very surprised if they're not getting together and saying -- really what I saw yesterday was the labor council making it easier, paving the way for the Teachers' Union to get into --
PENNER: Excuse me, before we -- we have to end this in a moment. And I want to give our listeners one more chance to get in. JW, is the question so whether reform is going to be imposed by the state or led by the new mayor, or where is reform going to come from? Clearly some reform is needed here.
AUGUST: Absolutely. That's the $64,000 question. And I don't know who's going to do that. I honestly don't know. I do think it's interesting that Lorena Gonzalez did have that press conference yesterday. I think they sense, because the Teachers' Unions have been getting a lot of criticism, because they won't back off. We are not giving up. We are digging in. And I think she sees which way the wind is blowing. And I think the people in this community say, well, enough is enough. We need to sit down and work through this.
PENNER: A lot of people are saying that the answer is new money, new fresh money, Mark. The governor urged a yes vote on his tax --
SAUER: He did. The trouble with that as I understand it, you've got dueling tax propositions here which may cancel one another out. And they haven't had great success getting people to pony up. There is the tax the rich move in California, and that's what this is trending toward. We'll see what happens in that vote. Has anyone seen a poll on that?
PENNER: I'm going to give Will the last word on this. And the last word is where is this going to end up? I personally from all this discussion have not seen a clear direction on what we can expect except maybe there's some behind closed doors discussions going on.
CARLESS: The tax question quickly, even if those taxes pass, it doesn't solve the problem. You mentioned an $8 million to $122 million figure for the deficit. It's $80 million even if the taxes pas. Where is this going to end up? I wouldn't be surprised if at some point the union is going to sit down and come to some sort of agreement on concessions. I think that going forwards, if the union comes out of this whole mess, unfair fairly, I think it's going to be branded as having largely ruined or spoiled education for a lot of kids.
PENNER: That's not going to say much for any candidates for mayor who are running with union support, does it?
CARLESS: Yeah, I believe the mayor keeps coming into this, and I think honestly the mayor's race, are and the education debate is largely a sideshow. The mayor can do nothing as things stand about education.
PENNER: Thank you very much for your report, and gentlemen thank you for the discussion.
PENNER: This week some strong words from the San Diego grand 04 strongly criticizing the citizens' board that evaluates San Diego police practices. And in turn, the review board lashed back, calling the grand jury report severely limited and accusatory rather than factual. JW August from 10 News, what was the grand jury investigating about the review board?
AUGUST: The effectiveness of the review board. The review board is supposed to provide a citizen oversight of actions by the police department, and this involves reviewing internal affairs police department reports in a setting that allows the citizens to review them without any prejudice or pressure. But the problem is, of course, as the grand jury report stated, and as our investigative story said in February, there is a lot of pressure on the 23-member board.
PENNER: Where's it coming from?
AUGUST: There's multiple problems. What isn't mentioned in the report is the city attorney had a representative on the board who had two real task, and that is the guy that made sure everything they did was legal, and second I think to prevent the city from being sued for police misconduct. So a lot of times, very sensitive things or things that would be embarrassing or expensive to the city was not heard by the board. Or the discussion was controlled in such a manner that this information wasn't provided to the board members. Secondly, internal affairs, which was told they could go into one closed-door session.
AUGUST: That's the police watchdog within the police agency.
PENNER: It works for the police department.
SAUER: Cops policing cops.
AUGUST: And they are supposed to take the report regarding the incident and provide it to the board. They were actually attending the closed-door sessions, and they had been told they could do it one time by the city attorney. A visit there. But that visit became an ongoing appearance of these IA guys, and of course they're going to protect the police interests. That's what they do! They're cops! But the problem is, it made the board a failure.
PENNER: But Mark, the report talked about an atmosphere of prejudice and fear and intimidation. Now, that sounds pretty fierce. What could possibly be going on that deserves those kinds of descriptions from the professionals that we expect to protect us?
SAUER: Right. Well, it all goes to the idea of independence. The key word in the title of that is inspect review board here. We all work somewhere and have bosses. You can imagine how freely you can talk with a confidant at work, and how that conversation changes when the boss is sitting there. Imagine that analogy where you've got internal affairs woks in there, other cops who can go out and tell police who may be being discussed there, incidents that are discussed, wrongdoing, we've certainly had our share here in the last few years in San Diego, up to a dozen cases, some of them criminal in nature involving police officers directly. And how chilling that conversation gets when you're not independent. Well, you can't speak freely as an independent citizen watchdog group because the cops are sitting there on your shoulder.
