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Taser Task Force and the Death of Innocence

Original post made by David Taylor on Mar 23, 2007

Watching the Taser task force meetings has helped me temporarily put aside my fears about Tasers. Far more frightening than the threat of Tasers is the way that they are being forced on the public: shrouded in secrecy, with large doses of deception, hearing only speakers from PAPD and other police departments with Tasers, and bypassing effective public input.

Regardless of whether one is pro or anti-Taser, I think we can all agree that an analysis of a request from any public department must evaluate the impact on the public - not just limit the discussion to the desires and perceived needs of the department making the request. This is not just a quirk of the "Palo Alto process". This is called "accountability". Yet the Taser task force has announced that they will vote on a recommendation to City Council - even though they have only heard presentations by PAPD (at every meeting), Mountain View police chief, and San Jose police auditor. They've heard only of the perceived benefits - nothing of the risks. In their three public meetings they've heard no presentations on safety, civil liberties, civil liability, or human rights. These issues will all be crammed into the next meeting on March 27. Then, a few minutes later, they will vote!

The secret mission began on Dec. 4 2006 when, at the urging of Councilmember LaDoris Cordell, the City Council decreed "WE BELIEVE that the City Council should firmly and finally decide whether or not to permit the use of tasers by our police department". They did not say why. Nor did they say why now - why not wait until there's some agreement on the safety of Tasers? Council declarations are usually rationalized with ample WHEREAS clauses, but this declaration was 100% WHEREAS-free.

Next, the Council appointed a task force to research Tasers and advise the Council whether to buy Tasers. Then in their next meeting, just one week later, the Council voted to apply for $120,000 state grant to buy the Tasers they were supposedly still deciding on. The police chief admitted the process was "slightly convoluted", but it sure seemed "very corrupted" to me.

The criteria for selecting task force members was, of course, secret but the result was clear: a task force heavily stacked with law enforcement interests:

- The Chief: Lynne Johnson. Not an official member of the task force but speaks, at length, at every meeting. She is always accompanied by a fully armed, uniformed
policeman [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff]
The show of armed force ensures that "civilian" task force members
won't hear from Taser victims (who are unlikely to risk confronting armed
police again), while sending a chilling message to Taser opponents that dare to
speak out.

- The Captain: Dennis Burns. Not a voting member. The Captain was the only
member of PAPD to testify strongly in support of the brutal beating of 60-year-
old Albert Hopkins in the trial of PAPD officers Kan and Lee.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
- The Deputy: Deputy District Attorney Jay Boyarsky is a voting (and the most
active) member even though he, like The Captain, is a law enforcement officer.
Prosecutors typically work closely with police. Moreover, The Deputy has
taken on the role of spokesperson for law enforcement:
"I wanted to let the Paly community know that law enforcement stands with
them against hate incidents," Boyarsky said. [Paly Voice, Feb. 3 2006]

According to a news report, when a Redwood City man, Rich Shapiro, picketed
outside Sunnyvale police HQ (claiming abuse and assault by police), it was The
Deputy, not police, who responded:
"Boyarsky also said that legal technicalities saved Shapiro from being charged
with indecent exposure or committing a lewd act in public because although it
appeared so to officers, there was no direct proof that anything lewd was
going on "[The Sun, Feb. 5 2004]

No proof is a legal technicality? But when a drunken Stanford law school
student climbed in an on-call ambulance, drove by (and nearly ran over) the
paramedics and patient before running away, The Deputy had a softer legal
opinion regarding proof. Rather than claim the student was saved by a legal
technicality, he asserted her innocence of the more serious charge:
'Prosecutor Jay Boyarsky said he didn't charge the more serious felony of
stealing a working emergency vehicle because there was no evidence that
Powell wanted to actually steal the vehicle.>> "This was essentially a joyride," <<
Boyarsky said. ' [Mercury News, May 23 2006]

So The Deputy is not just an impartial law enforcer. He is an outspoken
advocate for the police who has failed to fully disclose his conflict of interest.

- The Defender: The Deputy's response to the charge that he should not be on the
task force was: "There's a public defender on the panel as well". How could
we forget when we watch The Defender, literally, pat The Deputy's back?
Public Defender Gary Goodman is a voting member. A public defender is
required to act as a "diligent and conscientious advocate" for his client. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] With a posse like that I should not have been surprised to read of their blatant end-run around the Brown Act (requirement for open meetings) in "Taser Task Force focuses on training, policies" of the March 16 Palo Alto Weekly. But I was taken aback that one member openly announced that he became convinced of the need for Tasers at the meeting that the public was purposely excluded from. This group does not seem interested in even trying to give the appearance of propriety.

