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Tucson must release all info about man's death in police custody... 2 months ago

Note: This story is more than 2 years old.

What the Devil won't tell you

Tucson must release all info about man's death in police custody... 2 months ago

Seriously? City leaders must have been hiding under a prickly pear for the last month

  • Mayor Regina Romero must quickly release all public information about the death of a man in Tucson police custody, which one city official calls 'a cluster---.'
    Mayor Regina Romero must quickly release all public information about the death of a man in Tucson police custody, which one city official calls 'a cluster---.'

OK. You know what doesn’t help, Tucson?

What doesn’t help is when police officers respond to an emergency call, restrain a guy, that guy dies and the police decide “Know what? No big. No one needs to know. Let’s keep it among ourselves.”

And then when the story breaks, the mayor decides to drag her feet on releasing the name of the dead man, the IDs of the officers, and video that shows circumstances of the person’s death.

Update: 27-year-old man who died during April TPD call is identified

I mean .... have they been hiding under a prickly pear for the last month?

I'm not going to get into rendering judgments about the officers; we don't (yet) know enough. They're off the force. What we'll be discussing here is what possessed the city to hold on to important public information for two months and not tell the public.

Read more: Man died during April TPD call; Cops pushed out, face possible criminal charges

The city was smart enough to put on hold a meeting to ratify a new police contract, and it's a safe bet people are going to pore over that document like it's never been scrutinized before. The officers involved have all resigned (which is bureaucratese for "fired").

For now, there's a more pressing issue. The city can't sit on this information for even another day. If there was ever a time that a columnist's snark shouldn't be necessary, it's June 23, 2020.

To work to shake loose any info, Editor Dylan Smith — who first reported the news — had to put together a 762-word public records request, meaning he had to actually type more than 4,000 characters to compel the city and police department do do what is so blindingly obvious Stevie Wonder can see it like it's right in front of him.

And while the city's indicated that they're working on it, they haven't actually released anything yet.

Consider this my records request:

Dear Mayor Regina Romero, Police Chief Chris Magnus and City Attorney Mike Rankin:

Did you guys all collectively, convulsively and repeatedly hit your heads on something blunt?


What in the name of Daryl Gates are you thinking? Give us everything in the file. Do it now. If Magnus resists, fire him. If Rankin huffs, show him the door.

Not only should the city and cops be releasing it to the public, they should be hurling it out like a Stephen Strasburg fastball.

Right now. Today. Here. In this moment. The people are looking what could be politely described as "askance" at the use of police force. They're cynical about government to a near-disastrous degree.

The news first broke in, but city leaders now have to fix it because with a pandemic sweeping through a suddenly out-of-work city, they've got nothing else going on.

This was Romero's quote when asked when how the public could get its hands on the relevant information:

"Out of respect for the family's wishes, I have been informed that the city will not be immediately sharing the name of the victim, details of the incident, or the video per the family's request," Romero said. TPD is expected to provide some information at a press conference on Wednesday.

No, no, no, no, no. We can respect the family without undertaking what will look like for all the world to be a cover-up. Maybe because the incident is two months old and the police and city said nothing for that time.

OK, the officers are gone. Romero says changes will be made. She promises. Maybe the 4-1-1 will be out soon. Why the hell did it take two months? And not just any two months but these two months?

People familiar with the case also say the family doesn't know about all the details yet but that the death took place while he was in the custody of our police officers and there was a blanket involved. We, the public, don't even know the precise day this happened, because officials refuse to provide details.

Oh, yeah. And the victim is Latino. When was the last time people of color expressed concern that they were being targeted and mistreated by law enforcement? This has kind of been in the news lately. This issue has kinda sorta captured the public imagination and full-blown anger.

Minneapolis? Ring a bell?

Atlanta? Anything?

Just wanna hang on to this and hope it blows over during these last two months?

I'll try to just type and not yell: You hung a Black Lives Matter banner from the top floor of City Hall!

