Saturday, November 29, 2014

Is Disarming a Cop a Capital Offense?

The friendly faces of the San Diego Police Department.

The encounter began as a routine traffic stop. It ended with the avoidable shooting death of a young man that the killer described as an act of self-defense. 

After the jury acquitted the defendant of murder, the prosecutor indicted the shooter a second time on several lesser charges. The second jury acquitted the defendant on the most serious charges and deadlocked regarding multiple counts of assault with a deadly weapon. The prosecutor, grudgingly admitting that the defendant had been exonerated in a “fair trial,” dismissed the remaining charges. 

San Diego resident Sagon Penn was 22 years old when he was detained and assaulted by Officers Donovan Jacobs and Thomas Riggs in March 1985. At the time, he was about two weeks away from starting a job as a “community service officer” with the police department. He had also filled out an application to attend the police academy. 

Physically and temperamentally, Penn was over-qualified for a job with the SDPD. Although he hadn’t played high school sports, he was tall and athletic, and had earned a brown belt in Karate. According to his friends and family, he was a natural peacemaker, a student of Buddhism who later converted to Christianity and who learned martial arts as a way to protect himself and those around him without using lethal force. 

Jacobs, by way of contrast, was superbly qualified to be a law enforcer, and patently unqualified to be a peace officer. He was described as “one of the most prejudiced white people I’ve ever known” and “an ideal candidate for the Ku Klux Klan” by former police colleague Drew MacIntrye, who  became a minister in nearby Alpine after leaving the San Diego PD in disgust. 

Fellow SDPD Officer Nathaniel Jordan, a black man who also left law enforcement for the ministry, confirmed that assessment, testifying that Jacobs made casual and frequent use of epithets in his presence, such as “n*gger” and “boy.” During Penn’s second trial, former SDPD Lieutenant Doyle Wheeler described his attempts to warn superiors that Jacobs’ bigotry and aggression had provoked confrontations endangering the lives of his comrades.
Jacobs was made a Police Agent (the department’s designation for a patrol officer) despite an academy assessment documenting his tendency to “use profanity, slurs, and lies in his police work,” in the words of a Los Angeles Times summary of trial evidence. 

“Unless you show some considerable change or at least some more consideration for others and can change your behavior … we don’t want you because you are going to do nothing but create problems for yourself, for the public, and for the department,” Jacobs was reportedly told by an academy supervisor in 1979

At the time of his confrontation with Penn, Jacobs was a known danger to his colleagues and the public at large. Penn, despite “rumors” that the prosecution lusted to introduce as evidence in the subsequent trial, had no criminal record, no gang affiliations, and no demonstrated inclination toward violence. 

Among the tenets instilled in Penn by his Karate instructor, Orned Gabriel, was the need to de-escalate conflicts before they blossom into violence. Self-defense, Penn was taught, begins with walking away from a potential fight.

Officer Jacobs, who had stopped Penn without cause simply because he was a young black man in the company of several black friends, was determined to start a fight. Penn, on the other hand, was determined to avoid one.

Penn wasn’t stopped for a traffic violation. The official pretext supplied in the subsequent report was that he had made an illegal U-turn, but that pretense dissolved very quickly during the first trial.  He was seated behind the wheel of a pickup truck in a driveway talking with friends when he was accosted by Jacobs.

“Are you Blood or Cuz?” Jacobs sneered at Penn, assuming that the puzzled young black man simply had to be a member of a street gang. “Are you Blood or Cuz?”

Although Jacobs had neither probable cause nor reasonable suspicion to do so, he demanded identification from Penn. Out of an abundance of caution and a desire to be fully cooperative, Penn handed the officer his billfold, inviting him to inspect its contents. His intent, Penn later explained, was to demonstrate that “there were no drugs or anything in there."

Jacobs – who by this time was being backed up by Officer Thomas Riggs, who arrived in a separate cruiser with a police groupie named Sarah Pina-Ruiz -- reciprocated his cooperation by shoving the wallet back in Penn’s face and ordering him to withdraw the license. Recognizing that Jacobs was trying to start a fight, rather than conduct a legitimate investigation, Penn behaved in accordance with his martial arts training: He put up his hands in a gesture of withdrawal, and walked away. 