As hard-boiled and cynical as I thought I was, watching this posse has jolted me to the realization that a part of me really wanted to believe that at least our local government wasn't completely devoid of honesty. Now I see that we deserve no better government than the one we are willing to accept.

Comments (16)

Posted by Shocked, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 24, 2007 at 12:26 am

Recent Taser related death by Police:

Web Link


Posted by David Taylor, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 24, 2007 at 4:41 am

An unedited and correctly formatted version of this post is published at:

Web Link


Posted by Sam, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 24, 2007 at 9:24 am

Mr. Taylor has made several incorrect statements. The public has not been excluded from the meetings. There were more than 10 citizens at the meetings all but one of whom spoke against tasers.

Without naming them, he states the commission is "heavily stacked with law enforcement officials". There are only two associated with law enforcement, one of whom is correctly described as a non-voting member.

He says deceptive statements are being made without identifying one, while he discusses the actions of Mr. Boyarsky and Capt. Burns in contexts not associated with tasers.

This emotional piece does not advance a reasoned discussion of taser use. I expect Mr. James presentation at the March 27 meeting will correct this.








Posted by David Taylor, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 24, 2007 at 10:27 pm

The original post tried to provide the background needed to place the task force meetings in context. I admit that it is long, and I apologize if its organization is confusing.

Quote Sam:
Mr. Taylor has made several incorrect statements. The public has not been excluded from the meetings.
End quote

The public was excluded from the most significant meeting.

Quoting from the March 16 PA Weekly article referred to in the post:
Some members of the public who attended the meeting were not pleased to hear the several members of the task force went Feb. 27 in groups of three to a law-enforcement simulator without notifying the public.

Although the city's external police auditor and task force Chair Michael Gennaco said organizers would have liked to invite the public, it was told by the city attorney that a full-scale meeting held at a simulator on the Stanford University campus - out of Palo Alto city limits - would have violated the Brown Act, which governs open meetings. So instead of a meeting, the task force held a "limited" training session and did not inform the public.

They attended in groups of three, although they overlapped a bit, member Daryl Savage said.

The task force would have violated the act if more than a quorum of members met together.

The public was not consciously excluded, Assistant City Attorney Don Larkin said.
End quote

So, according to this report:
1. Organizers wanted to invite the public to a meeting at a police simulator
2. The city attorney informed them they could not legally do so
3. So they devised a way to have the meeting anyway - without inviting
the public

Perhaps the four lawyers on the task force may agree that the Feb. 27 session was not a meeting, but this is what the rest of the public calls "legal technicalities". The facts reported show that the Feb. 27 session was intended to be a "meeting". Was the public consciously excluded? Or did the task force, oops, just forget? Point 1 shows that the public was not forgotten. So, unless the city attorney's office clarifies, we must conclude that the public was consciously excluded.

Quote Sam:
Without naming them, he states the commission is "heavily stacked with law enforcement officials".
End Quote

The bulk of the article consists of substantiation of that claim. In addition to the two appointed task force members employed by law enforcement agencies, The Chief has attended and spoken at length at every public meeting. The armed, uniformed policewoman gave a presentation at the second meeting, and has a significant presence at every public meeting.

When The Deputy responded to the charge that he should not be on the task force with: "There's a public defender on the panel as well", I assumed he meant that the public defender's presence should balance against The Deputy's vigorous advocacy for law enforcement, and so I tried to show why I doubt that The Defender can provide that balance (that was a portion of the post removed by Palo Alto Online staff- see the unedited version at the link above). But I could be wrong. Judging from the Defender's record, The Deputy may have been implying that The Defender should be included as law enforcement also.

Quote Sam:
He says deceptive statements are being made without identifying one
End Quote

Please reread: the post never says anything about "deceptive statements". But, given the facts reported, I would call the city attorney's claim "the public was not consciously excluded" a deceptive statement.

Quote Sam:
while he discusses the actions of Mr. Boyarsky and Capt. Burns in contexts not associated with tasers.
End Quote

The post is not about Tasers - it's about the task force: who they are and how they operate. The discussion of The Deputy concludes with: "So The Deputy is not just an impartial law enforcer. He is an outspoken advocate for the police who has failed to fully disclose his conflict of interest." That's the point of that discussion. The point of the discussion of The Captain was also given, but removed by Palo Alto Online staff- read the unedited version.

Quote Sam:
This emotional piece does not advance a reasoned discussion of taser use. I expect Mr. James presentation at the March 27 meeting will correct this.
End Quote

Sorry, but I don't understand what Mr. James' presentation has to do with this discussion. As I understand it, the meetings' presentations are about Tasers. I expect Mr. James' presentation to be no exception. Why would you expect Mr, James to go off-topic and comment on an online forum post that's not about Tasers, and that he bears no responsibility for?

