Discussing issues such as distrust in the police is complex and usually devolves into agenda-driven politics. The news media likes sensationalism and the politicians love to play up to the cameras. Because of this, the nexus to the issue is seldom discussed. Although I am tempted to remind you of Ann Morgan Lilly’s disappearing police record or the many recent instances of police malfeasance in El Paso to make my point I believe that if I limit myself to one poignant example it would allow me the opportunity to drive my point across easier.
By now you know about the shooting death of Daniel R. Saenz by El Paso police officer Jose Flores on March 8, 2013. If you are not sure what happened you can read my blog post “The Death of Daniel Saenz and El Paso Police Impunity” to catch up. As I have written before, El Paso is a microcosm of the larger issues in the nation, except in some cases El Paso is the extreme version of numerous problems.
According to two reports by Adriana Chávez on December 6 and 10 for the local newspaper, it appears the federal government is now looking into the case of the handcuffed prisoner shooting. What is important to note about the latest reports is what role Jaime Esparza has been playing on this issue.
The video of the shooting conclusively shows a handcuffed individual, Daniel Saenz, being shot by El Paso police officer Jose Flores. From there we can infer many reasons for and against the shooting. Unfortunately because of Jaime Esparza’s inability or unwillingness to do his job, the community does not get an opportunity to witness for themselves an open and transparent investigation. What the community gets, instead, is more secrecy and the notion that Jaime Esparza protects the police and important people to the detriment of the community.
This erodes the public trust in the judiciary and in the police. Lack of trust is what has various communities demonstrating against its police forces in many areas of the country. Although the focus is on the residents’ lack of security, the fact is that the erosion of trust in the police forces affects both the citizens and the police. When police officers are confronted by law-abiding citizens who distrust the police it leads to an adversarial confrontation that quickly escalates out of control.
Why is Jaime Esparza to blame for the erosion of trust between citizen and police in El Paso and why is he the example of the distrust in police phenomena in the nation?
We all have our own notion of what led to the death of Daniel Saenz. We’ve all made up our minds based on incomplete information. What we need, as a society, is an impartial and transparent investigation into the details of the death. In a normally functioning society, you would have a police force that alleges a crime, a prosecutor that applies the law to the allegations and a judiciary that adjudicates the allegation to its conclusion.
Police make the arrest based on their notion of the law. It is the prosecutors that make the determination on whether the law was broken and decide how to prosecute it. A prosecutor is supposed to prosecute all cases brought to it equally and fairly devoid of favoritism or special interests.
Police officer Jose Flores was fired on October 28, 2014 by the El Paso Police Department for violating “department policies and state laws regarding the use of deadly force.”
We all know that to terminate a municipal employee is an arduous process that often results in lawsuits for wrongful terminations. Because of this, most municipalities terminate very few employees. In this case, we have a police officer fired for violating department policies and state laws. Clearly, there are problems with the shooting. Yet, and this is important, Jaime Esparza investigated the shooting in secret and filed no charges against Jose Flores. I have already written about the notion of “indicting a ham sandwich” before so I’ll only remind you that I believe the grand jury process is severely flawed and certain prosecutors use it to protect certain individuals while abusing it for political purposes.
I know some of you are thinking that I do not like Jaime Esparza and I am therefore drawing conclusions from incomplete information. I’ll remind you that we are working with incomplete information because of the secrecy in the grand jury proceedings. Let us take another look at the facts we do know.
The first is that a handcuffed individual that was on the ground was shot and killed by a police officer. We also know that the police officer was fired for violating departmental policies and, this is important, violating state laws on the use of deadly force. We also know that Jaime Esparza failed to have the police officer indicted by a grand jury to which he alone presented the information from which they drew their conclusions. We also now know that Jose Flores, the former police officer who killed Daniel Saenz, is being investigated by the FBI for civil rights violations. Jaime Esparza could not get Jose Flores indicted. The FBI sees enough of a problem with the death that it is actively investigating the same case the Jaime Esparza failed to indict.
A handcuffed individual was killed by a police officer, in the worst case and at the very least the judicial system should be fully used to transparently go through all of the evidence in public so that the public may know what evidence was used to reach the ultimate conclusion. Keep in mind, a grand jury does not adjudicate guilt, it instead makes a determination about whether there is enough evidence to believe a crime was committed. A true bill forces the defendant to go to trial so that the public may partake of the evidence.
In this case a police officer is one video shooting a handcuffed prisoner who is on the ground. The police department fired the officer for violating laws on the use of deadly force. The federal government is investigating. and, yet, Jaime Esparza could not get an indictment filed?
How can there not be enough evidence to believe a crime was committed?
Clearly, there are unresolved issues surrounding the death of Daniel Saenz. However you may feel about the secrecy of the grand jury system, the process itself and especially Jaime Esparza’s involvement on this issue there is one very important question you should be asking yourself; do you believe Jaime Esparza builds the community’s trust in its police forces or destroys it?
As you think about that remember the issues revolving around Michael Brown and Eric Gardner and what the underlining community problem is that has led to the community outrage.
It takes years to build trust and only seconds to destroy it.
Video compilation of the shooting: