Roundtable On LA Methane Leak, Police Shooting Video, SDPD Review Board
On today's roundtable, a leaking well operated by a San Diego company becomes the state's biggest natural gas leak. San Diego police are on the defensive over a shooting and complaints about its review board. Then, another episode of incoming copy during the voices of veterans. Men and women who serve in America's military during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars share their in country experiences and they examined the challenges of transitioning back to civilian life. I am Mark Sauer , KPBS Midday Edition Friday is next. The biggest methane gas leak in state history is creating a human and environmental disaster in LA County. A federal judge says video of a police officer's fatal shooting of an unarmed man in a midway district must be released to the public work former members of the city's police review board say it is a failure by City Hall politics and conference of interest. I am Mark Sauer, the KPBS Roundtable starts now. Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories. I am Mark Sauer. Joining me at the KPBS roundtable today our reporter Ingrid Lobet of Inewsource Thanks for having me. We have JW August of ABC seven, San Diego. We have reporter Liam Dillon, of Voice of San Diego It is good to have you here today. And environmental disaster is playing out in slow motion in a community north of Los Angeles. Since October 23, methane or natural gas has been spewing from a leak underground. It is the biggest aghast dashed gas leak and telephone history. The company responsible is Sempra. Nothing the company has done so far has fixed the leak. Ingrid, start by telling us how this is happening and how many people are infected by this disaster. This is happening in the Ely so can you gas storage facility, which is just over the hills from some communities in the San Fernando Valley. They include Granada Hills, Porter ranch, and Chatsworth. Seamy Valley is up in there as well? Yes. I hope that is home to the Reagan library, if anyone has been up there. It is all north of the city. It has not gotten much publicity because, it is the worst leak in state history. The local television stations and the LA Times definitely have been reporting on it. It seems that there is not as much as it might deserve for being as large a really sad it is. 80,000 pounds of methane per hour are being released. It makes it dwarfed the largest source of methane or natural gas. This is the same gas we use in our stoves and heating systems. The largest emitter of methane in San Diego County is the Miramar landfill. This broken while is currently giving up 33 times as much as that landfill. So methane, we get some details on this, is a nasty stuff. It is worse than the emissions that come out of your tailpipe. It is not a traditional pollutant. It is not considered toxic. It is a very back climate pollutant. It is 86 times more powerful in changing the climate as carbon dioxide is. We hear a lot more about that. It is a high priority on reducing methane all across our economy. This release really cancels out. It is very unfortunate. It cancels out the efforts to reduce that. What kind of well is this? It is not actually a natural gas well itself. It is a storage area. They are not taking gas. It was originally an oil well, and then converted when of the oil fields became depleted. This is a sandstone formation in Los Angeles County. When we played out the oil that was in it, it is now used as a gas storage facility where Southern California Gas inject gas underground during the time when it is collecting it when we're not really using it. Then, when we crank up our air conditioners or heating, then they start pumping out the fields. Have you been there? What is it like? I've been to the community college about three quarters of a mile south. You can smell natural gas in the air. It is an area where the wind move stuff around. You are not sitting in a bowl. You smell it and it goes away. Has everyone abandoned the place? Are all the residents there? It is not quite like that. A number of people have left. About 2800 residents are seeking relocation. Most recent news yesterday said that they have decided that the kids in the two elementary schools are not going to complete their school year. They are going to be moved to to other schools. Kenneth blowup? -- Can it blowup? What is that about? Are they worried that it will go off? There is a concern about ignition. It is not like you can just ignite at any point. There is a narrow band of circumstances in which the gas can ignite. I know there is a certain equipment that Southern California Gas cannot run when the wind is blowing certain ways. It is not like it could just blow at any second. What if there were a major building fire or house fire in that area? Is this a concern for them? Firefighters and rescuers would not even be able to get in. I don't know the answer. That is an excellent question. We will be doing more reporting to find out under what conditions there could be ignition. Why can't they stop at? They have tried a lot of the traditional ways that you tried to kill an out-of-control well by worsening brine or something heavy down to increase the pressure so the gas doesn't want to come up. That has failed. Now, they have called in these expert well killers that worked on the Kuwaiti oilfield fires and they are having