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When police officers misbehave, why does it often remain a secret?
We follow Robert Lewis, a reporter with the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, as he tries to report on a secret list of police officers with criminal convictions. What begins as a simple story becomes a collaboration with dozens of reporters across California, from McClatchy, the USA Today Network, MediaNews Group and Voice of San Diego.
Next, Nikka Singh of “Snap Judgment” brings us the story of one officer who has been able to stay employed at a series of police departments, despite repeated allegations of serious misconduct.
Finally, host Al Letson sits down with Patrick Yoes, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, to find out how the largest association of police officers in the United States looks at transparency, accountability and standards for misconduct.
Explore: A searchable database of convicted current and former police officers
Read: California’s Criminal Cops: Who they are, what they did, why some are still working
Read: These California police officers were charged with brutalizing loved ones. So why are so many still carrying a gun?
Our investigation into officers with criminal convictions was produced in collaboration with the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley. It was reported by Robert Lewis, Stan Alcorn, and David DeBolt with additional reporting from reporters at the Investigative Reporting Program, McClatchy, the USA Today Network, MediaNews Group and Voice of San Diego. It was edited by Deborah George and produced by Stan Alcorn.
Special thanks to Ali DeFazio, Laurence Du Sault, Sandra Emerson, Mike Frankel, Jesse Marx, Jason Paladino, Katey Rusch, Sam Stanton, Zach Stauffer, Katy Stegall and John Temple.
Our story about Officer Marc Andaya was reported and produced by Nikka Singh and edited by Deborah George. Additional help from Jennifer Kahn, Mary Kay Magistad, Mallory Newman, Susie Nielsen, Jason Paladino and Tom Peele.
Our interview with Patrick Yoes, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, was produced by Stan Alcorn.
Our production manager is Mwende Hinojosa. Original score and sound design by Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda, who had help from Najib Aminy, Claire Mullen and Amy Mostafa.
Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Found, the Heising-Simons Foundation, Democracy Fund and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.
Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.
Al Letzon: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letzon.
Al Letzon: Robert Lewis was running on a dirt track in the hills above Berkeley, California where every time he finished a lap he could see clear across the water to San Francisco.
Robert Lewis: And so I finished my jog and I’m starting to walk back and as I’m walking, I think waiting for the light, I pull out my phone and check my email and I see I have this email from, it says Public Records.
Al Letzon: Robert is a reporter with the Investigative Reporting program at UC Berkeley. And this email from the Attorney General of California, it isn’t just a friendly follow-up about some government documents they sent him.
Robert Lewis: The subject line of this email is Notice of Inadvertent Release of Department of Justice Confidential Information and Request for Destruction of Information.
Al Letzon: Request for Destruction of Information.
Robert Lewis: And then I get to the bottom of the first page and it says, “You are hereby on notice that the unauthorized receipt or possession,” and they’ve put or possession in italics, “of a record from the department’s ACHS or information obtained from such a record is a misdemeanor.”
Robert Lewis: They’re basically saying you are committing a crime by having these records. And then it goes on to say, “If you do not destroy them, we will take legal action.”
Al Letzon: So let me get this straight. The State is threatening to prosecute you for having a document that the State sent you in the first place. How did you feel when you read that?
Robert Lewis: I mean, I’m angry. I was angry when I got this. I think this is counter to our First Amendment. I think this is counter to the principles of free press. I’m stunned. I’m stunned, especially when you understand what these records actually are.
Al Letzon: The records are a list of current, former and aspiring police officers in California who’ve been convicted of breaking the law cops are supposed to enforce. There were nearly 12,000 names. Each listed next to a crime, from disorderly conduct to sexual assault to murder. So why did the state want Robert to destroy the list?
Robert Lewis: Everything on there, every name on here is someone who has been convicted of a crime. And court records are public, those are open.
Al Letzon: Is it because these are police officers?
Robert Lewis: It is… I don’t know. I don’t know. It certainly seems suspicious.
Al Letzon: It seems like one more example of a kind of special treatment for police that happens all over the country. Where public employees who can legally take a member of the public’s life get to keep their worst behavior private. Today, we’re going to dig into how all kinds of police misconduct are kept secret and what happens when the secrets get out.
Al Letzon: So essentially, you have a list of cops who have committed crimes and you have attorney general implying that he’s going to prosecute you unless you destroy the list. Do you destroy the list?
Robert Lewis: No, I didn’t destroy the list.
Al Letzon: So what did you do?
Robert Lewis: I mean, I started reporting.
Robert Lewis: So where is the courthouse from here?
Stan Alcorn: It’s just up ahead, it’s a couple blocks.
Al Letzon: This is where Reveal’s Stan Alcorn joined Robert at San Francisco’s Hall of Justice.
Stan Alcorn: Yeah, this is the Hall of Justice. It’s one of the courthouses in the city.
Stan Alcorn: We went to the courthouse because for each entry on Robert’s list, all we had was a name, a crime and a date. And we wanted the whole story.
Robert Lewis: I knew that the only way to get this information was going to be to physically go to the courthouse and pull these files.
Robert Lewis: Let’s pull some files. So it’s 10:15…
Stan Alcorn: Okay.
Robert Lewis: I didn’t realize how much work this was going to be. So where are we going first?
Stan Alcorn: We’re going to go to Room 101, it’s the Clerks Office.