PENNER: But the report, Will, it suggests intimidation by the internal affairs department. This is the internal affairs that's supposed to be investigating the police. What weapon could internal affairs hold over the citizens' review board?
CARLESS: Presumably it means intimidation by the fear fact that these guys are in the room. I think that's kind of layer one of intimidation. Why on earth are they there to begin with? Layer two intimidation in the terms that they're limiting what they can talk about, limiting the scope of what comes out of those discussions. It's just a really sad report to read this.
AUGUST: And it's frightening.
PENNER: Yeah, sad is one thing. I think it's beyond sad.
AUGUST: What got us going on, I talked to members in the minority community, and they said the lord is a laughing stock in the minority community. They know they cannot get justice going to that board.
PENNER: The is the citizens review board.
AUGUST: Absolutely. And that's what got us launched. And I lady that was on the board, never reappointed, very sharp lady who was an attorney and she knows what the ground rules are, and she began pointing out things to the board and did not get reappointed to the board.
PENNER: Doesn't this have something to say with who sits on the board? If you have strong personalities --
AUGUST: There was definitely a clique on the board. They would pick people, it was self-contained.
PENNER: Wait a minute, the board picks its own members?
AUGUST: You got it. That's one of the big weaknesses with the whole system.
CARLESS: My first run-in with these guy was a few years ago, when I had this series of reports about the police chief fudging statistics when I was going up in front of the City Council. He was saying crime has gone down over the last year, and actually crime had gone up. And I called these guys I said, hey, you're -- you're supposed to be overseeing the police. What do you think about this? And their response was oh, we don't have any comment on that. And it's, like, well, you guys are supposed to be the citizens' oversight board!
SAUER: So much for checks and balances.
CARLESS: Right! What else are you doing if you're not going to respond about the police chief fudging statistics?
PENNER: You've got several things going on here, Mark, obviously. How the citizens' review board is selected. Apparently people on the board select other people to be on the board, right?
PENNER: And the other is this relationship between the citizens' review board and internal affairs. Who has power? Is it internal affairs has more power than the citizens review board?
SAUER: If you're politicians taking heat or officials running the police department, the ideal situation is to have, hey, we've got a review board in place! These focus are taking complaints. And that's called wind dressing. And that's what we're getting at here. These are people who -- we're going to appoint people who are going to do things a certain why, where they're not going to be fiercely independent, they're not going to be asking the hard question, not insist that other cops get out of the room so we can do our independent business. So you've got the best of all worlds. If you really don't want a review board with teeth, yeah, we can say the group is here, they meet every Tuesday, and here we are, when in fact they are toothless. And in certain parts of the community that need relief from these kinds of questionable police practices, that was the case. They thought they were a lap dog.
PENNER: What about the parts of the community that would stand to benefit from an effective --
AUGUST: It's not just the community. It's police officers too. If a cop is wrongly accused by his bosses, the board hears this. And if somebody in the administration higher up doesn't like a particular street cop, that street cop is not going to get a fair deal. So this worked two ways. It wasn't just citizens getting the you know what. It was also cops who might have ticked off upper management in the San Diego police department, and they made sure there wouldn't be any problems with that. And also the citizen review board as a group are good people. They work hard. It's volunteer, it takes a year to get on the board. You have to go through special training. But you've got people on there for seven, eight years that have formed a clique that have a very strong, pro-police stance on issue, and they guide the others. And our sources were people on the board who talked to us, and also talked to the grand jury. And they told us if you brought up issues in the meeting, they would mock you, you would never be allowed to speak at length, you'd be cut off. The city attorney would do it or --
PENNER: The city attorney would do it?
AUGUST: Not the city attorney, the city attorney's representative. She was a big problem with this board. There was only way to do it, it was her way, and she stifled a lot of the debate. She's gone now, and the city attorney says it's because of regular rotation through the position. But that's not a coincidence. They got rid of her soon after this.
PENNER: Will, you're making your head, and then Mark.
