Thursday Morning News Roundup
Market Street Clears After Protest, Oakland Protestors Remain Downtown
Protests took place in Oakland and in San Francisco Wednesday evening in response to a New York grand jury’s decision not to indict a New York City police officer in the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died while in a police chokehold restraint.
In San Francisco, protestors blocked Market Street at Powell Street and staged a die-in near the Powell Street cable car turnaround that blocked Market Street for more than an hour.
In Oakland, hundreds of protesters gathered near the corner of 14th Street and Broadway at about 5 p.m. Wednesday evening, chanting “Justice for Eric Garner,” only about 10 days after massive protests in the city began over a similar grand jury decision in Missouri.
In the Missouri case, a grand jury chose not to indict police Officer Darren Wilson for shooting and killing 18-year-old Michael Brown in August.
In the New York case, a grand jury on Wednesday declined to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo for using a chokehold that led to Garner’s death.
In Oakland protestors marched down Broadway and were stopped by a line of officers in riot gear before reaching police headquarters. They then moved through downtown, with smaller marches converging on the main protest, and down Broadway to the Piedmont Avenue business district area before returning downtown.
Some protesters hold signs that read “I can’t breathe,” evoking Garner’s words as he was choked by Pantaleo. Garner’s arrest and death were captured on video.
Protests have been held nationwide since Brown’s death against the use of lethal force by police officers, particularly against black men.
Similar protests went on for three days last week following the Missouri grand jury’s decision. About 2,000 people participated on Monday with smaller crowds gathering on Tuesday and Wednesday. Oakland police made a total of 169 arrests as freeways were blocked, fires were set, windows were broken and businesses were looted.
Appeals Court Says Dna Collection Law Violates State Constitution
For a second time, a state appeals court in San Francisco on Wednesday struck down a California law that requires police to collect DNA samples from anyone arrested on suspicion of a felony.
The law, which went into effect in 2009, is part of a ballot initiative approved by state voters in 2004.
In Wednesday’s decision, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal said the measure violates the state constitutional rights to privacy and freedom from unreasonable searches. The court ruled in the case of Mark Buza, who was convicted in San Francisco Superior Court in 2009 of arson of a police car and of refusing to provide a DNA sample on a cheek swab after he was arrested.
Justice Anthony Kline wrote that the measure violated the state constitution because the DNA was not being gathered for supposed purpose of identifying suspects, but rather for investigating unrelated crimes and for adding to DNA databases for future crime-solving.
“The apparent actual purpose for taking DNA samples at this early stage – investigation — cannot be squared with established constitutional principles protecting against suspicionless searches,” Kline wrote.
In 2011, the appeals court in a ruling by Kline also struck down the law, but under the terms of the U.S. Constitution.
Then, in 2013, the California Supreme Court ordered the appeals panel to reconsider the case in light of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that year that upheld a similar Maryland law that required collection of DNA from anyone arrested on suspicion of a serious felony.
The U.S. high court said by a 5-4 vote the Maryland measure did not violate the federal constitution.
In Wednesday’s decision, the state appeals court said the California law remained invalid under the state Constitution because the state document provides broader rights than the federal Constitution.
The ruling could be appealed to the California Supreme Court by state Attorney General Kamala Harris. A spokesman for Harris had no immediate comment on whether the attorney general will appeal.
A similar challenge to the law is pending in federal court in San Francisco before U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer.
Central County Fire Chief Charged With Grand Theft, Fraud
The chief of San Mateo County’s Central County Fire Department is facing charges that he participated in a complicated financial scheme with his wife that led to him fraudulently obtaining nearly $35,000, according to the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office.
Fire Chief Mark Ladas was arrested Wednesday and is in custody on $80,000 bail. He is charged with six counts of grand theft, two counts of filing false tax returns and two counts of tax evasion, Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti said.
He has been placed on paid administrative leave and Deputy Chief John Kammeyer as been appointed acting chief, the fire department announced today.
The Central County Fire Department provides service for Burlingame and Hillsborough. Ladas was appointed chief in April 2013.
Guidotti said Ladas was arrested after years of investigation into a complicated scheme allegedly conducted by his wife, Peta Ladas.
Between January 2011 and June 2013, she allegedly opened fraudulent credit cards using numerous false names, set up false businesses and used the credit cards for false business transactions and then deposited the funds in bank accounts using fake names, Guidotti said.
Peta Ladas had already been arrested in connection with the activity on Dec. 18, 2012, but posted $10,000 bail and fled the country. She remains a fugitive, Guidotti said.
But before fleeing the country, she stayed in a Burlingame hotel and left a wallet behind containing her husband’s ID and fake credit cards. A maid found the wallet and turned it over to Burlingame police, leading the district attorney’s office to begin investigating Mark Ladas.
Guidotti said that district attorney’s investigators found that nearly $35,000 of the fraudulently obtained funds were deposited in three bank accounts he controlled and that the couple filed tax returns in 2011 and 2012 without claiming the income.