Stan Alcorn: This Clerk’s Office in a courthouse in the middle of San Francisco, a mile from Google, it doesn’t have a single computer. Instead…
Robert Lewis: There’s these blue binders with the dot matrix printer paper, you know the kind I’m talking about with the little holes on the side?
Stan Alcorn: Just to make sure I understand, what exactly is in this giant blue book?
Robert Lewis: So basically, this is everyone with a last name starting with G.
Stan Alcorn: So you open this huge binder…
Robert Lewis: And you flip through and you find the row that has your person’s name and the case number.
Stan Alcorn: And then you take that case number and you get in line to see one of the clerks.
Robert Lewis: Let’s see, you have a 2012 sentencing. I have a 2010 sentencing.
Speaker 4: Well, I guess you would fill out a request form.
Robert Lewis: Yeah.
Stan Alcorn: Sometimes a clerk gets you all the court documents you need and lets you scan them right then. Other times, you just have to fill out these forms requesting them to look for the files.
Stan Alcorn: So one hour later, you’re leaving having made requests to-
Robert Lewis: One, two, that’s ten, eleven.
Stan Alcorn: Eleven requests in, just a thousand more to go.
Robert Lewis: Yeah. Making real progress.
Al Letzon: This sounds so tedious. It feels like you’re on a beach full of sand and you’re looking for one little grain. And then you can only look at it for a minute and then you’ve got to put it back.
Stan Alcorn: And we were trying to do that for more than a thousand names in a hundred different courthouses.
Robert Lewis: And we realized pretty quickly that we couldn’t do it by ourselves. So we reached out to three major newspaper chains around the state.
Stan Alcorn: McClatchy, the USA Today papers, and the Media News Group. Reporters from all these newspapers and also the non-profit Voice of San Diego. They all went to their local courthouses.
Katie Roush: I’m outside the Rancho Cucamonga Courthouse.
Laurence D.: It’s a pretty quiet day today in the courthouse, fortunately. I’ve got a list of about 60 names. I’m going to go in here and pull as many files as I can.
Stan Alcorn: But there still weren’t enough reporters. So we had these two graduate students, [Laurence Dusseau 00:05:56] and [Katie Roush 00:05:58] who drove to courthouses all around the Rural Central Valley.
Katie Roush: So we are approaching the desert of Mojave. We’re about nine minutes out, seven miles.
Robert Lewis: And they ran into all sorts of hurdles. Their clerks pulling documents out of files, some cases-
Katie Roush: Hi, Katrina.
Robert Lewis: Clerks said were just gone.
Katie Roush: So we requested 27 but you said 12 were available. Does that mean that the other 15 were destroyed?
Robert Lewis: We found hundreds of case files across the state were destroyed. And it seems that some of these places are, the day that they can technically by law shred a file, they are.
Katie Roush: Oh, wow. So it’s not like those 15 are archived somewhere. Those 15 are just destroyed.
Al Letzon: So after six months of reporting on all the cases where you could find records, what did you find?
Robert Lewis: Well we ultimately were able to pull about a thousand case files and we found about 630 current and former law enforcement officers convicted of a crime in the last decade.
Stan Alcorn: And another way to think about that number, on average, more than once a week, a current or former cop in California is convicted of a crime.
Robert Lewis: And it’s an undercount. The truth of the matter is we found the tip of the iceberg. We found murders, we found vehicular manslaughter, we found sexual assaults, we found child pornography. I mean you sort of pick a crime and chances are good we found a case file with that.
Stan Alcorn: But there were these two kinds of crimes that stood out.
Robert Lewis: DUI and driving offenses were by far the biggest type of crime that we found. After DUI, it was domestic violence.
Stan Alcorn: Domestic violence among police officers is a known problem. It’s been in the national news every few years for decades. Like this one notorious case that was on 60 Minutes.
Speaker 7: It all began in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale, California in 1992.
Anna Marquez: [inaudible 00:08:05].
Speaker 7: This woman’s sister, 26 year old Melba Ramos, had been gunned down by her husband, an officer in the Los Angeles police department.
Stan Alcorn: After this officer, Victor Ramos, murdered his wife, it came out that he’d previously beaten her and threatened her with a gun. And the cops who showed up hadn’t even arrested him.
Speaker 7: Fact is, thanks to his being a police officer, nothing much happened to him at all.
Stan Alcorn: Law enforcement’s come a long way in terms of how it deals with domestic violence. That’s according to every expert we talked to. There’s a federal law now that says if you’re convicted of domestic violence, you cannot own a gun. Even if you’re a cop. And the cops who showed up on our list, all of them were arrested by other cops and convicted, which looks like the system working. But when we took a closer look at some of these cases, we found that system has some loopholes.
Anna Marquez: This is going to be number 305?
Ashley: I think so.
Stan Alcorn: Anna Marquez cuts hair in a strip mall. She’s got her initials in bright pink in the window. AM Salon.
Stan Alcorn: Was it always just AM Salon or did it have a different-
Anna Marquez: No. It used to be his name and my name.
Stan Alcorn: Canty & Marquez?
Anna Marquez: Canty & Marquez.
Stan Alcorn: The Canty is Tony Canty. He was a police officer with the Marina Police Department and was also Anna’s boyfriend. But over time, Anna says she started to feel more like his servant.