to drill a relief well to intercept the well that is broken and reroute the gas out of it. It sounds like the golf all over again. It does have some similarities. How far underground is this? There has been different reports. One says it is a mile deep. One says it is not so deep. Do they really know? According to the oil and gas is division of the state of California, they do know. Yesterday, they told me that the formation where the gases is about 8700 feet deep. The oil and gas division told me that the rupture in the steel casing of this bad well is only about 500 feet deep. So it is much nearer the surface. You would think that would aid them. Now it is seeping out through the ground. It is no longer inside its casing. When I read your quote from Benson, head of the state agency that we don't want to get too involved in it because we don't want to have to take liability, what is a state agency do that does oversight if not get involved in something like this? That sounded like [indiscernible]. There is more to look into as far as who can do what on the site. It sounds like Southern California Gas is the one who is in charge. JW mentioned the folks evacuating. We have a bite from a resident. This is Susan Gorman from Porter ranch in that area. Are we in one of those sci-fi movies where you run from your car to your home and you can never go outside and you can't exercise outside because the air has become toxic? I was not okay? I don't think that is okay. That may be a temporary solution, but it is frightening that we have come to that. Folks like that who have been relocated, what is their life like? The reason they were relocated is because there been quite a few reports of nosebleeds, headaches, nausea, and some people pets have had nosebleeds. What is their situation? They are living in corporate housing or extended-stay hotels that are booked through March or April. They are having to take their kids to school through an entirely different route. A are not entirely able to cook. It is definitely a major life disruption for a lot of them. What about long-term? There are long-term effects that I've been exposed to it. We have the gas itself in the air. It does not last as long as CO2, but it is more of an impact than greenhouse effect? As far as down here at ground level, it dissipates quickly. As far as long-term effects, those would be from very low-level exposure and many of the people who have left really feel that that is not been adequately investigated medically as far as the atmosphere, the methane is going to be effecting the atmosphere for the next 20 years and in a powerful way before starts to break down. As a ratepayer, has a gone on long enough that you can figure out how much money this may end up costing everyone here? The only estimate that I have heard is from the attorneys who have filed a class-action. I don't know how reputable a number of that would be. They are talking about $1 billion. You can think about a community of 40,000 people with relatively high-end homes that are being relocated four months. There are some health issues. It seems like potentially, it might not be a small number. The company itself, which we are noting is ended by Sempra, what are they saying about all of this? They are saying that they are taking it extremely serious. It has their full attention. They have never had anything like this happen before. It is by far the biggest leak that they have ever had. They are completely focused on drilling this relief well and stopping the release as soon as possible. They have set up community centers and they are paying for the relocation of people and putting out information for the community every day. We will be looking forward to your further reporting on this fascinating story. We are going to move on now. Several San Diego news organization celebrated a First Amendment victory when a federal judge ordered a audio of a controversial police shooting released to the public. That order was delayed for a week to allow for a possible appeal. Let's start with the incident itself. Remind us of the who, when, etc. In the springtime, there was a 911 call where police officer Neal Browder responded to a call of someone who was wielding a knife. He showed up on the scene, and shortly afterwards, he shot and killed 42-year-old Fridoon Nehad. It turns out he was not carrying a knife and it was actually a pin. There was a number of other questions . He did not turn on his body camera. Almost immediately, there were questions about the suiting -- shooting. The folks who made the call, was he in the store? It was in an adult bookstore. The shooting took place in an alley outside. The folks were scared because he was acting crazy. That was the allegation of the 911 call. The video that is in question, where to that video come from? That video came from a surveillance camera from a nearby business that was shooting into the alley where the shooting took place. It is on private property. The police and the Dist. Atty. have kept this under wraps. And back all the family of the victim here had to sue to get it. This is pretty interesting. The police came in and asked the business for the camera and footage. The business gave it to them, and have not released it to anyone else. Since then, the police have considered as evidence. As a result, they would not release it to anyone else. The family I had an interview with asked to