If located, Peta Ladas will face similar and additional charges, Guidotti said.
Mark Ladas is scheduled to appear in court Thursday afternoon. He will remain on administrative lead pending the outcome of the investigation, according to the fire department.
12 Police Officers Volunteer For Sjpd’s Pending Wearable Body Camera Pilot Program
Twelve officers of the San Jose Police Department have volunteered to wear body cameras as part of a planned pilot program with three different models of cameras, including one that can be affixed to glasses, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.
The purchasing division of San Jose’s Finance Department has already approved the vendor contracts for digital video cameras for the pending pilot program, police spokeswoman Sgt. Heather Randol said.
Meanwhile, city officials are conferring with the San Jose Police Officers’ Association over the issue of body-worn cameras for the pilot program, Randol said.
Once the program is given the go-ahead, the Police Department with its 12 volunteers will pilot three different cordless, wearable video cameras, including a model made by the company Vievu and two by Taser International, the Axon Body and Axon Flex, according to Randol.
The Police Department’s wearable camera pilot program will help it make decisions on the type of camera that it can manage among its personnel and infrastructure, Randol said.
The program will also give the department an idea on how much the wearable cameras cost, she said.
According to two companies’ websites, the Vievu2 and LE3 sell for $349.95 and $899.95 each, respectively, while the Axon Body goes for $399 and the Flex model $599.
Livestreamer Arrested At Ferguson-Related Protest Pleads Not Guilty To Battery On An Officer
A citizen journalist who was arrested on suspicion of battering a police officer near San Francisco’s Union Square during a Ferguson-related demonstration on Black Friday pleaded not guilty in court Wednesday and is being held on $75,000 bail.
Police arrested James Jennison, 36, on Friday evening after he allegedly tripped a police officer while he was on the ground being handcuffed, according to San Francisco district attorney’s office spokesman Alex Bastian.
Friday’s demonstration came days after an announcement made on Nov. 24 to not indict Ferguson, Missouri police Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, in the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who is black.
Jennison, a Caucasian man with a slender build and brown hair, pleaded not guilty to felony battery with injury on a peace officer, felony threat to an executive officer, and misdemeanor battery on a police officer, according to Jennison’s private attorney, Zadik Shapiro.
Shapiro said Jennison formerly worked as a computer programmer in San Francisco and now works as a citizen journalist, who frequently livestreams political happenings onto the Internet.
A number of Jennison’s friends showed up in court Wednesday to support him.
Sarah Menefee said she and Jennison are close and that she has known him always to be a peaceful, funny, artistic and talented man.
Menefee said that while Jennison “used language” at the officers, he is a nonviolent activist and has a right to speak his mind to police.
Clark Sullivan, also a livestreamer, said he has known Jennison for a long time and said that Jennison apparently bumped into an officer and was then detained.
Sullivan said Jennison’s arrest was captured on video and uploaded onto YouTube.
In the video, it shows Jennison on the ground on his stomach being handcuffed by two police officers. Someone throws a piece of construction signage and it strikes one of the police officers.
The other officer attempts to go after the person who threw the sign, but trips over Jennison’s feet, while Jennison is still prostrate on the ground.
Jennison’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for Dec. 16 at the San Francisco Hall of Justice.
Woman Suffers Major Injuries In 4-Car Crash On Highway 101
A Vacaville woman suffered major injuries in a four-car collision on southbound U.S. Highway 101 south of Petaluma Wednesday morning, according to the California Highway Patrol.
The collision happened around 10 a.m. north of Kastania Road when a Honda Civic spun out on the wet roadway and struck a guardrail, CHP Officer Jon Sloat said.
When another Honda Civic, driven by a 51-year-old Oroville woman, slowed to avoid the collision, it was struck from behind by a Honda Del Sol driven by an 18-year-old Vacaville woman, Sloat said.
The 18-year-old’s Honda was then struck from behind by a Toyota Sienna driven at 60 mph by a 33-year-old San Francisco man, Sloat said.
The 18-year-old woman was extricated from her vehicle and was taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital with injuries considered major but not life-threatening, Sloat said.
None of the other drivers were injured.
The southbound lanes were blocked until 11:26 a.m., causing a significant backup in both directions of the highway.
Human Skull Is Found At Business Near Oakland Airport
A human skull was found in a business near the Oakland International Airport, police said Wednesday.
Officers who responded to a report of a human skull that was discovered at a business on 98th Avenue near Doolittle Drive at 10:42 a.m.
Tuesday secured the skull and notified the Alameda County coroner’s bureau, police said.
The coroner’s bureau took custody of the skull to initiate their portion of the investigation and homicide investigators have been called in, according to police.
A spokeswoman at Pacific Panels Inc. at 74 98th Ave. said company officials have been told by Oakland police not to comment on the discovery of the skull on their premises.
The company manufactures aluminum honeycomb panels for commercial applications.
