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Vanguard Editor's Dispatch

by: Juan Reyes

Biased Journalism

Regardless of the Internal Investigation, Criminal and Civil Outcome, the SJ Mercury News and Sean Webby have already determined "GUILTY" verdicts for Four Officers accused of excessive force -

What does it mean to get "caught" doing something? The past tense and past participle of the word catch, synonyms for the word catch include the words "apprehend" and "arrest" among many others. Popular culture uses phrases like "caught red handed" to describe someone witnessed to be doing something illegal or wrong, or "caught with his/her pants down" to describe one who has been found to have been doing an immoral act.

On 10-24-09, the San Jose Mercury News posted an article online titled, "San Jose police officers caught on video using baton, Taser gun on suspect." The article included grainy video footage purchased by the suspect's attorney from a "witness." This article may have been offered earlier or later in printed form, but this author wouldn't know as he doesn't purchase Mercury News papers. It is necessary, however, to keep track of the Mercury News' ramblings online from time to time as 1) it is free, and 2) as a police officer, it enables us to try to understand and combat the misconceptions that mass media portray about us. Looking at the title of Sean Webby's article, it is important to focus on the first five words that the editor chose - "San Jose police officers caught." To the educated or uneducated, informed or uninformed regarding law enforcement procedures, this title exists simply for one reason, and that is to mislead or direct the reader into believing that this is an article about police wrong doing. Innocent until proven guilty does not exist in this article when referring to the four San Jose Police Officers. Public opinion is formed by the title, and the article does nothing to show both sides. The article has been constructed in a way to show the suspect, Phuong Ho, as innocent, and the four officers as guilty. Reading the article, many troubling questions arose in my mind, but they were not about use of force.

The Mercury News states that "several experts in police force said the video appears to document excessive - and possibly illegal - force by the officers." The question that popped into my mind was, who are these "experts?" Are they Police Use of Force Experts? For what side do they get paid to testify? Are they ACLU Attorneys? We all know that if one looks hard enough or has enough money, an expert can be paid to testify about anything. The problem here is that the Mercury News, failing to cite sources for this statement, makes an opinion and accredits it to law enforcement use of force "experts." In reality it could have been made by anybody, or directly be the opinion of the author. Nice job Webby.

Later, David M. Grossi, an alleged "law enforcement trainer" out of Florida, is named and quoted as saying "That is a felony" in reference to a Mercury News allegation that the suspect was batoned after handcuffs can be "heard snapping onto his wrists." What?! As a police officer, I know that the sound of handcuffs snapping during a skirmish with an uncooperative suspect does not mean that all is "code four." Hand cuffs can snap but not be secured on an individual, but more importantly, a handcuffed individual can continue to fight and resist arrest. An individual with one hand handcuffed will make a "snapping sound" - and now have a weapon attached to the one handcuffed hand should he break it free.

An individual with his hands behind his back can still kick, head butt, spit, bite - injure an officer. At times, force is needed even when one is cuffed. The Mercury News, Sean Webby, and "David M. Grossi," none of which were on scene, do not know this however. They do not know for a fact that the baton struck the suspect, and they do not know if he was handcuffed or not. They can pass judgment based on what they saw from a grainy cell phone video that offers no clear explanations as to what was going on. Have you seen the video? Can you see the "ten" baton strikes that the Mercury News reports? Can you hear the clicking of the handcuffs, see them on both hands, observe that the suspect is no longer resisting, and then see an officer strike him with his baton? I can't see it either.

Then, to further prove the guilt of the San Jose Officers, the Mercury News and Sean Webby offer another "expert".

Added Frank Jordan, a former San Francisco police chief and mayor: "Once he is handcuffed, then he is helpless. If you can show that his hands are behind his back, and he is handcuffed, that is where you get brutality. That would be excessive force. You have him in custody. This is one last coup de grace. Is that really necessary?"

Mr. Ex Chief and Mayor Jordan, you should know the answer to this - yes it is necessary, if he still poses a threat to the officers and is still actively resisting. Patrol officers don't sit in offices - we go into people's homes and are confronted with a variety of dangerous circumstances. It is easy to give an opinion on something you may have never had to have dealt with from an office job. Much later in the article, hidden where "skim readers" often miss or skip, is the counter argument.

Not all experts acknowledged concern. Thomas J. Aveni, executive director of The Police Policy Studies Council, said the poor quality of the video made conclusions impossible. But he said: "Batons are largely ineffectual with contemporary baton designs, and baton usage always looks worse than what it actually was when videotaped."

What concerns me as an officer is the fact that The Mercury News and Sean Webby, who allegedly is a SJPD liaison, cannot get their facts straight, and have a track record of this. They front load their articles with negative misconceptions and opinion about the San Jose Police Department and its officers, but will never admit when they are wrong. An example of this would be the Mercury News' continual use of the term "vegetable peeler" to describe what westerners refer to as a cleaver. With each article the Mercury News posts, they include an "Editorial" from an unnamed author. This editorial without fail plays up racial implications, excessive use of force, and lack of transparency in police investigations.

Take a look at the following recent Sean Webby article titles, and ask yourself what direction the title immediately persuades you to think:

∑ Drunkenness arrests in San Jose outpace other California cities: Latinos Say They're Targeted (10-18-08)

∑ A History of Controversy over drunkenness arrests in San Jose (10-18-08)

∑ ACLU Seeking Taser Report (01-25-07)

The SJPOA has had enough of the misinformation and is attempting to counter this with their website You can help. Write for Write the Mercury News editorial staff and attempt to get published in their own paper. Have your friends and family write as well. If we, the men and women of the San Jose Police Department are not heard, then all that will be heard is Sean Webby and the SJ Mercury News and their campaign of misinformation against the San Jose Police Department. And most importantly, do not pay for bad journalism that you can get free online.

Stay Safe

Juan M. Reyes 2649 (retired)

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