see it. The cops told them that the only way they would get to see it is if they sue. So that is what they did. I have a comment here from SDPD chief Shelley Zimmerman. Here is what she said in her declaration. I am concerned that the release of evidence will inflame of violent or unstable elements leading to threats and violence in San Diego, particularly against officer Neal Browder and his family. That was her concern. What in this hearing before the federal judge did he address that concern or other concerns? Just a backup or second. The district attorney decided not to prosecute Browder in the shooting, and she cited the video saying that the video was not great quality and was too far away to tell anything. She said what we did see was fine. It backed up the officer story. For her to say that, is a bit of a controversy. [indiscernible - multiple speakers] This was shot by the cops. This was a private citizen. What is going on? What are we going to do with police video that is shot by the officer if they are doing this over video shot by a private enterprise? That does bring up the issue that we talked about where the officer has a body camera. What is the situation with that? To that raise some questions? You alluded to that earlier. It did raise questions of the police chief that did change policy to require officers to turn their cameras on prior to engaging in an incident rather than when they are at the incident. That has changed. It is unclear given the policy change whether the officer violated any policies at all. Let's talk about the judge. All of the news sources were in court. As a result of a pushing of this, the hearing came. It was a federal judge. He said that it must be clear that further publicity unchecked would so distort the views of potential jurors that 12 could not be found who would under proper instructions fulfill their sworn duty to render a just verdict exclusively on the evidence presented in open court. There is no evidence to suggest that the public dissemination of the information from this case currently limited by this effective order would meet that standard. In other words, let's release this video. He is not agreeing with the police chief. Particularly, after the DA decided to not prosecute, there was less and less of a reason to keep this under wraps. The officer said that there was an internal investigation, and the judge said not. They will argue that you are going to taint the jury pool. That has never happened with media coverage. They continually bring this up. The city attorney argue that before the judge. I am thinking come on man that is no reason to do that. The other argument the guy was doing that was internal investigation. They do not want to interfere. It was already done. The internal investigation had not been completed. What was interesting about was that they argue that there could be political pressure on the internal investigation. If your internal investigation could be tainted by political pressure, then what does it say about the integrity of the San Diego police's internal investigation? The mayor could order that to do something else, that raises much bigger questions than the video. Why does the family, which is in possession of the video, how can they not be permitted to hand it over to the press? That is a very good question. Again, what we asking this court hearing was not to ask the government to give it to us. We ask the family to be allowed to release it to us. The reason why they can't do it right now is an order for them to a gotten a copy of it in the first place, the city said that they have to agree to be secret. Is that legit? That was a protective order that was put in place. The judges are overturning that. Let's hear from the returning -- attorney who was outside the courtroom. Here is what she had to say. The First Amendment has long said that the public needs to hear about crime as the process unfolds in court proceedings. There has never been a rule that the press cannot report on either crime or the criminal justice system because the prosecution wants an absolutely pristine set of witnesses. In fact, I have never seen a case like that ever. That goes back to the point that JW was making. You have interviewed a man who has repeatedly view that video. What is he say? He said the video shows that the shooting was unprovoked. He said that the video is shocking. He said the video shows that Nehad was walking towards the officer when he first arrived, but the emergency lights were not on in the police car. He said that as the shooting gets closer, Nehad is slowing down and may have even stopped Ryer to the shooting occurring. To him, it was an unprovoked thing. That was shocking to him. We should say that there was some concern about the family. This fellow had a history of some violence and a restraining order previous to this event. Tell us what happened. This is complicated. He was mentally ill. He has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He would go many months where he would have manic instances. That is what was happening the night of this incident. Some of his past behavior during these states was violent to people who loved him. Did the police know that when they approached him? It is hard to say. I can't imagine -- I don't know. It is certainly difficult to imagine that unless Browder had interacted with him before, that he did not know. In our