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Supervisors Vote To Formally Oppose Lethal Force Bill

The San Diego County Supervisors pose for a photo after the swearing in new s...

Photo by Matt Hoffman

Above: The San Diego County Supervisors pose for a photo after the swearing in new supervisors Jim Desmond and Nathan Fletcher, Jan. 7,2019.

After a contentious public hearing, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to formally oppose an Assembly bill supporters say would reduce the use of lethal force by law enforcement.

Authored by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, AB 392 changes the current "reasonable" deadly force standard to "necessary," and would make it easier to file criminal charges against officers who use lethal force instead of other methods.

The board's 3-2 vote with Greg Cox and Nathan Fletcher dissenting was met with anger from AB 392 supporters, some of whom yelled. "Shame on you," and "there's blood on your hands."

Board Chairwoman Dianne Jacob then asked deputies to remove anyone who was interrupting the meeting.

"There are always two sides to every story," she said.

The board also voted to support Senate Bill 230, authored by Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, as it "sets a clear and enforceable standard for authorizing use of force," and mandates better practices, including de-escalation, according to the county.

Cox said there are efforts to combine SB 230 and AB 392, so it's premature to take a position on Weber's bill.

Law enforcement is the most dangerous and scrutinized job in the world, Cox said, but it's also true that many in the community do not have full trust in those who wear a badge.

"We may never completely bridge the chasm between the community and law enforcement, but we have to try," Cox said.

Weber's office asked the board to not take any action until she and law enforcement officials continued their discussions over her bill, which cleared the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

Joe Kocurek, a spokesman for Weber, said she was disappointed in the board's actions.

During the meeting, Jacob said Weber's bill places an "unreasonable and unfair burden on officers, who would have to show the use of force was necessary."

Jacob also said the bill, if it became law, would make the public less safe and result in more litigation, costing taxpayers.

"I realize there are passionate feelings on both sides of this issue," Jacob said. " The board is not trying to be divisive -- that's what AB 392 does."

Supervisor Jim Desmond, who agreed with Jacob, said California doesn't need an experiment "radically changing the standards." Instead, the state government should expand officer training, Desmond added.

County Undersheriff Michael Barnett and David Leonhardi, president of Deputy Sheriffs' Association of San Diego County, the union representing the department's deputies, also spoke in favor of the board's decision.

"We have policies and laws to hold officers accountable," Leonhardi said. "We strongly believe AB 392 will result in officers delaying in taking action that then puts them and the public at risk."

During the public hearing, dozens of people asked the board to support AB 392, including the sister of a 42-year-old man fatally shot by San Diego police last year.

Flora Rivera, older sister of Raul Rivera, said her brother was mentally ill and needed compassion.

"Do not discard like (us) we're nothing," Rivera said. "You're supposed to represent your constituents."

Police said Raul Rivera advanced on officers with a knife in his hand before being shot and killed on a Nestor-area street on May 27, 2018.

"Fearing for their safety, three officers fired their weapons," San Diego Police Department Lt. Anthony Dupree said.

Lori Thiel, president of League of Women Voters of San Diego, spoke in favor of AB 392, which has safeguards for officers.

"Community trust is undermined when lethal force is used unnecessarily," she said.

Clovis Honore president of San Diego branch of the NAACP said the privileged and powered often see oppression differently.

"In a democracy, we need to weigh the voices of the underprivileged," Honore said. "The next time a cop guns down someone here, that blood may be on your hands."

Rick Bramhall, a county resident, said he understands the board is in favor of tradition, "but the days of `shoot first, ask questions later' are over."

"Most cops manage to make it through the day without drawing their weapons," Bramhall said. "It's become obvious that we can't trust the good cops to oversee the bad cops."

Fletcher said he supports law enforcement and knows what it's like to enter dangerous situations, having served as a Marine in Iraq.

Fletcher also said that political leaders need to have honest discussions about how race plays a large part in policies, ranging from public safety to drug addiction.

"Supporting law enforcement means we have to put the best policies in place," he said. "I'm not sure we should make policy based on whether someone's going to sue us."

Board members also debated between using the word "necessary" instead of "reasonable" in when it comes to lethal force.

Desmond said neither word would matter in terms of past police-involved shootings and those tragic stories board members heard during Tuesday's meeting.

"What we want is having fewer people killed or in the jails, and society to be more law-abiding while backing our police officers," Desmond said.

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