CARLESS: One of the things that's so extraordinary, police officers are held accountable essentially by their bosses, then we have two outside mechanisms, the District Attorney who comes in and investigates, you know, any time there's a shooting, and the District Attorney works every single day with the police department. I think there's an inherent conflict of interest in this process. Now we have this other supposedly independent process that also seems to have this inherent conflict of interest in it. I think that -- I honestly think the leaders of this city need to shake this up, figure something out, and make sure there actually is some accountability.
PENNER: Like the education leaders need to figure out how to retain teachers. There's a lot of stuff that's left out that needs to be done.
SAUER: The point I was going to make is for most folks, police officers, you see the cars going around, make the biggest concern is if you're speeding through the neighborhood, but you can't overstate in certain parts of the city how important a police officer can be in someone's life. They have the real, direct power in our society to relieve people of their liberty. And if they are not acting within the law, as I said earlier, these folks are directly involved. And to not have a citizens review board that is there and independent and a powerful independent voice on their behalf is really a serious thing to a minority number of folks in our community.
AUGUST: And there is a solution for this because there's something called the national association for civilian oversight of law enforcement. They are a national organization, they have certain guidelines, they're having their national conference in San Diego in July. And they had -- I have from multiple sources, during their board meeting considering in July, they didn't think they'd want to come here because of the reputation for the San Diego citizens review board. It's seen as heavily favoring to the police department, which is not the purpose of these organizations. And the national organization had issues with them.
SAUER: Is there an accreditation deal? Do they have some power?
AUGUST: They have four or five recommendations. And what the grand jury said made sense. Have an independent board look into people coming on the board, have the mayor have stronger oversight of the board. There's multiple suggestions the grand sure made that could make a difference.
PENNER: This is not a new story. It's been going on for years. We've been through this before. And what happens now to the recommendations of the grand jury? You came up with some really interesting recommendations. What happens to those?
AUGUST: Let's hope they react. They've already started moving things around. They dumped that city attorney, and they're training her replacement now. Of the lady they dumped is training the lady that's going to replace her.
SAUER: Didn't we see a little walkback here with the report itself?
AUGUST: Oh, they're very angry. And they're very well-meaning, and a lot of the people do a great job. But for instance they said they didn't talk to any of the leaders on the board, well, no, you're not going to go talk to the bosses when the employees are unhappy. I know for a fact they talked to multiple people that sit on the board, active and past, and that they --
SAUER: They being the grand jury?
AUGUST: Yes, they did talk to these people, and they cannot discuss it because they only told me they're going to you can to them because I've been interviewing them. I don't know details.
CARLESS: Can they reform themselves?
AUGUST: No. You can't -- you cannot do that. I don't think you could reform yourself.
CARLESS: So who makes that decision? Is this like a city ordinance? Is it the mayor?
AUGUST: It's the mayor. And the chief of police has to step up and say, hey, IA, stay out of their business.
PENNER: Let's understand. We didn't really clarify. How many people are on this board?
AUGUST: 23 or 27.
PENNER: Are they all appointed by the mayor?
AUGUST: Yeah, it has to pass through the recommendation of the board though. They could run Saddam Hussein out of the board and tell the mayor it's okay.
CARLESS: Not anymore.
[ LAUGHTER ]
PENNER: This goes back to something you and I discussed, Will, does it or does it not all go back to the mayor? And once again, we are facing an election time.
CARLESS: Right? Let's ask everybody.
PENNER: And if it is the mayor that is responsible for the final approval on the 23 people of the --
AUGUST: Well, the management is being criticized, and the clique on the board is being criticized.
CARLESS: I think this becomes a mayoral race issue. I think we need to start asking the candidates for mayor, this is it clearly a problem, it's been a problem for a long time. What are you going to do about it? It's going to be interesting to see what Bonnie Dumanis, who works with the police all the time, has to say about that. It's going to be interesting to see what the rest have to say too.
SAUER: And these situations can get extreme. I used to be a reporter in Houston where the federal government comes in and takes over, the police department gets that bad. Every day I was there, there was at least one police officer on trial for a murder. These are serious N. Detroit in 1967, you had a horrible riot, insurrection, and basically the black leaders in that city said we are occupied by a white police army. And Los Angeles, certainly, things can get out of hand with the police department and their relationship with communities. So these boards are vital.