At that point, Penn had done everything the law had required. He was not legally obliged to answer any questions, or endure any abuse. He had been compliant and respectful in the face of provocation, and rather than responding with violence when baited by Jacobs he stood down.

These actions, San Diego Deputy DA Michael Carpenter would later pretend, displayed “an insurmountable attitude problem toward authority.” The unarmed Penn, whom Carpenter described in court as “Mr. Arrogance,” supposedly threatened Officers Jacobs and Riggs by asserting his legal right to end a conversation with a truculent, abusive cop. His behavior was “insolent, brazen, and immature” in dealing with a police officer who supposedly had the authority to berate him in any language he chose, and detain him on a whim.

Carpenter disgorged that lengthy string of adjectives in order to avoid the one he almost certainly wanted to use, but was canny enough to avoid: “Uppity.” He also urged the jury to accept the sophistical claim that because Penn had been trained in self-defense, he couldn’t invoke the right to self-defense in justification of his actions – presumably because anything other than abject helplessness on the part of a victim of criminal aggression by police constitutes a felony. 

After Penn turned to leave, Jacobs attacked him from behind, throwing him to the ground and assaulting him with both punches and kicks. 

“He beat me down, over and over,” Penn recalled years later. “He beat me down. He beat me down.”

Unprepared for the skill with which the trained and physically skilled victim repelled the unprovoked attack, the costumed bully withdrew his baton, and – according to several witnesses – screamed that he was going to “beat your black ass.” Rather than intervene on behalf of the victim, Riggs joined in the criminal assault.
Officer Thomas Riggs.
“I could hear ‘em just grunting with anger and just breathing real hard and just trying to take my head off,” Penn later recounted to investigators. At the time, Jacobs was “sitting on top of me … punching [me] in the face … He was reaching for his gun, he was reaching like right there for his gun .... And I reached, and I grabbed it before he did.”

“The power of the state was ganging up on him,” summarized defense attorney Milton Silverman during Penn’s second trial. Multiple witnesses described how after he gained control of Jacobs’ gun, the victim hesitated and briefly pleaded for the assailants to stop before firing several shots within the space of six seconds. Riggs was fatally wounded. Sarah Pina-Ruiz, who was sitting in a police vehicle, suffered a gunshot wound that left her paralyzed. 

Jacobs, who had instigated the entire affair, was shot in his right arm and then run over by Penn, who commandeered a police vehicle and fled – not from the police, but to the police. Acting entirely out of character for someone who supposedly had “an insurmountable attitude problem toward authority,” Penn drove to the nearest police station to report the incident. 

“The police were nice to me at first,” Penn told a reporter following his second trial. “But that didn’t last.”

Unlike Darren Wilson, who also shot and killed someone in what he describes as an act of self-defense, Penn suffered visible injuries from being struck and kicked by two armed police officers – including blows to the head with a baton, which is an act of attempted homicide. Years after the beating, Penn still displayed wounds in his skull from the baton strikes

Unlike Darren Wilson, who never filled out an incident report or gave a formal statement to investigators, Penn – acting in the ingenuous hope that his self-defense claim would be respected -- spoke at length and in detail about what had happened. Since Penn was not protected by the “Garrity” privilege that Wilson invoked, or the spurious doctrine of “qualified immunity,” every self-incriminating statement he made was used as evidence against him.

Unlike Darren Wilson, Sagon Penn was not given the luxury of a grand jury inquest in which a congenial prosecutor presented exculpatory evidence and examined the background of the victims at length and in detail. Penn spent years in jail prior to his trial, and then endured two lengthy and expensive trials before he was free to resume a life that had been irreparably damaged as a result of a few minutes of senseless, state-inflicted violence. 

Perhaps the most striking divergence between Wilson and Penn is offered by their respective answers when asked how they would remember the shootings, and if they would respond the same way in similar circumstances. 

