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Santa Monica Police Department Chief Timothy Jackman (left) and Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board member Oscar de la Torre (Right) talk immediately after a discussion before the Santa Monica City Council about the police department's questionable investigation practices against de la Torre.
Photo by Parimal M. Rohit
Santa Monica Police Department Chief Timothy Jackman (left) and Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board member Oscar de la Torre (Right) talk immediately after a discussion before the Santa Monica City Council about the police department's questionable investigation practices against de la Torre.

News, City Council, School Board, City Manager, Pico Boulevard, Police Department, Santa Monica-malibu School District (smmusd)

City Manager Takes Responsibility for Messy Police Investigation

Rod Gould, Santa Monica City Manager
Photo courtesy of the City of Santa Monica
Rod Gould, Santa Monica City Manager

Posted Feb. 23, 2011, 10:00 pm

Christopher Rosacker / Former Editor-in-Chief

Santa Monica’s City Manager, Rod Gould, has publicly taken responsibility for the police department’s questionable investigation of a local school board member.

"As always, I fully accept the responsibility for the actions of the entire City staff, including members of our police department,” Gould said in a report before the city council at its Feb. 22 meeting.

Gould’s report comes in the wake of an independent review of the Santa Monica Police Department’s investigation into Santa Monica-Malibu School District Board member Oscar de la Torre, who is also the executive director of the Pico Youth and Family Center.

In December 2010, Gould called on the LA County Office of Independent Review (OIR) to evaluate SMPD’s investigation following considerable media attention and public concern. The OIR found that although the police department was correct to investigate de la Torre for child endangerment in regard to his involvement in breaking up a March 16, 2010 fight between two 17-year-olds, and that the department was correct for bringing that case to the district attorney, the manner in which the investigation itself was carried out did not comply with the “just the facts” orientation of common investigation practices. The report cited failures in witness interviewing techniques, witness follow-up, and report writing conducted by the police department.

“This investigation has been very hard on me. The consequences are severe,” de la Torre said before the council. “But the intent behind the investigation was malicious: it was to ruin my career. First to put me in jail, to make me a felon, to force me to defend myself and leave me bankrupt, and in the end, to defame my character and the character of my organization.”

Beyond the investigation, the OIR took issue with the police department’s report, which it described as "an unusual mixture of fact and advocacy." To the OIR group, it could not be interpreted as “merely a dispassionate rendering of the facts… The report appears to advocate a position, which may not be the best reporting practice."

“This matter upsets me," Gould bluntly declared at the meeting. “After careful review of the report, I regret that although our police department was correct to investigate the incident, the way it was handled unfortunately casts a shadow over the investigation," he later added. He also said that the whole incident “has the potential to create the appearance of bias and thus put the effectiveness of the police investigations, and public's confidence in them, at risk."

Although he is shouldering the weight of responsibility, Gould refused to give in to calls from the community to hold a public inquiry into the detective in charge of the investigation, Sgt. Dave Thomas. "That cannot happen," Gould said, adding that Santa Monica’s city council/city manager form of government (as set forth in the City's charter), requires that all personnel matters be handled administratively and not by the council. Additionally, state and local civil service laws, including the police officer's bill of rights, place limitations on, and set clear procedures for, how personnel actions are handled. Conducting an inquiry in a public forum into an employee’s conduct could run afoul of constitutional rights, Gould said.

Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis also defended the council’s inability to exercise some additional oversight by outlining how that type of power could also be used. "If we can review the police department, then we can control the police department, and I don't think anyone wants a situation where the police becomes a political arm of the city council,” she said. “That's why it is very important that we respect our city manager form of government and allow this matter to be handled internally within the procedures we have legally set forth.”

Gould reiterated his and Chief of Police Timothy Jackman’s commitment to implement the recommendations of the OIR, which were to develop a detective’s manual; implement more training on techniques for witness interviews; develop a report-writing manual, training, and establish standard report format, even for unusual cases; consider witness bias and document it in reports; emphasize caution in providing counseling and advice when conducting interviews of minors and parents; and implement a more robust review process.

Furthermore, Gould promised a progress report on the implementation of the OIR recommendations within 90 days. He also called on the police department to conduct an internal review of this matter and to determine what additional actions, if any, are called for.

"I want to acknowledge the work of the city manager, because I know this is not an easy task to hold employees accountable and to make sure we work for an honest and transparent government,” de la Torre said during public comment at the council meeting.

Despite Gould’s largely praised actions, some were not satisfied that de la Torre has been given an official apology, despite calls for one. “The [OIR] offers seven recommendations, urging training and better guidance, but it seems to me that it stopped short. I believe Mr. de la Torre is owed a public apology,” said Tricia Crane, a special education activist, who spoke before the council.

“It is very rare that I find that being a council member constrains my ability to express what I think and feel,” said Council member Kevin McKeown. “This is one of those rare situations, because of the legal situation we sit in here. There are particular processes that have to be followed through, individual rights to be protected, and I think we are all trying very hard to respect that and at the same time indicate how deeply concerned we are and have been about this matter.”

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Comments

Feb. 24, 2011, 2:22:47 am

Alex said...

Oh let it go already! Get over it and grow up. The incident is over and done with. Oscar de la Torre needs to stop wasting time and money on this. Can't he just shake Rod's hand and walk away just as he asked those two boys that were fighting to do?

