by Dave Waddell
In the wake of the killing of Desmond Phillips, community activists expressed support Monday for establishing a citizen board to review the Chico Police Department’s internal investigations.
Pastor Vince Haynie said proponents of citizen oversight are researching the practice in other cities and gathering support from various community groups.
“In light of recent events, we really need that,” Haynie said at the May 1 meeting of the Human Relations Network of Butte County.
Haynie’s reference was to the killing of Phillips, who was black, mentally ill and 25 years old. Phillips was shot 10 times by officers Alex Fliehr and Jeremy Gagnebin on March 17 in his father’s living room.
Thomas Kelem, who represents the Stonewall Alliance in the network, argued that – given the conservative bent of the City Council – an initiative measure similar to one aimed at Chico Scrap Metal offered the best chance of success.
Beyond the issue of citizen review, said activist Justin Lin, is whether applicants are even properly screened in the hiring process. Lin said the community needs to be assured that anyone with a racist history had “undergone change” before being given a badge and a gun.
“How do we improve the vetting” of Chico police officers? Lin asked.
Haynie, who represents the Love Chapmantown Community Coalition in the network, said residents of Chapmantown are concerned about plans to bring their area into the city. Incorporation would mean that Chico PD would replace the Butte County Sheriff’s Department as the neighborhood’s law enforcement agency.
“I know they’re going to be profiling people, but who’s next?” Haynie said of Chico PD.
David Phillips, who witnessed his son being shot to death March 17, told the network that authorities still have not released any of Desmond’s property, including his cell phone.
Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey determined that officers Fliehr and Gagnebin did not commit a crime in killing Desmond Phillips following an investigation led by Ramsey. Chico Police Chief Mike O’Brien said an internal affairs inquiry into the shooting is being conducted. David Phillips said he and others are continuing to push for a probe of the shooting by authorities from outside the county.
“(Ramsey’s) investigation is over; ours is just beginning,” the father said.
Rain Scher, representing Showing Up for Racial Justice, Butte County, read a letter from that group denouncing Ramsey’s findings. In adding a “personal note,” Scher said that Fliehr and Gagnebin “got a paid vacation for killing someone” and that “a lot of people in the community feel less safe” as a result.
After David Phillips called 9-1-1 on March 17 seeking medical aid for his son, the first responders came from the Chico Fire Department. Desmond was non-responsive initially, but after firefighters removed his earphones and sunglasses, Desmond became agitated and picked up a ceramic lamp, the DA said. By the time police arrived, Desmond was pacing and holding knives.
Michael Benson, from the American Civil Liberties Union, said of the manner in which fire personnel handled Desmond: “You would never had done that if you’re a health professional.”
Walter Ballin, who moderated the Human Relations Network meeting, said Ramsey and O’Brien were invited to the discussion but each was unable to attend.
O’Brien told ChicoSol last year that the only circumstance in which he would favor a civilian review board of internal police affairs would be if he felt “the department wasn’t able to conduct a fair, ethical and transparent investigation.”
Dave Waddell is news director at ChicoSol.