Is the killing of Michael Brown “something you think that will always haunt you?” Wilson was asked by George Stephanopoulos, who clearly expected a perfunctory expression of regret. 

“I don’t think it’s a haunting,” Wilson replied, his voice flat as the Kansas prairie and his blank demeanor displaying no evidence of a burdened conscience. “It’s always going to be something that happened.”

Penn’s response to similar questions revealed that he was tormented to the depths of his soul by the knowledge that he had taken the life of another human being, and left two others permanently disabled. 

“I should of just [gone] ahead and let ‘em just blow my head off,” a tearful Penn told investigators following his acquittal. “Lord, is that what you want?... You know, that’s a tough faith, but at the same time it’s like saying, `Well, Lord, if that’s your will, then I’ll just close my eyes and just pray…. That’s what I would do right now. If it ever happened again like that, I would just close my eyes and I would just pray…. I’ll just accept that pain, I’ll just accept that bullet to my head.”

Penn was haunted – a condition with which Wilson professes to be unacquainted – by the fact that Officer Riggs had a family.

After Riggs died, Penn recalled, “I would cry, I couldn’t live, I hated holidays. I’ll always be worrying and praying and thinking about his two children and crying.” 

After Penn’s acquittal in the first trial, Judge J. Morgan Lester – who was by no measure inclined to coddle accused or convicted murderers --  excoriated the San Diego PD for what he described as a pattern of serious misconduct, including perjury and withholding evidence. Following Penn’s second acquittal, the California Attorney General’s office briefly considered pursuing assault and perjury charges against Jacobs. Those charges were never filed, in large measure because Penn – who did not want to see his assailant prosecuted -- refused to cooperate.

In an interview with investigators, Penn described his belief that God wants to “give Donovan Jacobs a chance to receive [Him]. To receive Christ into his life, to receive God in his life. That’s why he lived through that.” 

Although he was not a paragon of virtue, either before or after the fatal encounter with Jacobs and Riggs, Penn followed the much-discussed and little-observed Christian practice of praying for his enemies and forgiving the men who had attempted to murder him. Significantly, Michael Riggs, brother of the late Officer Thomas Riggs, found it more difficult to forgive Jacobs, who initially sought to deflect blame by dishonestly claiming that his dead comrade had started the fight. 

Free from prosecution because of Penn’s forgiving nature, Jacobs remained with the San Diego PD for six years before retiring on a disability pension. He went into legal practice representing other police officers accused of misconduct or seeking disability benefits. Utterly impenitent, Jacobs has also published two books describing his “innovative, proactive tactics” for dealing with street crime. 

Wheeler, circa 2009.
Doyle Wheeler, the former SDPD Lieutenant who testified against Jacobs during Penn’s second trial, barely survived what could have been one application of those “innovative, proactive tactics.”

Shortly after the trial, Wheeler retired from the force and relocated to Sun Crest, Washington, a suburb of Spokane. In April 1988, three or four unidentified men broke into Wheeler’s home, forced him to write a suicide note at gunpoint, then bound him and shot him behind an ear. Just seconds before the shooting, phone records and an automatic recording confirmed, a call was placed from Wheeler’s home to the desk of Police Agent Donovan Jacobs in San Diego

Police authorities in Spokane and San Diego dismissed Wheeler’s story, claiming that the former officer was psychologically infirm and had staged the alleged attack – despite the fact that witnesses had seen strangers enter his home. Police detectives insisted that Wheeler’s voice was the one in the recorded phone call to Jacobs. No effort was made to follow up on Wheeler’s suggestion that the recorded phone call be subjected to voice analysis.

The following year, t-shirts depicting an ear and the inscription “Doyle Wheeler Hit Team” were sold during a party held by the police department. The FBI briefly investigated a claim by a police informant that he had been offered $1,500 by a San Diego PD sergeant to attack Wheeler, but turned down the offer because the risk was too great and the payoff too small. A short time later, the matter was consigned to the cold case file. 

