On January 27, we finally had our day in court. People still remember the televised video of the beating of Glen Beaty, a homeless man, on February 9, 2009. On February 24, 2009, the ACLU faxed, snail-mailed and hand-delivered a Public Records Act Request to the Fresno Police Department asking for the release of the names of the officers involved. Apparently, they didn’t receive the letter, and there was no response.
On April 3, 2009, the ACLU mailed and faxed a second request for the same information. That afternoon, Melissa White of the City Attorney’s Office contacted Michael Risher, the ACLU attorney, and myself and said that the city doesn’t release officers’ names until the Internal Affairs (IA) investigation is complete “and that should be soon.”
On May 19, 2009, we filed suit to have the officers’ names released and for the city to change its policy of not releasing officers’ names promptly, even when requested. On May 27, the ACLU issued a press release announcing the week-old lawsuit. That very afternoon, the IA investigation coincidentally was completed and the names were released. Released to the media, that is. There has never been a reply to the ACLU concerning the request.
For almost a year and a half after that, there were depositions and piles of interrogatories. Unfortunately, when the ACLU, on two occasions, scheduled a deposition of Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer, the poor man was too sick to be deposed. Finally, both sides filed requests for summary judgment.
We had our day in court on January 27, 2011. Unfortunately, the judge ruled to deny the plaintiff’s (ACLU) motion for summary
judgment and to grant the defendant’s (Police Department) motion for summary judgment largely because the officers’ names had been released three months, instead of the required 10 days, after the request had been made. And the city said it doesn’t have a policy to not release names.
Actually, the city is now releasing names fairly promptly, even without a formal request. So perhaps they have turned over a new leaf, and we accomplished what we sought. The ACLU now has to decide whether to appeal the ruling or just wait for the city to return to its former “non-policy” of not releasing names and go back to court.
We have also been working on problems at the Fresno County Jail. We get lots of complaints about the county jail ranging from a lack of heat and hot water in sections of the jail to a lack of privacy and confidentiality for personal interviews. Lawyers have even told me that women prisoners are treated more harshly than men.
But the most serious charge is that mentally ill inmates, apparently to save money, are denied the psychotropic medicines they have been prescribed and a cheap antidepressant is used instead. For many patients, this leads to violence and even a worsening of their condition. It also means that they cannot participate in their own defense.
When an inmate becomes mentally unstable due to a lack of proper medication, the inmate is sent to Atascadero where he receives the proper medication, is stabilized and returns to the county jail where he doesn’t get the proper medication and again becomes unstable. The lawyers and DA can’t get the prisoner through the court process fast enough before he decompresses and so he’s off to Atascadero again. Lawyers, judges and Atascadero staff seem to be thoroughly frustrated. And the poor inmate suffers and is denied his constitutional rights. Sounds more expensive to me than even an expensive pill.
On December 10, 2010, we mailed a request to the Medical Board of California and to the Fresno County Grand Jury to investigate. We have also been networking with the Prison Law Office in the Bay Area, which has been investigating various county jails. Fresno is now on their list. We hope this will all result in some improvements.
Finally, we have been working to support students at Fresno State who have lived in this country since they were babies but are undocumented. In particular, we are involved with Pedro Ramirez and Cesar Sanchez, two senators on the student government. An affiliate lawyer sent a letter to the Student Senate reminding them that their own by-laws don’t allow them to remove a senator except in a few well-defined situations, for example, flunking out. We’re still monitoring how this will play out.
The Fresno Area ACLU meets on the first Monday of each month, usually at the Downtown Library (2420 Mariposa St.). If you would like to become involved in any way, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bill Simon has been a member of the Fresno Area Chapter ACLU-NC Board since early 2007. Contact him at email@example.com.