Feb. 24, 2011, 2:31:04 am

anonymous said...

de la Torre is just another racist hack with his own agenda. He is unprofessional, and can't handle any criticism. Everything he does or touches turns to garbage. So goes the school district.

Feb. 24, 2011, 3:28:57 am

Robyn Fenty said...

Here we go with the show de oscar. I agree with some comments from my fellow citizens. But come on, lets focus on the students and the school district. I dont know what good has come from Oscar, and the board. I agree stop wasting time and money from this, he probably wouldnt pay for this to proceed anyways.

Feb. 24, 2011, 9:43:28 am

Jeffrey Harrington said...

It was a waste of taxpayer dollars on behalf of Sgt Dave Thomas and his SMPD superiors to conducted a sham investigation. It is not a waste of tax payer dollars to defend the rights of citizens. Ask anyone in the City of Bell and they'll confirm this. This case has brought forward good reforms in the SMPD that many will benefit from for years to come. Its sad that Mr de la Torre had to suffer public ridicule to make this change happen. He deserves an award, not a police record for risking his own safety and bringing peace to youth violence. I don't think anyone would see a large group of Black and Latino youth fighting and try to stop it by themselves without a badge or a gun.

Feb. 25, 2011, 5:02:49 am

englishsunset said...

At least it is not being said as most politicians say...There is enough blame to go around, which means even We The People are getting part of the blame. America has truly become the land of those who pass the buck.

Feb. 25, 2011, 6:34:25 am

Miguel Bravo said...

Good Morning my fellow citizens of the world. Anyone with some power of thought and not enslaved to greedy, disgruntled emotions knows very well the malicious intent of this sham investigation. I believe hose complaining about the money and time need to throw that bag at the SMPD. Real men can acknowledge their mistakes and humble themselves to an apology. I guess thats a bit much to ask from these PD cowboys. It's easy for some to say "lets drop this and focus on the students" when they and everything they have worked for has not been disrespected and threatened with such caliber. Even more so when that work and reputation directly affects not just the individual but the many marginalized youth and families that you work for and care about. To abuse your power and act childish because the resources for your ego's gluttony are being reduced IS a waste of many..To search for justice is NOT. This is less than proper justice for this scenario. But the fact that a fight is being put up will soon yield many fruits. I really don't think SMPD planned for these twists and turns. Thank you SMPD, you're just making the people and community stronger! Abuse of power is a sign of weakness. Anonymous there is good at yapping unsubstantiated garbage.That's also a sign of weakness. Pretty ironic given the content of his post. Sad to see such ignorance during such a beautiful time when society is making strides toward true justice and equality. I pray for those disgruntled and malicious people, that their hearts be made tender and their minds be more open. Blessingz to all for a good day and an even better tomorrow! OmTeotl.

Feb. 25, 2011, 12:34:57 pm

DEsmond johnson said...

hey oscar keep it going bro

Feb. 27, 2011, 4:58:08 pm

residents said...

oscar is just Bull shitting with the PD he is smart but not stupid but he is always slipping into some bull shit by the PD. His power is the youth, no youth no power.his is street smart and got skills that keeps him going so no youth no power.

Mar. 1, 2011, 12:04:03 pm

Samohi Alum said...

Seriously, all of this hoopla is on the count that SM Police has been looking to peg Oscar with some sort of violation since he was in high school. I have known Oscar since he was student body president at Samo. SMPD can't stand the fact that Oscar is an example of hope for the marginalized youth of SM (yes, there are marginalized youth in SM). Oscar was born and raised on 16th street off of Pico, a hotbed for gang activity, yet he NEVER was a part of a gang. He did go on and was voted student body president of his university. Just leave him alone already.

Mar. 3, 2011, 2:53:11 am

oro en paz, fierro en guerra said...

Give me a break! If either Oscar or any of his flock of sheep truly believe the SMPD has been looking to "pinch" Oscar with some type of violation, since high school, you all need to seek the help of a mental health professional. You suffer from paranoia or are at least delusional. Big deal! Oscar didn't become involved in a gang, while growing up in Santa Monica. Hundreds of other Hispanic youth stay away from gangs, as they grow up here, as I did. If Oscar and his devotees keep calling our youth "marginalized" and "disinfranchised" then that's what they will become. But I guess that's job security for the hero (in his own mind) Oscar. Viva Santa

Mar. 3, 2011, 6:53:07 am

Oro en Paz, Fierro en Guerra said...

Sorry, just wanted to complete my final thought...Viva Santa Monica! While I'm here though, I have a few more tid bits. Another Big Deal! So what that Oscar was Student Body President at both SAMOHI and his university. Let's not forget some of the most heinous criminals are our "elected officials" (Bush/ Cheney). Thanks for reminding me "Samohi Alum". Also, once City of Santa Monica officials stop kissing Oscar's a.., they should, if they already don't, conduct annual audits of the funds provided to the Pico Youth and Family Center (PYFC). For all we know, we probably already have a small scale City of Bell happening there, since we know they already have the role of the "corrupt elected official" cast. And if the city does decide to fund the PYFC in the upcoming fiscal year, maybe their funding should be cut by $30,000.00 (estimated cost of the OIR report). From another proud SAMOHI Alum...Justicia, con conciensia!

Mar. 3, 2011, 7:26:06 am

hood said said...

the hood don't really care about oscar no more we don't back him up since he went pop "white wash" he was a down as mexican now he is a white as mexican his hole pFYC staff has no skills they are all white wash also. Use the money to created school programs instead of a after school hang outs.

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