I supported my claims enough to qualify them as "reasoned", but you have provided no support for your claim that the discussion is not "reasoned".

And, yes, the piece is unapologetically emotional, humbly following the precedent set by that highly emotional document - the Declaration of Independence.



Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2007 at 4:29 pm

When a cop says stop, stop.
Cops need an alternative to blowing someone away.
Don't they?


Posted by Sam, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 26, 2007 at 4:46 pm

One of the deceptive statements that can be refuted is the claim that the commission is "...heavily stacked with law enforcement interests:"

The voting members are:
Enoch Choi, physician
Gary Goodman, public defender
Jack Hamiltion, mediator
Linda Lenoir, PAUSD nurse,
Donald Mendoza, Human Relations Commission
Daryl Savage, Human Relations Commission
Josh Zweiback, Rabbi
Janet Wells, NAACP
Jay Boyarsky, Deputy Dist Atty. SC Co.

The 3 non-voting members are:
Dennis Burns, PAPD
Michael Gennaco Auditor of the PAPD
Donald Larkin, Palo Alto Deputy Attorney.
LaDoris Cordell is also a non-voting member, but so far has not attended meetings.

Concerning the safety of tasers I submit they are safer to use than pistols, rifles or shotguns. They also prevent someone from getting close to an officer and harming him or her.

The Feb. 27th, simulator demonstrations were to give commission members first hand experience on how officers make split second decisions. Saying it was a "meeting" does not make it so. No business other than the demonstrations was to take place.

David Taylor's initial posting contains hyperbole such as: "shrouded in secrecy" and "with large doses of deception". What wrong information has been given?

The public has been given every opportunity to speak. I don't see that "bypassing effective public input" has occured. I expect Mr. James will give a comprehensive anti-taser presentation on March 27th.


Posted by David Taylor, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 27, 2007 at 4:54 am

No need to endlessly discuss: just take a look at the documents. The memorandum establishing the task force is at:
Web Link

Please tell me where it states the motivation. The sudden urgency for action on Tasers seems to literally come from "out of the blue". The omission does not appear to be accidental: take a look at the minutes of the Council meeting that discussed the memo at:
Web Link
Mayor Kleinberg stated the time was wrong to support Tasers. Yet no one responded to explain why the issue needed to be decided now. The memo also names the task force. Please show me where it states the basis for the choice of task force members. This doesn't appear in the minutes either. I admit that my writing skills are sophmoric - if "shrouded in secrecy" sounds like hyperbole, perhaps you can offer a more appropriate term for this?

Regarding the Feb. 27th session, you state: "No business other than the demonstrations was to take place.". But, unless you were there, you don't know what actually occurred, do you? That's why the law has firm guidelines for conducting closed meetings: only for certain purposes, that must be announced in advanced. Because secret outings like Feb. 27 erode public trust. The public will never know what made Donald Mendoza emerge from that session convinced that PAPD needs Tasers. The public does know that the task force intended to meet (and include the public) , and that the Police Chief, Deputy District Attorney, Police Auditor, City Attorney, and Public Defender elected to bypass the law rather than not meet. Please tell me what I should think when those most responsible for upholding the law show such complete disregard for its spirit? Call it what you want - those are the facts, Sam.

My first impression of the list of members was that there was only one member representing police there: The Captain. I assumed he would act as liason. If you've attended the task force meetings, you know that assumption is completely false. In fact, as I said, the police chief attends every meeting with her armed assistant and speaks AT LENGTH. Again, take a look at the documents, the minutes at:
Web Link
Beyond the preliminaries, the meeting begins with a PAPD presentation. By The Captain? No - by The Chief. Out of 15 paragraphs summarizing that presentation, all but 4 begin "Chief Johnson explained/said/continued/stated/etc". Was The Chief dominating the discussion, or am I misinterpreting the minutes? The final paragraph provides a clue:

"Mr. Hamilton asked if members would be able to ask Chief Johnson questions and Mr. Gennaco responded yes".

Sure sounds like a one-sided discussion to me. Then the next presentation. The Captain? No - The Chief's assistant, who appears to lecture the same way. The minutes of the presentation end with:

"Due to the time, questions will be held until the next meeting."

Sorry, Mr, Hamilton. You're just there to be fed the police perspective, not to question. The Deputy has taken the lead in speaking for the task force. Come to the meeting and see it for yourself, or see me for a copy of the video.

When I see a list that appears to have two law enforcement members (one of whom never disclosed himself as such, yet is a voting member) but in actuality is being dominated by four, I feel deceived. And I wonder what happens to accountability when law enforcement dominates the committee to evaluate its own proposal. Sorry, but as much as it saddens me to use the term "deception" to describe this, anything lighter would be a mere euphemism.

