12.14.2007

Officials react to indictments

Officials react to indictments
by Emily Wilson, The Eureka Reporter, 12/14/2007

Local police chiefs and District Attorney Paul Gallegos said they believe that despite rumors of bruised feelings, business will go on as usual within Humboldt County’s law enforcement system. The police chiefs of Fortuna, Arcata and Eureka said they will continue to meet monthly with the DA’s Office to share information about prosecuting criminals. However, there is no denying that the indictments brought by the DA against two Eureka Police Department officers have brought difficult times for all.

Gallegos maintains that he is simply doing his job and shared a viewpoint that “relationships are always changing and evolving.” He admitted this criminal trial has brought about some stressful points for his office and local police departments that work closely together.

“I can’t not do my job because it may offend someone,” Gallegos said. “It strains the relationship; it doesn’t break it.”

“The indictments are very disturbing to me and I’m disheartened by them,” EPD Chief Garr Nielsen said.

While Nielsen said he respects the DA’s Office because it is a critical component of the law enforcement system, he disagrees with the decision to prosecute retired EPD Chief David Douglas and EPD Lt. Anthony Zanotti.

“When they make life-and-death decisions in a split second based on their training, they need to know that the criminal justice system will support them,” Nielsen said of his officers.

Nielsen said he fears a conviction will have a negative backlash on police officers across the county and possibly the nation.

“I don’t want them to ever have to second-guess the decisions they make because in the back of their mind they are concerned about the possibility that they may be indicted for their actions,” he said.

Fortuna Police Department Chief Kris Kitna said his interest is in conducting successful law enforcement in Fortuna.

“We depend on the DA’s Office to be effective in our job,” he said.

Kitna said he hasn’t formed an opinion about the trial because it is still in its initial phase, but expressed a sentiment echoing Nielsen’s — all of California’s law enforcement is watching, including the state police association, Cal Chiefs. While recruitment and retention of officers is always an issue, “interest has probably waned because of incidences like this one,” he said.

Gallegos said he understands this is an important issue for the community and that every supervising police officer in the country is interested because it is setting a precedent. He said the case is rare because the commanding officers, not the shooters, are being charged.

“We want supervising officers to have accountability and discretion,” Gallegos said.

When asked why he decided on a criminal case, punishable by prison, rather than a civil case, he referred to the manslaughter penal code 192.b that states involuntary manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a person without malice.

Gallegos said he has immense respect for law enforcement, “but that doesn’t mean they’re not subject to our laws.” He said his impression was that people wanted something done and if he didn’t bring the facts before a jury, it would appear that law enforcement has a “monopoly on virtue.”

Arcata Police Chief Randy Mendosa said he is waiting until all the facts come out before he forms an opinion about the case. Many of his colleagues have expressed concern over taking on the positions of responsibility associated with law enforcement — and whether the responsibility is worth it. He said he has some deep concerns over the matter. “Being sued is something we expect comes with the territory, but being sent to prison or jail for making a decision in one of these high-risk situations is a whole new concept for myself or any of the police professionals I know,” he said.

Background information

On Monday, the public was informed that former Eureka Police Department Chief David Douglas and EPD Lt. Anthony Zanotti had been indicted by a criminal grand jury for their leadership roles in the shooting of Cheri Lyn Moore on April 14, 2006. An indictment is a formal accusation of a crime.

District Attorney Paul Gallegos presented his case to a criminal grand jury, which is a group of jurors that decides whether the evidence presented merits a trial, and succeeded in his attempt to convince the jury to hear the case.

The arraignment has been postponed until Feb. 21, at which time Douglas and Zanotti will present their legal defense and be informed of the charges against them. The transcripts have been sealed so that key evidence and witnesses remain secret except to those involved in the case. This helps to ensure that Douglas and Zanotti will receive a fair trial in Humboldt County.

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