Anna Marquez: I could never go out with friends. Never. And then I was telling him, “Oh, they invited me to a wedding or a quinceanera and then he would say, “What are you talking about? I don’t want to be sitting there next to a bunch of Mexicans. Are you kidding me?”
Stan Alcorn: The night that led to Tony’s criminal conviction, Anna was in bed and Tony was yelling at her, according to her youngest daughter, Ashley.
Ashley: It was one of the scariest nights.
Stan Alcorn: Ashley watched as her older sister, Diana, tried to get past Tony to their mom’s bedside.
Diana: It was just, “Okay, I just need to get to my mom.” My main concern was checking that my mom was okay.
Stan Alcorn: Diana is this 100-pound teenage ballet dancer. Tony is this big dude. He weighs 230 pounds.
Ashley: She would try to push him away and go around him. But obviously there was nothing she could do about it.
Diana: Then that’s when he grabbed me by the neck and pushed me all the way into a wall and started choking me.
Stan Alcorn: Diana remembers him holding her to the wall by her throat for a full minute. Once he let go, Diana called the police. Officers came and took a report and then they left.
Diana: And I remember that night was so scary because he was not arrested so we were just terrified that he would do something in my sleep. Terrified.
Stan Alcorn: One reason Diana says she was scared was that Tony, although he’d recently retired from the police department, he still had a bunch of guns.
Diana: I remember one of them was on his nightstand.
Stan Alcorn: So all this, when he’s choking you, there’s a firearm within, I don’t know, 10 feet.
Diana: Yeah. He could just two steps and grab the gun.
Stan Alcorn: Tony didn’t return my calls but he told another reporter this wasn’t domestic violence. Still, he was eventually charged with battery, negligently storing a firearm and child endangerment, which would have outlawed him from keeping those guns but instead prosecutors let him plead guilty to a lesser charge, false imprisonment.
Stan Alcorn: Pleading down and getting to keep his gun. Robert, when you look at all the cases on your list was this the only one like that?
Robert Lewis: No. I mean, roughly a third, more than a third of the cases we looked at where cops were facing pretty serious domestic violence charges that would have cost them their guns pled down to something that at least in theory would allow the individual to keep a gun and to keep working in law enforcement.
Stan Alcorn: Some of the prosecutors who made those plea deals wouldn’t talk to us for this story including the one who prosecuted Tony Canty. But then there’s District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. He’s been a prosecutor in San Mateo County, just south of San Francisco for 42 years. And if every prosecutor was like Steve, we might not need that list of convicted cops. Steve says he emails the media every time he files charges against a police officer.
Steve Wagstaffe: I truly do admire law enforcement. I think that it’s so crucial. But just like I think about our office, if you want to get the benefits of being a government employee, then darn it, you’ve got to follow the rules and you’ve got to be willing to stand up and own every decision you make. And I’ve really got on my soapbox.
Stan Alcorn: So in the spirit of owning every decision, I asked him, “Why would a prosecutor let someone who committed an act of domestic violence get away without pleading guilty to domestic violence?”
Stan Alcorn: Why does that happen?
Steve Wagstaffe: And I’ve seen it happen. I’ve authorized it on occasions. And every time we’ve authorized it, I hate it.
Stan Alcorn: He says in some cases he did it because the victim didn’t want to prosecute their abuser. But he also says prosecuting police officers is different.
Steve Wagstaffe: It’s so completely different because we teach our kids, respect the blue, honor the blue, trust the blue. And now we’re telling a jury, don’t trust them. We’re telling you they committed a crime, they have betrayed their trust. And that’s hard for people. And so that’s a factor that doesn’t exist in our other cases. And that’s a factor of why you see more plea bargaining and many cases that just never get prosecuted because we just say no jury’s going to convict on this.
Stan Alcorn: There’s another legal step that domestic violence victims can take besides criminal charges and that’s getting a restraining order. Anna Marquez got one against Tony Canty.
Anna Marquez: Because I was thinking if I don’t file for this restraining order, he’s going to keep bugging me and I’ll want to go back to him. I need the restraining order.
Stan Alcorn: And normally, a domestic violence restraining order would also mean Tony would lose his guns. But Tony petitioned the judge saying he needed to keep his guns for work, training security guards and police officers.
Diana: I remember that.
Stan Alcorn: Anna’s older daughter Diana came to the court hearings.
Diana: And I remember just straight up into my head thinking, “No, he should not be able to have a gun.” All the time I worried that he was going to act out on revenge.
Stan Alcorn: The judge said it was hard to make sure Tony would only use his guns for work since he was self-employed, but he let him keep all six guns anyways.
Al Letzon: That just sounds like a big leap of trust for somebody who’s already violated that trust.
Stan Alcorn: But it’s a leap that judge’s make pretty often.
Robert Lewis: And we found more than a dozen officers or ex-officers who a judge looked at the restraining order and said, “Okay, I’m going to let you keep your gun because you need it for work purposes.”
Stan Alcorn: Sometimes it happens in these formal court hearings. But other times it was just more of a backroom deal. In this one case in San Diego, we found a piece of paper in the court files where a restraining order and a special you-can-keep-your-guns loophole, they were literally just penciled in. We showed it to that cop’s attorney, Chris Morris.
Chris Morris: You know what that shows? That shows that I was one hell of a lawyer. To be honest with you, my man, I don’t recall exactly… There was a very definite discussion about the impact of a gun restriction would have on him.
