12.18.2007

Ts - 12/13/2007 Gallegos to handle police prosecution


TS Gallegos to handle police prosecution 12/13/2007

If former Eureka Police Chief David Douglas and Lt. Tony Zanotti stand trial, District Attorney Paul Gallegos will be the one prosecuting them.

”It's going to be a very, very tough case,” Gallegos said Wednesday in his first public comments on the case since convening the criminal grand jury last month. “It's very divisive, and it would be unfair in my eyes to put it off on someone else. I figure those sort-of-miserable cases should flow to me. That's the way it should be.”

Gallegos' office officially announced Monday that the grand jury had returned indictments of involuntary manslaughter against Douglas and Zanotti stemming from their decision-making roles in the 2006 shooting death of Cheri Lyn Moore.

Moore, who had a history of mental illness, was shot April 14, 2006, by Eureka police officers in her apartment at Fifth and G streets after a two-hour standoff in which she brandished a flare gun, threw items from her second-story apartment and threatened to burn the building down.

Police have said they believed Moore had put down the flare gun when the decision was made to storm her apartment. When officers came face to face with Moore, who had the flare gun pointed at them, they shot her multiple times. Neither of the shooters were indicted.

On the heels of comments from the defense team and from Eureka Police Chief Garr Nielsen inquiring about how Gallegos led the grand jury proceedings, Gallegos said he is confident all parties involved were treated fairly.

”The intention was to be fair to all parties, to present evidence in a fair and impartial way for review by a grand jury,” Gallegos said. “That certainly was my endeavor. Certainly it will be open to intense scrutiny. Whether I did or not, certainly the defense will say I did not, and it will be up for the court to decide.”

After working through his first criminal grand jury experience as a prosecutor, Gallegos said if one thing's clear, it's that there will be nothing easy about this case.

”I am confident that it is going to be a tough case for the jurors, for us and for the community,” he said.

The law enforcement community is taking notice as well.

Ron Cottingham, president of the Police Officers Research Association of California, said this is the first time in his three decades in law enforcement that he has heard of commanders being indicted for giving orders or direction. The indictments, he said, set a scary precedent for officers, who are often Monday-morning-quarterbacked for their decisions.

”If anything adverse happens from this, everyone will probably have to reevaluate their tactical processes,” Cottingham said. “It's another situation where the decisions officers have to make on the street at the time of conflict -- when there's just a myriad of things going on -- are fuel for everyone who is going to sit back and second guess everything that was done.”

For his part, Gallegos said he doesn't foresee a problem with his office's ability to work with EPD in the future.

”We work with everyone, and that's the way it is,” Gallegos said. “Absolutely our job is to be independent. It's also to monitor law enforcement activities. ... It's a mystery to me that people think there's this relationship that we don't ever look at what (officers) do, and say, 'You've done something wrong.' That's not our legal system -- that's antithetical to our legal system. That would put individuals and an organization above the law.”

Gallegos emphasized he is not anti-law enforcement and said he believes the commanders will receive a fair trial in Humboldt County.

”(The community) isn't anti-law enforcement,” Gallegos said. “There are certainly some people that are, but that's not the community. People understand the need for it, they respect law enforcement, they defer to law enforcement, but they have certain expectations. ... I think the defendants will get a fair shake in this community.”

The district attorney also took a moment to caution that, in this case and all others, defendants are innocent until proven guilty.

”The burden of proof is on us,” he said, adding he understands that the grand jury indictments have added fuel to some of his critics' fire.

”If my doing my job and fulfilling my legal responsibility to this community makes you unhappy, then you are going to be unhappy with me.”

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