PENNER: And there was a time in San Diego when community policing was the whole idea. Get out and know your community, know your community organizations, talking about the police. Bond with them, and that will make things better. And for a while, it was. Where are we on that, JW?
AUGUST: They pretty much dumped it all. Chief --
SAUER: Norm stamper was the assistant chief, one of the few cops I ever met with a PhD. He went up to Seattle and was chief there, and it was a whole other story. But he brought that in, and the whole cop, the community-oriented policing; get out and know the folks in the community, know the people who are interacting with the police officers all the time, and know what's going on on the street level.
AUGUST: And the whole reason this came about was the Saigon pan incident, which anybody who's been in town a long time knows that involved a street wrestling match between an officer and a black man, and the guy killed the officer. There are still police officers that this story makes their eyes flare up, this incident. Because it was such a troubling and divisive time in our community.
PENNER: What about now other police generally in a good space? Or are there concerns about retaining your job, income loss, the economic problems that are playing all communities?
CARLESS: As far as I understand, community-oriented policing, apart from a different philosophical view from the chief, largely fell apart because of lack of money.
CARLESS: There was this huge attrition problem at the police department. They didn't have enough money to pay cops a decent wage. A problem prevailing throughout the city. Financial crisis, so wage freezes, they're not having academies, the morale was poor.
CARLESS: If you look at the chain of consequences here, you have this huge financial crisis, cops getting paid less, morale problems, then this huge scandal over the last year or so with I think 12 police officers now who have been charged with crimes. I wonder whether we're seeing something that was created in the whole financial mess. The question now is what do we see next?
AUGUST: Or if the citizens review board it done its job, we would have those issues with --
PENNER: Final question. We're going to go onto another topic, which is police-related in a very real sense. And that is is there anything that the community per se, I mean, we've seen the community rise up and respond. Is there anything that the community can do?
AUGUST: Go to your church, tell the pastors to speak up. Where is the minority community on this? This is your chance. You need to speak up. You've got to say something, or it's not going to change. We got to keep the pressure on.
SAUER: And ultimately, it's a political issue. We're running for mayor now. Several candidate, if they stand up and make this an issue, I'm going to get in and reform the police department to this degree, that becomes a I political issue, and you can vote for that candidate.
PENNER: At the Roundtable today, we have KPBS's senior editor, Mark Sauer, from channel 10 News JW August, and also from voice of San Diego we have Will Carless, reporter there. We are going to pick up with a question for you, if you lived in the San Diego area in the late 1990s, I'll bet you know the story of the Escondido teenager, Stephanie Crowe, and her murder. And then the arrest of her brother Michael and two of his friends for the crime. Michael confessed. But his confession was found to have been coerced by Escondido police. And then a transient, Richard Raymond Tuitt was convicted after DNA tests identified the blood on his shirt as Stephanie Crowe's. Wow! Mark, that was dramatic. This story took another turn this week. What happened?
SAUER: What happened was in a very rare hearing, this the 30 years I've been looking at courts and cases in San Diego, it's only the second one I've ever heard, where we have a true finding of factual innocence issued by a judge after several hearings looked at all the evidence. Basically the attorney, Milton Silverman for the Crowe family asked that the judge find Michael Crowe and his two friends not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. And there's plenty of cases where juries don't convict or charges or dropped, but you don't say hey, there wasn't enough evidence, we weren't able to convict. But rarely do you see something of a case like this where factual innocence has been declared.
PENNER: What does that mean?
SAUER: It means they're going to destroy this whole case, this cloud legally that had been following him. Forms, have you ever been arrested? Have you ever spent time in a jail cell? Have you ever been subject of a prosecution? This is all out the window. A judge has declared you are innocent of this crime. You didn't do it. Which is very important. And it's symbolic in a way, obviously the prosecution as you know was dropped. They were going on trial for this crime until this shocking blood revelation. This happened in January of 19 ninety-nine, about a year after Stephanie's murder. They were actually picking a jury in the case against these teenagers when a defense attorney, Marianne Ellen Atridge had insisted that the sweatshirt worn by Richard Tuitt the nights of the killing be tested. Escondido police in their make shift lab, to be generous, tested it, found no blood. They sent it back to a highly reputable lab in the bay area, and it came back with Stephanie's blood. And the respond police at the time, they didn't know what to do. This was a literal bomb shell, put the case in compete turmoil, they couldn't continue the prosecution, yet they wouldn't turn around and arrest and prosecute Mr. Tuitt, and they didn't have to for a while because he was in jail on another burglary charge.