Stan Alcorn: In theory, that discussion should have been a careful weighing of risks. That’s the theory.
Chris Morris: But in reality, okay I’m dealing reality, when a police officer walks in, they’re going to get their gun back.
Al Letzon: When the police officers get to hold on to their guns, does that mean that they can just go back to work?
Stan Alcorn: Oftentimes, it does. It’s up to the Department. It’s up to the Chief.
Al Letzon: So if a cop is charged with domestic violence and can keep his gun, he could be back on the street with a badge and a gun responding to domestic violence calls.
Stan Alcorn: That’s absolutely correct.
Robert Lewis: There was a Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy that was accused of handcuffing his girlfriend and slamming her face off the doorframe. There’s an Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy who was accused of elder abuse, just squeezing his dying father’s arms hard enough to leave bloody marks. There is another Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy champion boxer who allegedly blackened his daughter’s eye. All of those people I just mentioned are still working as law enforcement officers today.
Stan Alcorn: And all the officers he just mentioned have something else in common too, which is that none of their criminal convictions were reported on before.
Robert Lewis: And it seems to be a pattern. We found a dozen officers still employed despite a conviction in a domestic violence case. Ten of them appeared to have never been covered in the news.
Stan Alcorn: And while we can’t draw a conclusion about cause and effect, in general if you go down our list a much higher percentage of officers kept their jobs after a criminal conviction when that conviction wasn’t in the news, when the public didn’t know about it.
Robert Lewis: The public has an oversight role and an oversight right, I think.
Stan Alcorn: But just look at this project. The Attorney General tried to shut it down. The court system made documents hard to access. There’s just a shortage of local reporters. All of these things that make our jobs more difficult as reporters, they are also getting in the way of that ability for the public to hold police officers accountable. You can’t do oversight of things you can’t see.
Al Letzon: That was Reveal’s Stan Alcorn with Robert Lews of UC Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting program who so far has not been prosecuted for keeping that list of convicted current, former and aspiring cops. And there is a searchable database of all the officers Robert and his team tracked down. Plus stories from newspapers across California. To check them out, sign up for our newsletter by going to RevealNews.org/newsletter.
Al Letzon: After the break, we’ll dig into the story of one officer and what happens when police departments keep secrets not just from the public but from each other.
Al Letzon: That’s next on Reveal.
Al Letzon: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letzon.
Al Letzon: It’s May 21, 1984 Oakland, California. Greg Lassonde was driving home from class late one night when he stops at an intersection.
Greg Lassonde: And I look across and in this vacant lot I see a police car with the door open. And I see an officer. And I see a very large man. And I can tell there’s some kind of scuffle going on.
Al Letzon: Greg watched as the man walked towards the officer who kept backing up.
Greg Lassonde: At some point then the officer pulled out his baton and at that point things unfolded more quickly.
Al Letzon: He says the officer tripped and fell backwards over a small rise on the ground.
Greg Lassonde: What happened from my point of view, is when he tripped he lost whatever judgment he had left and just got his revolver out and fired it. Six shots at close range. Great says it was a crazy moment and he felt he had to be a witness. So he parked his car and kept watching. The officer made his way to a gas station where he reloaded his gun and fired again. In total, the officer shot the man nine times, three in the abdomen, twice in the chest, once in each hand and two bullets to the head. Greg knew the man had to be dead.
Al Letzon: And I could tell there was nothing more that I could do, so I went back to my car and pulled away.
Al Letzon: The next day or the day after I read a newspaper account of the story, and I was very disturbed at what I read. An article in the Oakland Tribune identified the dead man as Jerry Stansell, a 35-year old fry cook who’d just been fired that night. He had a history of mental illness. The police officer was Marc Andaya. He’d been on the force only 13 months. The article quoted a police spokesman who said Stansell had grabbed the officer’s baton, knocked him to the ground and beat him repeatedly before the officer shot him.
Greg Lassonde: I knew that was blatantly a lie.
Al Letzon: Greg is convinced of what he saw that night. Other witnesses had different stories. One said, he did see Stansell beat Andaya with the baton. Another remembers seeing Stansell holding something. Regardless of the conflicting accounts, Jerry Stansell’s family filed a civil rights suit against Andaya, the police chief and the City of Oakland. Their case was based on the fact that Stansell’s fingerprints weren’t found on the baton. And Officer Andaya only had minor injuries. An appellate court agreed that Andaya had never been in serious danger and sent the case to a lower court for trial. The City offered to settle but the family took it to a jury who ultimately ruled in favor of the police.
Al Letzon: Earlier, we heard about police officers who were convicted of a crime and stay in law enforcement. But they’re not the only police being protected by a veil of secrecy. There are other officers who despite years of serious misconduct on the job continue to work in law enforcement. That’s what happened with Marc Andaya over the next 30 years. [Nick Asing 00:22:56] of the show Snap Judgment investigates.
Speaker 14: Yeah, then they actually seal the documents.
Nick Asing: Oh, cool. Awesome. Thank you.
Nick Asing: I’m sitting in a windowless room on the sixteenth floor or the northern district courthouse in San Francisco looking through boxes of documents with Marc Andaya’s name on them. A former cop had pointed me to Andaya when he heard I was working on this story. Andaya’s court records show that while he was with the Oakland PD, there were two federal lawsuits against him for the use of excessive force and one for wrongful death. Except for a year stint in the military, he remained on the force for nine years after shooting Jerry Stansell. He resigned in May of 1994.
