Saturday Aug 2nd, 2014 10:00 AM
Yesterday I received a phone call from advocate John Colby reporting his account of an incident of harassment downtown at Laurel and Pacific in the early afternoon. Colby noted he’d videoed some of the incident. He forwarded me his complaint and demand for public records addressed to SCPD Police Chief Kevin Vogel. His account seems to be newsworthy and instructive though I cannot vouch for its veracity. It does seem specific and credible if backed up by video and witness accounts. It also involves Officer Azua, who has never been held to account for prior reported violence, against a woman traveler Synthia Kennedy. We’ll see how Chief Vogel fields this one.
Subject: What is the SCPD’s policy about “cop-watching”?
From: john.roncohen.colby [at] gmail.com
To: kvogel [at] cityofsantacruz.com
CC: rmartinez [at] cityofsantacruz.com; SClark [at] cityofsantacruz.com; lrobinson [at] cityofsantacruz.com;….
Kevin Vogel, Chief of Police
155 Center Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Dear Chief Vogel:
I am writing to serve you notice that the Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD) harasses “cop-watchers” protecting the civil rights of people in protected classes like people of color which has been witnessed by my sister and I — but today we were able to video record this harassment. To the point:
This afternoon around 1:30 PM SCPD Officer Bill Azua illegally cited an African American man — grouped with other African Americans — in downtown Santa Cruz for smoking while my sister and I observed that this man had not been smoking.
Officer Azua took this man aside and ran him for priors — also illegally — while he was citing him for smoking. I approached Officer Azua while he was detaining this African American man with my video camera. Officer Azua not only refused to identify himself, but also demanded that I move back. I asked Azua how far I needed to move back. Azua responded that I must move so that “I [he] couldn’t see me.”
Clearly this would prevent me from video recording the incident. I moved back five feet then asked Azua is that was far enough. Azua replied, “No.” I moved back five more feet. Again I asked Azua if I was far back enough. He refused to answer. Another officer came to Azua’s side and also refused to identify himself. This incident lasted for several minutes as captured on digital video. As the officers left I video recorded them. The unidentified officer pointed a video camera at me.
The African American men walked away. Azua followed them in his car to Laurel Street fronting the Taco Bell. He was then accompanied by SCPD Officer Ahlers from the Gang and Drug Task force. Azua and Ahlers took an imposing stance watching these men. I asked Officer Ahlers to identify himself. He ignored me. I asked Officer Azua to identify himself. He refused. Azua accused me of harassing them. I asked him if asking for identification constituted harassment. He replied that me talking to police officers when they didn’t want to speak with me constituted harassment.
A Pacific Ave, Taco Bell employee walked past Azua while smoking a cigarette. Azua did nothing. After I began video recording this employee, she became angry and began speaking with Azua while she had a burning cigarette in her hand. Azua did not cite her for smoking a cigarette — she was Caucasian. The manager of the Taco Bell demanded that I stop video recording his employees from the public sidewalk. I informed him this was legal. He implied that he would have Officer Azua take action against me if I continued to video record.
Minutes later my sister was on the telephone with SCPD Sergeant Jones. this sergeant defended Azua’s demand that I move out of sight while video recording. In response to my question about how far “cop-watchers” should be from SCPD officers while video recording, Jones replied 40-50 feet. I responded that this was too far, that it would prevent any audio recording. I asked Jones what statute or policy supported this. He said it was his “opinion”.
Officer Azua and another Police Officer in another car continued to circle around the area, following these African American men, apparently to harass them
To clarify the demands and opinions of Azua and Jones, I am making a request under the California Public Records Act (CPRA). I ask for: the most current documents which describe the SCPD’s policies about citizens (video) recording SCPD personnel. If these records are available electronically, then I ask that they be made available to me electronically. I am willing to pay a fee of up to $5 for this request. Thank you for providing me records which will shed light on what happened today.
John E. Colby, Ph.D.
email: john.roncohen.colby [at] gmail.com
NOTE BY NORSE: Officer Azua has been accused in the past of excessive force. Synthia Kennedy reported a frightening experience in 2010 on Free Radio Santa Cruz. Go to,http://www.radiolibre.org/