On the night of Oct. 21, Santa Barbara police pulled over a motorist on suspicion of driving under the influence. According to the police officer and to eyewitnesses who contacted Noozhawk, the driver appeared not to comply with the officer’s commands after he parked at Loreto Plaza and got out of his truck.
The officer said in his report that the suspect was resisting arrest and that he had to use “palm strikes” and his Taser to get him under control. Eyewitnesses say the suspect was not resisting, and that police repeatedly punched and Tasered him in what they describe as a case of “excessive force.” Police Chief Cam Sanchez on Oct. 26 announced that the officer had acted appropriately in the incident and he refuted the witnesses allegations.
Throughout Noozhawk’s coverage of the story, readers have asked what City Council candidates think about the situation. With the Nov. 8 election a little over a week away, it’s a valid question.
So we asked for you. Noozhawk even went further to get the current City Council’s perspective. In alphabetical order, here’s what we found:
» Candidate Sebastian Aldana Jr. said he believes Sanchez should show the public the complete videotape from the patrol car’s dashboard camera.
“There are various incidents that are pending with the police force and the general public has had enough,” Aldana said. “Right is right and wrong is wrong, and it goes without saying that the public continues to see our Chief Sanchez and other higher-ranking officers supporting their fellow brothers and sisters in uniform. I feel there is a lot at stake at the present time, people are losing respect of our force, and no one is above the law.
“Now I feel the pressure is on Chief Sanchez’s boss, Jim Armstrong, our city administrator. What is he going to do?”
» Candidate Sharon Byrne said that she had refrained from reacting or making any judgment until the police issued a statement Tuesday.
“Having read the police statement, it’s clear this wasn’t a routine traffic stop,” Byrne said. “We are all aware of incidents of under-the-influence drivers that have caused irreparable damage and loss in our community. The suspect has a DUI, and has also been convicted before of reckless driving. Friday night, he was driving without a license, apparently recklessly, and rightly attracted the attention of law enforcement. After being signaled to pull over, it appears he responded in a way that further heightened the officer’s suspicions.
“The witnesses leaving Harry’s (Plaza Café) were not in possession of this background information, understandably,” she added. “The incident was recorded using a camera being tested on this patrol car, so footage is available for review, and is indeed being reviewed.
“I am confident that post-review, if the event warrants any further investigation or subsequent action, the appropriate parties will act accordingly on it.”
» Candidate Cruzito Cruz did not respond to Noozhawk’s request for comment.
» Candidate Iya Falcone did not respond to Noozhawk’s request for comment.
» Councilman and candidate Dale Francisco said the motorist’s blood-alcohol concentration test results will be an important piece of information, as are the written witness statements. Eyewitness accounts published by Noozhawk seem “pretty damning,” he said, but he added that authorities will have to look at the whole context of the incident.
“The (police) chief makes whatever determination he makes based on experience, and that’s fine, but we don’t have objective information yet,” Francisco said. “I just want to get a better picture of what’s going on before I make a substantive comment; there are still a lot of questions out there that need to be answered. I’m certainly not going to go out and condemn or contradict anyone at this point.”
He also said the council has considered creating a public safety subcommittee and should do so since the police and fire departments make up half of the General Fund budget and are “so central to what the city does and embroils us in more controversy.”
» Councilman Frank Hotchkiss said he was shocked when he read initial media accounts of the arrest, but he said he is hopeful that people will suspend judgment until there can be a careful and thorough investigation.
“One thing this incident shows for sure, no matter what emerges: It’s not an easy job being a policeman,” he said.
On Thursday, Hotchkiss said that any use of force tends to be shocking to citizens.
“From the police perspective, a strong show of force is vital to keep the lid on a potentially explosive situation,” he said.
» Councilman Grant House spoked with reservation when contacted Tuesday, but said an investigation is necessary.
“We must reserve judgment until all the facts are in, but these are serious allegations that call for a full and thorough investigation,” he said.
» Candidate Jerry Matteo did not respond to Noozhawk’s request for comment.
» Candidate Cathy Murillo said she was glad the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office is conducting an independent review of the matter.
“Our city must have effective DUI patrol, enforcement and prosecution procedures,” Murillo said. “We can’t have drunken drivers on the road, and all our procedures must respect people’s rights.
“I also support (Mayor Helene Schneider’s) suggestion to have the chief make regular presentations to the council and to the public. Our residents need to know what’s going on within the department that affects their neighborhoods and their safety.”
» Councilman and candidate Randy Rowse said he has been in touch with Armstrong and is hopeful that the city can get video equipment installed on all patrol cars as soon as possible to protect the interests of all parties.
“I take these allegations very seriously, as does everyone I know who is associated with our Police Department,” Rowse said. “Our ability to provide first-class, professional police protection in our community is the first responsibility of your elected officials. Providing our officers with proper equipment and support is an essential part as well. In this case, our patrol car happened to be equipped with video capability and recorded the events.
“I will continue to monitor this situation to its conclusion, but further comment on my part would be inappropriate at this time.”
» Mayor Helene Schneider on Thursday issued a statement saying that while she couldn’t comment on the investigation, the matter was being reviewed in detail. She also proposed that the police chief begin giving a report to the city council twice a month with an update on the department’s status.
“The chief’s report should be about five minutes in length and can include any aspect of the department’s work he so chooses, such as crime reports, updates on the Police Activities League and officer recruitment, to name a few,” Schneider said. “As with any council agenda item, public comment is welcome and the City Council can discuss the items and follow up with questions to the chief.
“I hope these modest steps to increase transparency at City Hall will be embraced by my colleagues.”
» Candidate Deborah Schwartz said that with the case being turned over to the District Attorney’s Office, “I have confidence that a thorough and fair investigation will take place, which is in everyone’s best interest. After all, our democratic system is based on a presumption of innocence.”
» Councilwoman and candidate Michael Self did not respond to Noozhawk’s request for comment.
» Councilman Bendy White said he would not make any comment that would tweak the review process at the District Attorney’s Office.
“I think we need to wait and see,” White said. “It will be interesting to see if the video does get released. I’m looking forward to hearing what the pro feedback is.”
— Noozhawk staff writers Lara Cooper and Giana Magnoli can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, respectively. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.