This just looks bad - real bad.
But forget it, Jake. It's Palo Alto.


Posted by Arnie, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 27, 2007 at 10:52 am

Your comment that "The sudden urgency for Tasers seems to literally come from out of the blue" needs addressing. The request for Tasers at this point in time is about money. The City can apply for a grant to pay for the Tasers now which may not be available in the future, therefore, a decision has to be made now. That is why neighboring jurisdictions have bought Tasers recently.


Posted by David Taylor, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 27, 2007 at 3:47 pm

Can you please point me to the public record that is the source for this information? I have been unable to locate this, or any other explanation, in the minutes of the City Council discussion, nor in the statements to the press given by the memo initiator Council Member Cordell.

Again, the issues under discussion are accountability, transparency, and a properly informed public debate. If the explanation you've given is insider knowledge, then it only reinforces the point that the process is "shrouded in secrecy " (sorry Sam - still awaiting suggestions for a better term).


Posted by Arnie, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 27, 2007 at 8:23 pm

The need to apply for grant money to purchase the Tasers was openly discussed by the City Council and broadcast over TV.


Posted by Enoch Choi, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 27, 2007 at 11:55 pm

As a member of the task force, after reviewing the questions presented by the public, I prepared some answers to the public's questions in anticipation of tonight's meeting, and posted my notes from the meeting with details of most every presenter and public commenter:

Web Link

Comments are welcome there.


Posted by Sam, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 28, 2007 at 8:33 pm

Thank you Dr. Choi. I think your reporting is accurate and helpful to those not in attendance at last night's meeting.


Posted by David Taylor, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 29, 2007 at 3:05 am

I posted a response to the "excited delirium" post on Enoch Choi's forum. There are other posts there that need to be addressed, but I'll wait to see if the moderator publishes today's response before investing any more time. I would hope that my input passes the review - so far, only Enoch Choi has posted there.


Posted by David Taylor, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 29, 2007 at 3:25 am

Quoting Arnie: The need to apply for grant money to purchase the Tasers was openly discussed by the City Council and broadcast over TV End Quote But you haven't referenced any public record to support that claim. Are you asserting that Council Members Cordell and Klein openly stated that Palo Alto must decide on Tasers now because PAPD needed to apply for Taser grant money - yet all the public recordkeepers somehow neglected to mention that bizarre tail-wagging-the-dog scenario of a city department setting the Council's priorities?


Posted by David Taylor, a resident of Ventura
on Apr 3, 2007 at 3:39 am

Quoting Sam:
David Taylor's initial posting contains hyperbole such as: "shrouded in secrecy" and "with large doses of deception". What wrong information has been given?
End Quote

Sorry if I'm belaboring the obvious, but events surrounding the March 27 task force meeting sparked me to renew my search for a description more apt than "deception". The dictionary tells us that to deceive is "to cause to accept as true or valid what is false or invalid". Perhaps the sticking point is "to cause to accept": that's difficult to prove.

So I will drop the term "deception" and simply discuss statements made that were known to be false. The common term for such a statement is a "lie", but I will use the euphemism currently in vogue, "misrepresentation", to avoid accusations of incivility.

- As is clearly evident in the article reporting it, the city attorney's claim "the public was not consciously excluded" from the meeting held at the training center, was known to be false: a "misrepresentation".

- In the Mercury News, before the March 27 meeting, we read:
Quote
"We have received a plethora of information, pro and con," said Deputy Public Defender Gary Goodman, one of 12 members appointed to the task force by then-Mayor Judy Kleinberg. He said Monday the group was "absolutely" ready to make a decision
End Quote
He knew the task force had heard only presentations from PAPD and other pro-Taser police agents - not a single "con" (The task force knew that too and, sensibly, deferred the vote). Another "misrepresentation".

- In the March 13 meeting of the task force, The Chief said she had a long conversation with Newark police chief Ray Samuels, and that he is "beginning to lean more and more towards the possibility of getting Tasers for his folks". But at the March 27 meeting, Aram James presented a letter where Samuels wrote: "I am steadfast in my refusal to modify my position on conducted energy devices primarily because the risk of unintended death is too high." Yet another "misrepresentation".

Why so much "misrepresentation"? Why are these public officials not telling the truth? Who benefits from the false? How can informed decisions on a matter of significant public impact be made in a climate of pervasive "misrepresentations"? These are the questions that should be troubling Palo Alto now.


Posted by David Taylor, a resident of Ventura
on Apr 8, 2007 at 2:28 am

Video of the March 27 meeting of the Palo Alto Taser task force is available:

Aram James presentation (minus the reading of Ray Samuels letter)
Web Link

Mark Schlosberg presentation
Web Link

Public comment
Web Link


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