Nick Asing: But he didn’t go far. Four days after resigning, he joined the San Francisco police department, just across the Bay Bridge. And from there, it wasn’t long before he had a second deadly encounter with a suspect.
Speaker 16: I’ve got a head injury [inaudible 00:23:56].
Nick Asing: On June 4, 1995, Officer Andaya heard a police dispatch about a burglary and a black male seen running from the scene. Andaya spotted a man he knew in the area. His name was Aaron Williams. This is what Andaya said later at an internal investigation.
Marc Andaya: I identified myself as a police officer. And I said, “Hey, Aaron, I need to talk to you for a second.”
Nick Asing: Aaron didn’t answer and ran to the door of a nearby apartment building.
Marc Andaya: He turned around from the door, looked directly at me and shook his head got buzzed in and made sure to close the door behind him.
Nick Asing: After Aaron appeared in an open window, Andaya says he was incoherent.
Marc Andaya: He would say something like, “One, two, three, four,” then he started talking about, something about a robbery over on the west side project. And then he’d say something like, “A-B-C.”
Nick Asing: Police eventually coaxed him outside but when they tried to handcuff him, a struggle broke out. Neighbors testified as to what they saw.
Speaker 18: I saw Aaron just walking out the front door and two or three police officers grabbed him. There was a struggle.
Speaker 19: And eventually, I saw a man in plain clothes kicking Mr. Williams. My memory of it was that it was two sets of kicking of about four times each. They were fast and really hard.
Speaker 18: Aaron never got up but he was moving. And then, I believe it was the same person, kicked him again in the head area about five times. And two or three officers grabbed the upper part of his body and dragged him further out into the street. And I remember seeing that there was blood underneath him.
Nick Asing: According to police reports, officers cuffed Aaron, put restraints on his legs and then put a paper mask over his face before loading him into a patrol wagon. Then they drove him to a local police station where a supervisor became concerned and ordered CPR. A short time later, Aaron Williams was pronounced dead.
Nick Asing: Hi.
Lynnette Robins: Thank God I heard you knocking on the door.
Nick Asing: That’s Lynette Robinson. She’s Aaron’s aunt. She helped raise him. She lives just a few blocks from the apartment building Aaron ran into the night that he died.
Lynnette Robins: Okay, you can go up…
Nick Asing: You have a beautiful house.
Lynnette Robins: Well, thank you.
Nick Asing: The ceilings are high and there are collectibles and paintings that celebrate the culture and history of Black Americans. There are also family photos on every wall.
Lynnette Robins: Okay, this is Aaron. That’s Aaron.
Nick Asing: Aaron’s photo’s in a big gold frame. He’s wearing a blue jean jacket and jeans, thin dark sunglasses and his clench fists are wrapped in black biker gloves. Aaron had a hard time growing up. From the time he was 21, he had a string of burglary and narcotics convictions.
Lynnette Robins: He was in jail when my sister died. And he took it so hard. And when he got out of jail he just tried to change his life.
Nick Asing: Aaron joined a program to try to help with his addiction. He got a job at a Gatorade factory and he got married.
Lynnette Robins: He loved his family. Aaron was a good person.
Nick Asing: But at the time of the break-in, Aaron had recently been laid off. He had his parole suspended for failure to report and his family said he had started using drugs again. Aaron’s aunt saw his body the day after he died.
Lynnette Robins: We went to the morgue to go see him and his head was all swollen. It was like a basketball when he kicked him all in his head.
Nick Asing: The city’s medical examiner report lists cause of death as heart failure due to acute cocaine abuse. With asphyxia as a possible secondary factor, Aaron’s family hired their own pathologist though and while he agreed that cocaine was involved, he also found that the way Aaron was loaded into the police van and the blows to his body both contributed to his heart failure. It had only been four years since the Rodney King beating in LA. And now Aaron had become another symbol of police abuse. He was buried on June 14th. That same day, protestors disrupted a regular meeting of the San Francisco Police Commission.
Speaker 21: Okay, come on. Take your seats at this time. Let this meeting begin or else it’s-
Protestors: No justice, no peace. No justice, no peace. No justice, no peace.
Nick Asing: One of the organizers was a young civil rights attorney named Van Jones. This was years before he became a news commentator on CNN. Jones told me the protest became a regular part of the weekly police commission meetings.
Van Jones: Night after night, every camera crew in the Bay area came down to see this massive, massive fight. It was pandemonium. The Police Officer’s Union would turn out 20, 30, 40 of their officers. We’d show up with a couple of hundred community members. And we were elbow to elbow, face to face.
Carl Tannenbaum: Van Jones was the enemy. We didn’t like Van Jones.
Nick Asing: Carl Tannenbaum was a young cop at the time and an active member of the Police Officer’s Union.
Carl Tannenbaum: We were there en masse to defend Marc Andaya and half the Police Commission room was full of police officers and supporters and the other half of the room was full of Aaron Williams’ family and those supporters.
Nick Asing: This was a contest of wills between a Police Officer’s Union that had decided that no matter what this officer had done, he was not going to be pushed out by community pressure. And the community had said, we’re not taking it anymore.
Protestors: [inaudible 00:29:43].
Carl Tannenbaum: Just a lot of vitriol being thrown back and forth.
