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Roundtable Looks At How The Police Deal With Parole, Transparency, Mental Illness

Roundtable Looks At How The Police Deal with Parole

Cecena Parole, SDPD Transparency, Confronting The Mentally Ill


Mark Sauer


Dana Littlefield, reporter, San Diego Union-Tribune

Liam Dillon, reporter, Voice of San Diego

Kelly Davis, freelance criminal justice reporter


To parole or not to parole?

In 1978, Jesus Cecena, a one-time gang member, was convicted of killing San Diego Police Department Officer Archie Buggs. Cecena was 17.

Before the passage of SB260, which makes it easier to parole inmates who committed crimes as juveniles, Cecena had several unsuccessful parole hearings. He was recommended for parole under the new law in April, 2014, but Gov. Jerry Brown rejected the recommendation.

Cecena is now 54, and his hearing on Aug. 28 will be personally attended by San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who opposes his release, as does SDPD Chief of Police Shelley Zimmerman. Both Dumanis and the governor have said that Cecena’s refusal to admit firing the final shot that killed Buggs means he has yet to take full responsibility for the killing and is not ready to be released. His accomplice, Jose Arteaga, is due for his own parole hearing in the coming months.

California Proposition 47 was passed by voters in 2014 to ease prison overcrowding by reducing some sentences and and providing treatment options instead. San Diego DA Bonnie Dumanis opposed the proposition at the time. After it passed she said it did not apply to juveniles. This month a panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said the law entitled juveniles and adults to reduced sentences.

SDPD — not so transparent

Zimmerman has been chief of SDPD for 18 months. In that time she has proven to be very good at not sharing.

Zimmerman has kept information on some important issues, including police-involved shootings, from the public. A recent instance concerns an April 2015 fatal police shooting of an unarmed man. The incident was captured on a building’s security camera. The city says the shooting was justified but refused to release the video until a court ordered it given to the victim’s family. Voice of San Diego, KPBS, 10News and the Union-Tribune have sued to get the video unsealed.

Other transparency issues have arisen recently. Zimmerman also refused to confirm that the department had cleared Carl DeMaio of sexual misconduct, defying the mayor’s pledge regarding records of city business.

She has indicated the SDPD would not disclose footage from officers' body cameras.

Finally, in March of this year the U.S. Department of Justice issued a scathing report on the SDPD's method of identifying and monitoring troubled officers. An internal audit followed up with recommendations for improvement, which were released to Voice of San Diego, almost entirely redacted.

Lethal force and the mentally ill

It seems unbelievable, but there is no good data on the use of lethal force by police in the United States.

This situation is exemplified by the 2012 shooting of Elwood Edwards White by Oceanside police. White was said to have attacked officers with a broken stick.

We have no idea how many people are shot and killed by the police each year, how many of those were mentally ill, how many were armed and with what, or what their ethnic make-up was.

A proposed bill in the California assembly requires all law enforcement agencies to report any shooting which kills or injures a civilian or officer, including information on gender, race, age, type of weapons and perceived mental disorders.

In the absence of official data, the Washington Post started tracking police shootings through media and public records. As of Aug. 23, the Post counted 626 killed by police. Roughly one-quarter of these deaths involved someone who was mentally ill.

Some experts and advocates say the big issue here is the perception of black mentally ill people as far more life-threatening than white.

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