next segment, we will talk about the police topic. Police officers go out in a society like ours, and no one is saying this is not a dangerous job. Unlike what we saw from the fear on the Republican candidacy, the cop worries about a nut with a gun on the street. It is certainly fair to the officer to say that he got a call that there was a guy threatening people with a knife. It turned out to not be a knife, and whether he should have recognized that when he got there is a different question. He certainly expected someone that he was going to encounter had a deadly weapon. We are going to Segway now into another read -- related topic. For more than 25 years, the city of San Diego has had a citizen's review board in place supposedly monitoring the police. The purpose is to hold officers accountable for misconduct and to protect police themselves and unclear discipline. JW interviewed a pair of longtime members of this board and they had some disturbing things to say. Going off the top of what you said, a lot of people don't know about this review board. That is part of the problem. They are the watchdog of the San Diego Police Department. They only watchdog that we have in the city. These two ladies both work for the board for a long time. They are very bright, intelligent people. They ask questions. They seemed upset that the city attorney, who was in those board meetings who works for the city of San Diego, and they said they would stir the pot and ask questions. They seem to be upset. They are the only -- the mayor has the right to not reappoint them onto the committee. There has only been three women who have never been reappointed to the board. These three women, and they have one thing in common. They ask tough questions. They say that is the question they don't want them back on their. They are not keen on having tough questions. They said a lot of other serious things. The big picture is that they ask too many questions. Give us some background on this review board. Who runs a? How to get the cases for review? Do remember the Saigon 10 case? It was a big deal in town. Now that you have raised it, this was a black fellow who was wrestling with the cop took the guns cop and shot him. Eventually, it led to a boat and they voted the creation of this citizens review board. There are similar organizations across the United States. At that time, there was a city manager who was the head of it. Now, it is the mayor. The mayor is the head of it. He appoints people to sit on the board. He has final say on it and with tiebreakers. They review internal affairs reports. It is for confidentiality. These women honored that, even when I was bugging them. They said they were not going to talk about the cases. They're like a grand jurors. The mayor operates it in terms of appointing them. Some folks have said that the oversight by the city attorney's office is an obvious conflict. The city attorneys representing these police officers on controversial cases. The law of who goes to court to keep the tape from being shown. It is city attorney. Who is advising these citizens about behavior of police officers? It is a city attorney. We interviewed an attorney who is an expert on ethical issues, and he said it is clearly a conflict to have a city attorney wearing two hats. That attorney was Ed McIntyre. He is a longtime attorney. He is respected. He reviewed all of the materials we provided him everything that we had, and he said that the attorney is conflicted. The city attorney's office, what do they have to say about this issue of conflict? They were very excited about this. I bet they were excited. A said we have a wall. This city attorney does not know that we have this case over here. They never talk about this. I find that hard to believe. Not that they are not ethical people, but there has to be some pressure. The executive director of the board who is supposed to do things like scheduling, is also a city employee. Her role has increased in power since Bochner came into office. Is it common in other cities with police review boards for a loudmouth member to not be reappointed or be ousted? Is that how typically works? I have never heard of that happening before. I don't know about every single city or every single board in the United States. Two points here. There is a real debate going on, and I wish it were a bigger one about what the future of this is going to be. The county model, which is something that people are pushing for is much stronger. It allows for independent subpoena powers. It would allow for a more stronger and more robust oversight ability. Second, you guys did another good story this week on police accountability about how police officers were not getting training including the chief herself. Was interesting about that was beyond what occurred is that they thought you guys very hard for the release of the public information. We have a thing with this video and with what you have uncovered. There are number reporting that we have done over the last few years, is worked very hard to keep information from the public about how the department is doing its duties. It is something that she was appointed to fix. There was a big controversy over officer misconduct at that time. For we come to your point, we do have a bite from Councilman Todd Gloria who is calling for reform of the review board. The ability to subpoena information of individuals to come