Although he physically survived the events of March 31, 1985, Sagon Penn lost the life he might have enjoyed had he been spared the encounter with Officers Jacobs and Riggs. Advised by friends and family to leave San Diego for his own safety, Penn stayed where he was in order to help raise his young son – who was given his mother’s maiden name out of fear of retaliation. He briefly attempted to attend college under an assumed name

For fifteen years following his acquittal, Penn’s life was a fitful affair frequently punctuated by domestic conflicts and hostile encounters with the police, at least some of which were self-inflicted. In the early 1990s, he served time in prison for a probation violation after he threw a brick at his wife’s vehicle. 
"Doyle Wheeler Hit Team," paramilitary division?
Penn’s conduct subsequent to his acquittal, contended former San Diego Police Chief Bill Kolender, supposedly validated the claim that he “was guilty of [unlawfully] killing a police officer.” It could just as easily have been a reflection, at least in part, of the physical and psychological trauma Penn had suffered. Kolender tactfully declined to comment about Jacobs’s alleged role in the attempted murder of former Lt. Doyle Wheeler, or the conclusions that could be drawn from the behavior of subordinates who referred to themselves as the “Doyle Wheeler Hit Team.”

On Independence Day, 2002, Penn committed suicide, consummating by his own hand the fate Jacobs and many of his comrades had intended for him. 

When informed of Penn’s demise, Bill Farrar, president of the local police union, reacted with all of the graciousness we should expect from someone in his position.

“As far as the Police Officers Association is concerned, the world is better off without him,” grunted Farrar, reflecting the widespread and demonstrably untrue belief that any Mundane who dares to disarm an abusive cop has committed a capital offense. 

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Dum spiro, pugno! 


Mr. Mcgranor said...

A tell-tale story.

Anonymous said...

I know this whole story very well and in fact learned more as a teacher, working in the intercity of San Diego. An important part of this story needs to be told. The gun that Penn got out of the cop's hand that sat on top of him beating him in the face was discharged by being kicked by the other cop who had been standing and kicking Penn while he was on the ground being punched in the face. The woman ride a long was hit first by the gun being kicked and discharged. Then the cop on top of Penn was shot as the gun was still being kicked. At that point Penn on his own or another kick shot the cop doing the kicking.
During the start of the first trial the people of San Diego only knew the propaganda the PR department of SDPD was spewing to get a public conviction before the trial started. Once Silverman started bringing out the truth and the morning and evening papers for the most part reported the truth. Which the had to report the truth because a local free weekly newspaper, The Reader was covering the story. Did The Reader have a way of getting at the truth in getting the dirt on the local government. So the GOP neocon Helen Copley and her two local papers were trapped into having to report the truth. Once the frist trial was over most of the people understood that the cops were the bad guys and it really was self defense with Penn.
It does not stop there. A young woman was murdered by a CHP cop Craig Pryer. Her name was Karen Knot. The people were wise to bad cops and the system to cover for the at all cost. The Penn matter was fresh so the system was forced to do the right thing. I believe the murder is on death row to this day. Miss knot was a real sweetheart and a wonderful daughter. Her father could never stop missing her and many years had a heart attack and died at her memorial while he was taking care of it. Her memorial was where the CHP officer threw her body off the top of the off ramp after untieing the rope on her neck that he murderd her with.
San Diego cops are known to be a gang first and foremost. They can not solve a crime unless someone comes forward with information that solves the crime for the. The one crime that needed to be solved but was way over their heads to do that was the murder Of the scientist who died with his young daughter as the got out of the car in their driveway. The were murdered by a pro hit team of the best money could by. The doctor was on a breakthrough on Alzheimers research.

Anonymous said...