PENNER: Well, you just did a five-minute feature story. Thank you very much!
[ LAUGHTER ]
That case kind of puts the Escondido police at that time in bad light. But was it really a police problem or was it a matter of the technologies?
CARLESS: What I found the most interesting about this is the fact that these children were interrogated overnight to the extent that they're probably sitting there going did I do this? And eventually they confess.
SAUER: And they were lied tos are.
CARLESS: They're told we know incontrovertible that you did this.
SAUER: Your sister's blood is found in your room.
AUGUST: Police are allowed to lie to people.
CARLESS: I don't know if you know the answer to this question. Do we have laws in place that prevent police from doing this sort of interrogation?
SAUER: Yes and no. What we -- you have to understand the difference between an interview and an interrogation. Police are going to interview, if somebody is murdered next door to your house, you're going to be interviewed. If you're interrogated, you are a suspect. The whole point of that interrogation is to get you to confess. And they have to read their rights, which they didn't do to these teenagers, not that it would have mattered. Unless, when you're dealing with mentally impaired people, teenagers, that's when the coerced confessions come back. And this is hooked to I national story, this formation of this database --
PENNER: We're going to get into that. But you're jumping ahead of me.
SAUER: Well, the Crowe case is a perfect example of coerced confessions, which is one of the various ways that people are falsely accused and falsely convicted in this country.
PENNER: Let me go back to something that was said. I think you said it, JW. You said the police are allowed to lie to you. Is that true?
AUGUST: Yes, they can which they're sweating you and -- when they "take you downtown" they can say, we found this, we found that, it's been upheld by the Courts.
PENNER: This DNA evidence was revealed more than 13 years ago. Why has it taken so long for Crowe to be found factually innocent?
SAUER: Well, nobody asked before. They were prosecuting Richard Tuitt in 2004, six years after the murder. He was found guilty. He's in prison now. Of that's another twist to the case that convictions overturn --
AUGUST: And Milton jay Silverman decided I'm going to clear the decks of this, and went after him, and did a good job. And I think --
PENNER: You just helped Mr. Silverman pick up a few more cases.
AUGUST: He's buying me lunch next week.
[ LAUGHTER ]
AUGUST: And the judge was pretty courageous in this too. That's not going to sit well with law enforcement because they don't like to be found wrong.
PENNER: But wasn't it evident even without the judge declaring this -- him factually innocent?
SAUER: Read the comments on the UT site, our site, there's still some folks up there who think these boys are guilty. There's certainly some Escondido cops who do because they can't face the idea that we made a horrible mistake here and got the wrong guy.
CARLESS: Sadly this often comes back to money. The family have already sued --
SAUER: Oh, they've already settled for over $7 million. I think it's close to $9 million.
CARLESS: So there's no question of once you've been found factually innocent, you can get some more money.
PENNER: But Will, what is the importance of this story for the ordinary citizen? I mean, it sounds like a hair-raising story, but what is the importance?
CARLESS: What I came out of this thinking was this is 30 years later --
CARLESS: I'm sorry, 14 years later. And these guys have -- okay. How many people are actually going to read, you know, and understand that there's this case of factual innocence? And how many people have already been tainted? These guys' lives were ruined. There's no question.
SAUER: The Crows live in gone.
CARLESS: The question is should more be -- how much are we clearing these particular people's names? We should be talking about how did we get here in the first place, what went wrong?
PENNER: Let's get back to what you were about to discuss, which was this new national registry of exonerations compiled by the university of Michigan law school.
SAUER: The numbers are shocking, they've got two thousand people who have been freed from prison since 1989, many of them with DNA evidence, but many not. And these were wrongly convicted people. And San Diego has its share. We talked about the Crowe case, the Jim wade case, the dale Akiki case, which was cousined with the McMartin case, and the ritual abuse hoax that came back in this country in the 98 '80s and early '90s. And people were astonished when DNA came along and started proving without a doubt these folks were falsely convicted. We have so many people in prison who have been falsely convicted by our system here. And it's a real eye-opener. I think this database is a terrific thing. It gets back to what you were saying. It gets back to how we can examine these cases and make sure within our power -- these are human beings involved. That we can insure that not only the wrong people not get accused and accused and convicted but that the real killers and rapists aren't still out there.