Protestors: Officers and Commissioners, would you like to join us in a moment of silence [inaudible 00:30:00].
Carl Tannenbaum: And I just remember at one point and I have to acknowledge that I was a part of it too, half that room of cops started chanting, “Shame, Shame, Shame.” And it got really loud and in hindsight it was really embarrassing. So I was a younger cop and I was buying into it lock, stock and barrel.
Speaker 21: All right. We are losing… Hey, folks. We’re losing it. This is not… I have three minutes of meeting. I have three minutes and I’m [inaudible 00:30:28].
Nick Asing: The Police Commission Hearings went on for two years. In the end, all the officers were cleared of any criminal wrongdoing. However there was an internal police hearing and Andaya was charged for excessive force for kicking Aaron. But the only thing that stuck to him was a charge of neglect of duty for failing to monitor Aaron’s condition. The Commission voted to suspend him for 90 days. But shortly after, they received a letter from a citizen. It contained troubling details about his time on the Oakland force and led to another string of hearings. This time things worked out differently.
Speaker 25: In closing arguments before the Police Commission, the Police Department’s lawyer showed a blown up record of the 37 complaints against Andaya during his 11 years on the Oakland police force. Andaya also failed to mention two police brutality lawsuits against him.
Nick Asing: Marc Andaya was fired from the San Francisco Police Department, not because of Aaron Williams’ death but for an incomplete job application.
Speaker 25: Today you could hear the activists cheer the Commission’s findings as Andaya made his way out of the hearing room. Aaron Williams’ aunt who raised him after his mother died hugged her supporters.
Lynnette Robins: I’m very happy for what happened today. And I can go to my nephew’s grave and tell him, finally, we got some kind of justice for him.
Nick Asing: But let’s go back a few years. Why did the San Francisco Police Department hire Andaya in the first place?
Reno Rapagnani: In the interview he was terrific.
Nick Asing: I’ve gone to see Reno Rapagnani, an attorney and a retired San Francisco police officer. Back in 1994, he was working as a background investigator for the department. He was in charge of reviewing Andaya’s application.
Reno Rapagnani: He was well dressed. He had that kind of bearing. He was in good shape. Did a great job on the interview.
Nick Asing: Reno says he requested Andaya’s personnel file from the Oakland PD but they wouldn’t give it to him. He says that wasn’t uncommon. A lot of police departments wouldn’t turn over personnel records and they weren’t required to.
Reno Rapagnani: And without the personnel file, what the hell can you do? You don’t know what kind of training they have, what kind of situations they’ve been involved in. He did disclose there’d been an investigation into a fatality that he was involved in.
Nick Asing: Andaya also told the hiring committee that he was named in the civil law suit resulting from that fatality but that he’d been cleared in both cases. He also mentioned that he’d been suspended for 30 days for choking a suspect. The Committee ordered Andaya to undergo routine psychological profile. In their report, two psychologists warned Andaya was unfit to become a police officer. Reno later testified that they cited one fear.
Reno Rapagnani: That we could not hire this candidate because of a future incident that might cause the department to look bad.
Nick Asing: But Andaya was hired anyway. Reno says the reason was San Francisco was short of cops.
Reno Rapagnani: Back then, in ’94, we needed cops. We needed them quickly and we wanted them already trained. And they would go through a very limited field training program, just more of an orientation.
Nick Asing: Andaya applied through a lateral transfer program. That means he didn’t have to go through the full Police Academy again. Someone like him, a cop from another department in another city, would be coming in already trained and certified and ready to serve. It was either that or hire a new recruit who may or may not make it through the nine months of training.
Reno Rapagnani: There was a real rush to get this done because we were that low. And it affects calls for service, response times. So there was a lot of political pressure on the Mayor who then gave it to the Chief. And so that’s how things work.
Nick Asing: So the cop shortage was one reason Marc Andaya was able to move from Oakland’s police department to San Francisco’s. But it turns out there’s a bigger problem with how cops get hired in at least some of the 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies across the country.
Speaker 27: I think there’s an incentive within that police sub-culture for agencies to protect their own and reject all the flags that are raised.
Nick Asing: That’s Philip Stinson. He’s a former cop who’s now a professor at Bowling Green State University teaching criminal justice and researching police officers with troubling records. He’s found that even when agencies do take action and hang paper on someone, that’s when a cop writes a memo about another cop’s bad behavior. They don’t always share that information.
Speaker 27: So the dark figure of police crime, what we don’t know, is that many officers who get in trouble, who are accused of various types of misconduct are given the opportunity to quietly resign. In other words, if you resign we’re not going to charge you criminally and you can go on your way an that’s the end of it. And we don’t know those numbers because they never found their way into the courts. They never were arrested. They don’t find their way into the news articles typically.
Nick Asing: In Oakland, at least a handful of officers came forward to hang paper on Andaya. I’ve gotten access to many of those records. And I wanted to see what Reno Rampagnani, the former San Francisco police officer, would make of it. I showed him an inter-office letter written by Andaya’s former captain in Oakland. A kind of greatest hits of Andaya’s troubling behavior in his first few years with that department.