Another point of the SDPD that is of interest is, San Diego Police Chief Bill Kolender. He was under the eye of the San Diego City Manager, Murray. First, Mr. Murray was the city manager for Cincinnati and the City of San Diego spent huge amounts of money researching and coming up with the best in the country. Mr. Murray was the number one city manager in the country. San Diego made a huge offer to get him to come and be the city manager. I believe Roger Hedgecock was the mayor during the research for the best city manager in the country.
After Mayor Hedgecock the mayor was a democrat woman whom the GOP neocon Hellen Copley had little use of or liking for. But a bond seem to happen when Hellen Copley's friend and good buddy San Diego Police Chief Bill Kolender was under the eye San Diego City Manager Murray for some issues that Mr. Murray had fired high ranking city employees for in Cincinnati. An interview was done with the new city manager who by the way is black. He talked about growing up and the police hassling him, family and friends. He said, in the interview that, "he got off on having the power over the police". That was the in the Copley newspapers and big time in such a way to destroy Mr. Murray. The city fired Mr. Murray and never gave him a reason for firing him. No kidding. The Copley newspapers and the democrat mayor became buddies. And Hellen's newspapers treated the democrat very well.
Cops seemingly have a long list of issues no matter what city, county or state in noted. Back in the Wild West many times the shoot outs were between lawman on who was going to control the gambling and whore houses. You can't make this stuff up.

Anonymous said...

Hide-behind-the-badge oinkers like Jacobs and Riggs deserve to be killed off like flies.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, anon, for taking the time to do that write up. Very interesting, indeed.

Anonymous said...

I do not know if disarming a cop is a capital offense. I do know, however, that anyone attempting to disarm me will be killed...regardless of how they are dressed at the time.

Anonymous said...

Have to agree that the world would be better off...without the likes of Riggs and Jacobs and the tens of thousands of their like-minded sociopathic "brothers in blue".

Not that there aren't decent cops out there, and they're not quite as scarce as honest politicians, but close.

Anonymous said...

It seems the cop perpetrator was the only one that benefited. So sad.

It only goes to show there is not a charitable way to deal with evil. Penn should have testified against the cop. The bad cop might have been forced out of the department instead of continuing on to infect more cops.

I briefly lived in SD in the early 70's. The cops there were really bad even then.

I think the numbers of cops and the number of killed people is being manipulated, probably by the Feds. Every day I see on the internet another person has died by the hands of the police.

Just yesterday there was a video of a person being detained by a cop. The reason he was stopped was because he was walking with his hands in his pockets! The last thing the cop said about his hands being in his pockets, there have been homes robbed. Huh, what? What logic!

The news is all hyped and lies. It turns out Ferguson was not about a unarmed citizen being shot and killed a cop. It was about the news controlling a civil war they hoped to instigate.

If justice needed to be served, it was for this guy.

EdD said...

One thought that often comes to mind after reading a piece like this is "Cops, who needs them?" The ordinary citizen certainly doesn't need them, cops are simply attack dogs for politicians.

I've noticed that every cop I've ever met was, at best, a simpleton. Those whose worst defect is simplmindedness are the minority who most commenters are referring to as "good cops". The majority of cops I've met are amoral, vicious dimwits.

That the people who aspire to be cops are dim bulb types is understandable. A man of at least average intelligence who has a moral foundation would much prefer to live life as his own man, rather than as someone else's dog.

Anonymous said...

Oinkers aren't exactly intellectual giants. But then, they don't have to be. They just hide behind the badge and the gun.

rkshanny said...

Disarming all the badge-bedecked hoodlums should be mandatory, and only a potential capital offense for THEM if they refuse to submit to US their alleged EMPLOYERS, to permanent disarmament for THEM! The State and its armed, sycophantic functionaries have always been the greatest threat "normal" people face.

InalienableWrights said...

Some people are better off dead...


Anonymous said...

My Cousin, Sagon Penn represented what many Black males lack. He stood up and confronted his attackers. He defended himself. There are Black people, then, and now, who maintain that we should always do what the cops say do. Had cuz did anything differently he may have died that night. My cousin, Sagon Penn needs to be remembered for his bravery. If America was not such a racist nation, Sagon Penn would have a Justice Department building named after him, or a street named in his honor. We should have a Sagon Penn foundation for all the victims of police crimes. We should honor my cousin every year to remind us how unsafe we still are as a people. #ILOVEMYFAMILYESPECIALLYSAGONPENN
signed... Ms. Penn aka LIPGLOSS

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