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by Mary Shelton
Wednesday, Jun. 27, 2001 at 1:56 PM
Activists and Police commissioners clash, about whether the Community Police Review Commission should launch an independent investigation into the shooting death of Vanpaseuth Phaisouphanh at the hands of Riverside Police Department officer Edgar Porche earlier this month.
Community activists and commissioners clashed once again over the decision made by the Community Police Review Commission not to launch an independent investigation into the officer involved shooting of Vanpaseuth Phaisouphanh at a meeting last Monday.
'we have never said we are not going to investigate,' Commissioner Michael Gardner said. 'We are investigating.' He said that it was not a decision not to investigate but how to time that investigation to not interfer with investigations being conducted by the Riverside Police Department and the Riverside County District Attorney's office. Activists including Ray Lewis, who represents the American Civil Liberties Union's Inland Empire chapter, urged the commission to launch an investigation while the witnesses still had clear recollections of the evidence. Otherwise, as Chani Beemanm, who chairs the Coalition for Public Accountability said, it will be an 'investigation of the investigators.'
The ordinance that created the Commission in 2000 clearly states that the death of any individual resulting from or arising out of actions of a police officer is to be investigated regardless of whether a citizen's complaint is filed. Yet, the shooting of Phaisouphanh was the second this year, that the Commission has declined to investigate. The first was the shooting death of police officer Doug Jacobs last January. Several commissioners momentarily forgot that they had even been asked to investigate that shooting including Shermella Egson, a former detective from the Los Angeles Police Department.
The decision to not investigate the shooting was made during closed session in a meeting several weeks earlier. Several commissioners allegedly objected to making that decision behind closed doors, and supported an independent investigation. The decision was to allow the Internal Affairs division to expediate its own investigation and then review its progress, before making a final decision whether or not to investigate. . That decision created an uproar, among the audience including members of Phaisouphanh's family and the Laotian-American community, as did the decision to post an officer next to Chief Russ Leach as he gave a statement.
Leach's representatives said it was Captain Richard Dana's decision to post the officer. Dana said that it was the officer who erred. The officer had been asked to stand in the back of the chambers, but had misinterpreted his instructions to mean he was there to protect someone, Dana said. "He was never posted for body guard services," Dana said. Still, he stood beside Leach for over 15 minutes without being corrected by either Leach or Dana. All this passing the responsibility has people wondering if the police practice similar behavior when faced with an investiation that might reveal mistakes made by officers.
Executive Director Don Williams, a former Houston Police Department sergeant, acknowleged that the city had hired an investigator who would be assigned to work on independent investigations but was unable to reveal his name, only to say that he was not from within the county. His salary would be included with the annual budget for the commission which stands at 5,000 with at least ,000 allotted for Williams' salary.
Phaisouphanh, 25, was shot to death by officer Edgar Porche, after he allegedly charged the officer, who had less than a year experience, with two steak knives. Within days, the department justified the shooting, stating that Porche was acting in defense of his life. A two-prong investigation into administrative and criminal issues, is currently ongoing. The police department will foreward its criminal investigation to the D.A.'s office where a panel of senior prosecutors will meet at least once to review whether or not criminal charges will be filed. The D.A.'s office has never prosecuted an officer, for an onduty shooting, in its entire history.
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