It doesn't matter a whit if one of the officers involved is Black because the officer represents us. And so do you, Regina, Mike & Mike, Chris et al. You don't look better withholding information and you do the police no favors. You think nature abhors a vacuum, get a load of the Internet. On its best day, social media spreads about a million lies an hour. People need access to the facts to fill void and combat the nonsense.

And this city’s attitude is “Meh? We’ll get to it when it feels right.” Two months? So what's another day or two or five or are you going to consult more lawyers?

Y'all's cerbral cortex's snapped right? You heard a pop and now you don't remember this spring. This proves my second theorem of power: Never say they can’t be that stupid. They almost always are.

This is what a columnist types when he bangs his head on a keyboard three times fast.

jkuhih hjun jhuju

Righteous or not ...

One source familiar with the incident called it “a clusterfuck.” Another just pointed out that procedures weren’t properly followed.

By all means then. Make it worse by holding onto it longer so an already hyper-cynical electorate can decide the fix is in because you aren’t sure it looks quite enough like you are done covering your asses yet.

I’m not saying you are.

Hell, my experience with TPD has been positive. I was a passerby when a drugged-out suspect kicked the rear window from a squad car. The cops didn’t strangle, shoot, or beat the person bloody. They hogtied him because they had to, and then they called paramedics, hung out casually and waited for sedation to arrive.

I was coming out of a public library branch and saw a Tucson cop thank a suspect for not having a hypodermic needle in his pockets and gently put him in the squad car.

Even when I got my stupid-ass jaywalking ticket, the cop was cool and chill.

Sure. I’m white but the squad-car window-kicker wasn’t.

It takes a certain amount of collective training to make that kind of attitude permeate down through the ranks. Good for the cops.

But, apparently, you screwed up here. No one expects the system to be perfect. We get that mistakes are made. We can even wrap our heads around how lethal mistakes can be made. In fact, we've gotten a little too good at that and are thinking it's time to show less patience.

The instinct, however, to keep a lid on things and protect the public by not letting them know too much is exactly the wrong way to go. The instinct to close ranks around mistakes or misdeeds is right now an act of public malevolence.

A matter of trust

When trying to build trust, that sort of thing does the opposite. It fuels frustration. It corroborates suspicion. It tells the community being policed, the police will take care of their own and the community ain’t part of that circle. We’re all just “bad guys” waiting to happen.

Let me take you to civics class.

The community commissions officers, authorizing them to enforce the law. That affords those individuals the authority to use the state's monopoly on violence. 

Neither domestic violence nor resisting officers are capital offenses. The law includes a prescription for those and they require trials, juries and judges. Officers aren't to skip right to the execution part unless the circumstance is extreme. Police must work under the terms, conditions and supervision of the public at large. The public at large, delegates that supervision to elected leaders.

At no point in this process, are any of the agents of force absolved from their accountability to the community they serve. So the public has a right to know.

Waiting this long looks like corruption. Waiting longer looks like you, the city, doesn't care if it looks like corruption.

Here's a little secret about corruption. People getting up in arms about perceived corruption isn’t the worst outcome for the public good. The worst outcome for a free society is the people come to expect corruption.

So when it actually happens, the people shrug. Then it’s open season on a free society because the corrupt can truly run wild and the public figures its pointless to hold them accountable.

Release the information and people may get pissed. They should be.

People may be out in the streets. They oughta be.

That’s how we know the system is working. The people will do their part. In that case, a couple broken windows and the risk of a dumpster fire are the collateral damage of a free society. That’s much better damage than telling the people their lives the preferred sacrifice for law and order.

Dontcha think?

Good. Now make the information public. Now.

I'm totally gobsmacked. Oh, look. There's a keyboard.

jnuju juhn hjuh

Blake Morlock is a journalist who has spent 20 years covering government in Arizona and also worked in Democratic political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.

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