PENNER: Have any ideas come forth what can be done to prevent still justices?
AUGUST: In Texas, they're still executing them, so I can't answer that.
SAUER: One thing, to the credit of the Escondido police, when you're interrogating suspects, they videotape them. If you hadn't had these tapes that judge suspect so, and the jurors could go over and see, you see Michael Crowe have a mental breakdown on tape. If that weren't taped, you'd have no record of the coercion of these, and many jurisdictions in this country do not videotape. More and more are being forced to videotape by law. Only two states as far as I know, Minnesota and Alaska stale require it by law. But all big cities, this is the best police practices.
PENNER: Did you imply that executions actually do happen because DNA evidence hasn't been used?
AUGUST: Yes, and I think sometimes it's ignored, I think sometimes the system is very slow to react. We have the best criminal justice system in the world, but it's got its flaws and pimples and warts, and it's also ground along so slowly just like this case.
CARLESS: And let's not forget the prosecutors in all of this too. Too often I think in this country, and I think this is largely a product of the fact that we have elected -- prosecutors elected DAs. They need to be pushing strong prosecutions, they need to be doing this. I always found that weird, that you can never prosecute taking on certain types of criminals because they want to appeal to a certain --
AUGUST: A great reputation --
SAUER: Wins and losses become more important than right and wrong.
PENNER: I think you raise this issue before, in terms of whether the Crowe family has gotten anything out of this. And you were talking financial. What redress does a wrongly convicted criminal have to be compensated for the conviction? Not let's say a lawsuit.
CARLESS: Well, presumably, it's primarily financial, right?
PENNER: It is?
CARLESS: They can come back, sue the police department. I mean, we could talk for days about whether or not $10 million is adequate compensation for spending ten years in jail, you know? When you look at all the other ways these people's lives are impacted, their reputations, their prospects for getting a job, quite apart from the time they spent behind bars. To me, this is -- we have a moral imperative to make sure to make sure this doesn't happen. It clearly is still happening.
SAUER: And with the lawsuits, Silverman is a very talented attorney, and he also sued on behalf of Wade and Akiki, they were able to get around the immunity laws. But Ken marsh was another case, he did 19 years for not even a murder, it was an accident. And he couldn't sue.
AUGUST: The big question is, this week, the story breaking on the football player out of USC, accused of rape, and then five years in prison -- Bank, ible his name. And five years in prison, and what do you do about that five years? This kid had the whole world in front of him. A great football player, going to USC. No matter how much money you gave to this young man or will give to that man, what happened to that time? That's such a tragic thing to do to somebody's life. He did nothing wrong. It's just a tragic thing for this young man to have to go through this, just like it's tragic when there's victims out there of crime. It's a 2-way street. There are some tragedies with people going on in prison right now that didn't do the crime.
PENNER: Well, let's at this point take a look at the entire situation and see whether since DNA testing has been introduced, do we know if there are fewer wrongful convictions?
SAUER: I think it's certainly helped. But many cases, DNA evidence doesn't come into play. It's only there if there's the physical evidence, a fluid of blood or semen, etc. This Banks case, it did not come into play. It was a witness who recanted and she said she was raped, and it was a he said, she said. Guy did five years, wrecked his life. It would help in some cases, but in many cases, it's just poor policing, poor investigation, and a DA who's trying to get ahead.
PENNER: Would you say that Escondido was or was not a unique situation?
SAUER: Escondido was a botched investigation from the start. And that was just really poor policing. It's long been said, if that case happened 100 yards to the north, it would have been in the sheriff's jurisdiction and it never would have come about the way it did.
PENNER: This comes back to the previous discussion we were talking about, which is the review on police practices. If there are policemen and women out there who are doing a shoddy job, we need to know about it, and we need to stop is it before they do a shoddy job that ends up in a wrongful conviction. That's why the last two stories we discussed are inextricably linked. You've got to stop this at the source before it becomes a problem.
PENNER: Thank you for with being with us today.
CARLESS: Thank you, Gloria.
PENNER: JW August good to see you, and mark I see you all the time, and it's still good to see you.
SAUER: Always a pleasure.