Reno Rapagnani: “While on the Recruit Academy, Andaya pointed a unloaded handgun at his head and pulled the trigger several times.” Wow. “Andaya also was observed physically abusing a mildly uncooperative handcuffed suspect by choking him around the throat with his hands and pushing him to the ground while Andaya screamed, “I’ll kill you.” He also was very quick to put his hands on people and became physical with them. Yeah. Andaya tells suspects, “I’ve killed before and I want and will kill again.”
Reno Rapagnani: “I would make the following recommendations in response to this situation. Officer Andaya be immediately reassigned to an administrative assignment, which will limit his contact with the public and not require his carrying or use of firearms or other weapons.”
Reno Rapagnani: This is from a captain. Captain of police. I mean, this is something you would write if you were trying to terminate somebody.
Nick Asing: The Oakland PD sent none of this information to Reno when he was considering whether or not to hire Andaya.
Nick Asing: After he’s fired by the San Francisco police Marc Andaya seems to disappear from the record. Nine years go by. But then he appears again. I find him in a database. He’s working in Contra Costa, a county less than 30 miles from San Francisco. I went to see Aaron Williams’ aunt to tell her the news.
Nick Asing: So, in 2006 Andaya was rehired by the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department.
Lynnette Robins: I didn’t know that. I didn’t know where he all went to. And we need police in there. But Marc Andaya was one of them that he should be working nowhere that has anything to do with a gun. Because life doesn’t mean anything to him. He’s a killer. He’s a murderer. And I said it when he killed my nephew and I’m saying it right now. That’s how I feel about him.
Nick Asing: While I was reporting this story, I reached out to Marc Andaya several times. I also requested an interview with his boss, the Sheriff of Contra Costa. Both declined to speak with me. As we go to air, Andaya’s still a law enforcement officer with a badge and a gun.
Al Letzon: That story came to us from Nick Asing of the radio show and podcast, Snap Judgment.
Al Letzon: The biggest defenders of Marc Andaya came from the rank and file of the local police unit. I talked to the president of the National Fraternal Order of Police about why unions continue to back officers accused of serious misconduct.
Speaker 29: We’ve gone, just in the short period of time, from public servants to public enemies because the full story is not being told.
Al Letzon: That’s next on Reveal.
Al Letzon: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letzon.
Al Letzon: When a police officer is accused of corruption or brutality or killing a member of the public, you’re likely to hear from the local police union. After NYPD police officer Daniel Pantaleo was fired for using a banned choke hold that a medical examiner said led to the death of Eric Garner, the head of the local police union held a press conference.
Speaker 29: Today is a sad day for the NYPD when justice has not been served. The leadership of this city and its police department is absolutely afraid of the criminal advocates and base this decision not on the facts but base this decision on the politics.
Al Letzon: More than any other industry, a lot of police unions have had a long term focus on protecting members accused of misconduct. They’ve supported laws that kept disciplinary laws secret. They’ve negotiated contracts that ban civilian oversight, limit investigations and destroy disciplinary records after a time. They’ve appealed the firing of officers who have been disciplined and gotten them rehired.
Al Letzon: Now, every police force, every police union is different. But the National Fraternal Order of Police is an umbrella group that includes many police unions. It has nearly 350,000 members in more than 2,000 local chapters. In August, they elected a new president, Patrick Yoes. His first press release was a statement on the firing of Officer Pantaleo in New York. It said it was the wrong decision, that he was fired for doing his job and that it would have a chilling effect on police across the country.
Al Letzon: I spoke with Patrick Yoes three weeks later.
Al Letzon: In some of your campaign flyers, it said that this is one of the most turbulent times in the history of the union. What do you think is turbulent about this time that we’re in right now?
Patrick Yoes: Well, I think it’s our profession. The world’s changing and our profession’s changing with it. But at the same time, I think that there’s a lot of, I guess, misunderstandings or a quick rush to judgment on things involving law enforcement that don’t tell the full story. And I think because of that it’s creating an atmosphere where we’ve gone just in a short period of time from public servants to public enemies because the full story’s not being told. But I also recognize that these changing times mean as an organization, as a profession, we need to change as well. We’re allowed to do some pretty profound things as law enforcement officers in the role that we play but that doesn’t come without public trust.
Al Letzon: I hear what you’re saying. But also, the one press release that you’ve put out since becoming president of the union was saying that it was to fire the officer in the Eric Garner case. In the death of Eric Garner, the police officer used the chokehold that had banned by the NYC police department. It took five years for him to be let go from the police department and then your organization said that it was wrong for him to be fired.
Patrick Yoes: All right, if I could break that down in a few ways.
Al Letzon: Yeah, please.
Patrick Yoes: Okay, so our argument in the position that we took from the organization is is that both federal and state agencies fully investigated this and found that there were no violations of law. If there were, he would have been charged. Five years later to come back and administratively decide that that wasn’t good enough, we don’t agree with it, that sends a message to law enforcement officers all across this country.
Patrick Yoes: An officer who is disciplined because of actions that he has taken, he has a right to due process. Just because we pin on a badge, we do have to be held at a higher set of standards. I totally agree with that. But just because we pin on a badge doesn’t mean that we are second class citizens.
Al Letzon: I totally hear what you’re saying about due process. My point is that the officer in the Eric Garner case to more due process than most people get. And he was found at the end of that due process that he should not have used that chokehold and therefore he should be let go from the police department. He wasn’t locked up for it. He was literally told that he did not do the job the way he was supposed to do the job. And I would also say that those officers surrounding Eric Garner, none of them were in danger of their lives. None of them were.