before it their groups and have a more direct access to information got to me. The county does that. They seem to be comfortable with it. We don't have that at the city. He is talking about the county board. I don't agree with that. I appreciate him being on board, but I don't think it is the end-all answer to this. His staff is meeting with those women today. His staff is making the effort to find out what is going on. Up to this point, the idea of reforming this board has been ping-pong between the charter review committee because it is chartered by the voters. The public safety committee looked at it and sent it back to the charter review. Now, it is somewhere in limbo. There was not something like Todd Gloria asking if they should be looking at this. It would sit there for longer. We have about one minute left. You would ask them for two years worth of cases. They are supposed to come up with the reports at some point. Look at the website. It is out of date. One of the goals was to update the website and provide information. It is not there. We asked them under the California Public records act how many cases were sent and how many officers were discipline. We do not ask for names. We do not want details. It is not out there, and it should be. Some conclusion needs work. I think it is all part of the issues with the culture. Do you think we will see anything in terms of reform with Todd Gloria? Hope we. I heard this story had some traction over at the city Council. A may get it. I did talk to the police union and they are planning to provide a counter proposal. They are not. We will watch for some more reports as we move forward. That does wrap up another week of stories at the KPBS roundtable. I would like to thank my guest Ingrid Lobet , Liam Dillon , and JW August. All of the stories that we discussed today are available on our website. We are off next week. Enjoy your holiday, please join us again on New Year's Day for a special edition. I am Mark Sauer. Thanks for joining us on the roundtable.
Worst leak of worst gas
The worst leak of one of the worst climate-warming gasses — methane — in the state’s history has been spewing into the atmosphere near Chatsworth in Los Angeles County since Oct. 23.
The methane is leaking from the ground near a deep, damaged storage well, owned by Southern California Gas, a subsidiary of San Diego’s Sempra Energy. The leak rate is about 80,000 pounds of gas an hour.
The gas company has paid for the relocation of 1,800 sick and frightened residents of Porter Ranch, and another 1,400 have asked to be moved.
And about 1,900 children from two Porter Ranch elementary schools will be moving to different schools.
Southern California Gas has tried several methods to staunch the flow and kill the well, but has failed. Experts who fought the fires in the Kuwaiti oil fields have now joined the effort. The safety of the workers is a concern, as the gas is quite volatile and equipment could ignite it. Aircraft have been warned away from the area.
Lawsuits have been filed on behalf of affected residents by R. Rex Parris of Lancaster. Parris has announced his firm will be joined by environmental attorney Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., of Kennedy and Madonna, as well as attorneys from Morgan and Morgan, which litigated on behalf of those affected by the 2010 BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Residents believe they have suffered loss of property values, in addition to the effects on their health.
The California Division of Oil and Gas is concerned, but is taking a non-directive approach, lest they become financially liable.
Video of police shooting to go public
U.S. District Judge William Hayes this week said the videoof the April shooting of Fridoon Nehad by Neal Browder, a San Diego police officer, could be made public.
Local media, including Voice of San Diego, KPBS, inewsource, The San Diego Union-Tribune and 10News, had sought release of the video in court.
The video was recorded by a private surveillance camera on a nearby business. The SDPD and the District Attorney’s office had sought to keep it secret. An employee of the company where the camera was installed has said Browder shot Nehad hastily and with no provocation.
The video was eventually given to Nehad’s family after they filed a lawsuit.
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis’ office declined to prosecute Officer Browder, saying there was evidence Nehad was violent and that Browder, who did not have his body-camera on, had reason to fear him.
SDPD has toothless watchdog
It was designed in a 1988 ballot measure as a volunteer board to review and evaluate serious complaints against San Diego police officers. The Citizen’s Review Board on Police Practices evaluates all officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths.
If complaints are sustained, the board evaluates the resulting discipline.
Before the board gets the cases, SDPD's Internal Affairs Department investigates first. The board may also choose to make policy and procedure recommendations to the police chief, but it has no authority to discipline or fire anyone.
Two former board members have alleged a conflict of interest in the role the City Attorney’s office plays in the process and that the more “pro-police” members get the most serious cases to review.
There is a move afoot to have the City Charter Review Committee remake the board.