Commentary: Remaining calm in the midst of Jackson chaos – 2004

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Commentary: Remaining calm in the midst of Jackson chaos By Steve Corbett/Times Columnist Jan. 20, 2004 The last thing I expected to do Saturday night was go on the FOX News Channel and tell Geraldo Rivera about cops running amok on Miller Street in Santa Maria. But that’s exactly what I did because that’s exactly what happened Friday afternoon after Michael Jackson’s arraignment. A city cop even hit me in the chest as I held my official police press pass in my hand so officials would know I was at the scene to do my job. Then he hit me again. But, I’m not filing a formal complaint. And I’m not doing any more radio or television interviews about the assaults against me and others outside the courthouse. I’m not a whiner. I just want it fixed. The unnecessary and excessive force that Santa Maria police and Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s deputies used in their failure to control the crowd must be reviewed and rectified. Rogue cop recklessness actually endangers better-behaved colleagues. Some people hit back when an officer attacks without provocation. Had somebody punched a cop last week, all hell would have broken loose. As it was, the whole world was watching. If related reports that I’m starting to hear from other national media members are accurate, this part of the story is not over. A CBS news producer in Los Angeles called me Sunday and said she heard that some members of the Jackson family were upset with the wild police behavior they observed. And an online journalist in Vermont who runs a Web site geared to the legal community called Monday to say he had spoken to others who confirmed some of my observations and said they had witnessed police brutality during Friday’s dangerous scene outside the courthouse. Like the CBS producer, he said he also has heard reports that Jackson family members have accused some undisciplined police officers of violent and unjustified behavior. Police made no arrests Friday although they roughed up numerous people whose only act was to stand trapped in the huge crowd that police had allowed to grow. The human mass blocked the street and pressed against the caravan of vehicles that sat waiting to carry Jackson’s entourage away from the scene. As the Nation of Islam-laden caravan drove away – stopping and starting to greet fans who lined the street all the way to Morrison – a Santa Maria police officer slammed me twice in the chest as I jogged far behind Jackson’s car. Minutes later I watched a young sheriff’s deputy sprint by an unsuspecting man who stood quietly watching the frenzied procession. As the deputy passed, he slammed his baton into the man’s chest and knocked him to the ground. I tried without success to see a name tag or badge number and decided not to stop and ask. I also decided against asking the name of the uniformed Santa Maria officer who had not said a word to me before slamming his hands into my chest. Because I’ve written about other bad cops since moving here 18 months ago, I decided not to risk retribution by asking to speak to a supervisor. Just the day before, my column detailed an ongoing federal civil rights law suit filed by a Santa Maria man who alleges mistreatment at the hands of county sheriff’s deputies while he was held in the county prison last year. California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has opened an investigation into Jackson’s claims that he was mistreated at the hands of deputies when he was held at the same jail. Two days before that, in my Tuesday column, I wrote about a county deputy who District Attorney Tom Sneddon chose not to prosecute after police arrested the man on child molestation charges. Sneddon said that the recently retired deputy – who, for years, had assisted Sneddon’s office as a detective in many serious cases – had admitted to touching the child sexually. But, Sneddon said, the man claimed he was drunk and thought that the child was his wife. I also have written about a Santa Maria police officer who lost his job in the wake of child molestation allegations. For those and other reasons, I decided not to stop and ask police to comment on losing control in the midst of chaos. Still, serious questions remain. Jackson will one day go home or go to prison. And the out-of-town press will leave my city and county unless sufficient reason arises to return. Me – I’m here for good. And, if I know anything about journalism, it’s that calming things down is sometimes as important as shaking things up. * Steve Corbett’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He can be reached at 739-2215 or e-mailed at Read Corbett online at Jan. 20, 2004 :nav Source:

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