Patrick Yoes: Okay, I mean that’s a perception we know how this one turned out. I can sit here for hours and tell you about situations where officers are now names on a wall and families don’t have their officer anymore because of situations that escalated just as this one did.
Patrick Yoes: So I don’t say that to minimize what you’re saying. What I am saying is this is a very difficult job. It’s very dangerous. It’s not a perfect world. There’s always going to be these things but there are actions taken by everybody that escalate them.
Patrick Yoes: I will tell you that I think clearly every city, every agency, needs to put great emphasis on training of law enforcement officers in order to deescalate because this is going to be a growing problem. It’s not going to go away over night. And it’s something that we need to equip our officers to be better prepared to deal with.
Al Letzon: Historically, police unions across the country have generally fought to keep things like officer’s disciplinary records more secret rather than pushing for more openness. It seems to me that if police unions were willing to give a little bit on that, it might gain more public trust. Why so secretive?
Patrick Yoes: I don’t know if I’d necessarily call It secretive. Let’s apply it to any other profession. Any other profession you have employees that have certain benefits, certain expectations and discipline is an accusation, t’s no necessarily something that’s founded. There’s a process that it goes through. Those processes are very well detailed and releasing information and partial is not telling the full story.
Al Letzon: But if one of those complaints were made, it was investigated and found that the officer did do something wrong and they were disciplined, shouldn’t the public know about that?
Patrick Yoes: I think the public certainly has a right to know, to balance the public trust with the officer’s personnel rights and I think those balances need to be made and determined by the people within those given states.
Al Letzon: When the comes to officers without are off duty, should law enforcement officers be held to a higher standard than the general pubic?
Patrick Yoes: Look, I agree that law enforcement officers have to maintain public trust and because of that then yes we do, we have to be at a higher standard.
Al Letzon: So if you’re convicted for a domestic violence misdemeanor today, under federal law you can’t carry a gun, which makes it hard to be a police officer. But back in the 90’s the Fraternal Order of Police was against the law. Your organization and other police unions pushed for exceptions for cops. So they would be able to carry a gun even if they had a domestic violence conviction. What’s your position on that today?
Patrick Yoes: I know vaguely of what you’re referring to. You had a provision that determined that if you were convicted of domestic violence, you were not allowed to carry a weapon.
Patrick Yoes: But let’s back up. Officers who were involved in situations, made the decision that they were going to plead guilty to put something behind them, had they known that that would affect them in their job, in their ability to continue to be a police officer they may have taken a different path. They may have gone to trial and decided not to just plead guilty. So that was the position that our organization took.
Al Letzon: What’s your position today though?
Patrick Yoes: Our position today is is that I think that we have a process. That process is to evaluate and determine the actions. And if the actions are determined that an agency feels it erodes public trust and that agency is going to follow the due-process that they have within their state systems. And that will work itself out.
Al Letzon: We know though that domestic abusers when the get a hold of guns tend to use those guns. If someone is resorting to violence to resolve conflict in their own home, why should we trust them to carry a badge and a gun and resolve conflicts out on the streets?
Patrick Yoes: Well, I think if we’re talking in general terms and general terms I think that that should not be the case. We’re not condoning that someone that should not be in a uniform and carry a gun should be doing so. Our argument is is that an officer has a right to due process just like anyone else.
Al Letzon: Patrick Yoes, thank you so much for sitting down and talking to me today.
Patrick Yoes: You got it. Thank you, man.
Al Letzon: Since our interview Patrick Yoes has put out a lot of statements. One defending an officer in Virginia who’d been suspended by the police chief for calling immigration and customs enforcement to the scene of a car accident to arrest one of the drivers.
Al Letzon: He put out another one in the case of Dallas officer Amber Guyger after she’d been found guilty of murdering her neighbor in his own apartment. The statement attacked the prosecutor who said it was wrong for the head owe the local police union to come to the scene of the crime and ask the officer to turn off the dash cam in the car where officer Guyger was being held. And then there was the release that wasn’t about police officers at all. It attacked unnamed members of Congress for “violating due process to score political points.” It said the Fraternal Order of Police exists in part to defend due process rights. And I’m quoting here, “Not just for police officers but for all citizens at every level from the indigent living on the streets to the President living in the White House.”
Al Letzon: Our lead producer for this week’s show is Stan Alcorn. The editor is Deborah George. Thanks to all the journalists who helped out on the story of the secret list of criminal cops, especially David DeBolt, Jason Paladino, [Jessie Marks 00:49:31], Katy Stegall, Mike Frankel and John Temple. And thanks to Jennifer Kahn, Mary Kay Magistad, Peter Aldhous and [Tom Piehl 00:49:39] from UC Berkeley School of Journalism and their investigative reporting program for help with Nick Asing’s story.
Al Letzon: Our production manager is Mwende Hinojosa, original score and sound design by the dynamic duo, J. Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs and Fernando, my man yo, Arruda. Then help this week from Amy Mostafa, Najeeb Amini & Claire C-Note Mullen. Our CEO is Christa Scharfenberg. Matt Thompson is our editor-in-chief. Our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by Camerado-Lightning.
Al Letzon: Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D and Catherine T McArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Democracy Fund and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.
Al Letzon: Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.
Al Letzon: I’m Al Letzon and remember there is always more to the story.
Speaker 31: From PRX.