African Immigrants Speak Out Against Ebola Stigmatization
San Francisco resident Dr. Thomas Muyunga is from Uganda — a country with no reported Ebola cases — but said that didn’t matter to his employers who pressured him to leave his job because they were afraid he would pass the deadly virus onto them.
Muyunga joined a cohort of African advocacy agencies in San Francisco Wednesday to call for an end to the harassment and stigma Muyunga and other African immigrants say they face as a result of the Ebola outbreak this year.
The news conference in front of City Hall Wednesday morning was sponsored by the African Advocacy Network, Dolores Street Community Services, Priority Africa Network, the San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network and the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action.
Muyunga fled Uganda and sought political asylum in the U.S. after he was detained, tortured and interrogated for speaking out against laws that he said discriminate against homosexuals and people with HIV/AIDS.
“I was speaking out against those laws,” Muyunga said. “I made so much noise, someone called the police. I was tortured by the police to give names of the people I knew and I refused.”
He had been caring for two clients as a home nurse in San Francisco for about one month before news broke in October that Thomas Duncan, who had recently returned from Liberia, had become the first person in the U.S. to die from Ebola in the most recent outbreak this year.
“One of the people I care for told me point blank that he no longer wanted me to touch him,” Muyunga said. “He told that because I’m African, I might give him Ebola.”
Muyunga said his client threatened to call the police if he didn’t leave his house. Muyunga complied, particularly, he said, because he has had very negative experiences with the police in Uganda.
Former Social Worker Pleads Not Guilty To Sex With Teen Clients
A former social worker accused of having sex with two teenage clients while working for the San Mateo County Child Protective Services agency pleaded not guilty earlier this week to 20 counts of oral copulation and sexual intercourse with a person under 18 years old, prosecutors said.
Manuel Sedillo-Messer, 38, of Santa Clara, was arrested last month after a 16-year-old girl told sheriff’s investigators she had a sexual relationship with him for several months earlier this year while she was his client, according to the district attorney’s office.
Since then, investigators have located a second 16-year-old girl who said that he took her to a hotel in San Jose and had sex with her.
In total, Sedillo-Messer is charged with 11 counts of oral copulation with a person under the age of 18, two counts of sexual penetration of a person under 18 and seven counts of unlawful sexual intercourse with a person under 18, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said. Seventeen of the 20 counts relate to the first victim.
Sedillo-Messer met the first victim in 2011 when he was assigned to her family and became very friendly with her, eventually starting a sexual relationship with her on June 21 of this year.
He allegedly had sex with her on multiple occasions between then and July 31, including at a motel near Bakersfield, at another in Redwood City, at a San Mateo County beach and even in the Child Protective Services building in East Palo Alto, prosecutors said.
During that time, he also allegedly had sex with the second victim, another 16-year-old girl who said he was like a father to her until he took her to the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose for sex on July 11.
The agency first learned of the alleged abuse around that time and placed Sedillo-Messer on administrative leave on July 15. While the investigation by an external child welfare agency was inconclusive, county Human Services Agency director Iliana Rodriguez said that she found reason to terminate Sedillo-Messer and accepted his resignation on Oct. 24.
He was arrested in Palo Alto four days later. Initially, investigators had reports from only the first victim but since then have interviewed the second victim and received a more detailed account from the first victim, leading prosecutors to file additional charges.
Sedillo-Messer pleaded not guilty to all 20 counts Monday in the courtroom of Judge Barbara Mallach. He is next scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing on Jan. 29, prosecutors said.
A married father, Sedillo-Messer has worked with the Child Protective Services agency since 2006 and for the county since 2001. He remains out of custody on $400,000 bail and on the condition that he not contact either victim.
Traffic Enforcement To Be Stepped Up, To Make City Streets Safer For Pedestrians
Drivers in San Francisco who block intersections or double park their vehicles can expect to get ticketed as the city begins cracking down in an effort to ease the city’s traffic congestion and make streets safer for pedestrians, according to top city officials.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, police Chief Greg Suhr and San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s director of transportation Ed Reiskin, came together today at the SFMTA’s new transportation management center on Market and 10th streets to discuss how the city is shifting its enforcement strategy, to not only ease traffic congestion but to make the city safer for bicyclists and pedestrians through increased traffic enforcement.
Mayor Lee said that starting Wednesday and increasingly in the coming months, the SFPD and the SFMTA will be working together to heavily monitor intersections with chronic congestion.
Lee said the city will be issuing tickets to violators as well as working to identify other factors contributing to traffic jams, such as traffic signal and walk signal timing.
“Unless you really like to pay the city, don’t be in that box,” the mayor said.
Chief Suhr said “Blocking the box creates anxiousness, anxiousness gets people to do things that they wouldn’t do, and they do them hastily.”
Suhr said that when drivers block intersections it leads to cars cutting across other lanes of traffic and pedestrians not being able to get through crosswalks safely.
He said more than 200 tickets have been issued to drivers blocking intersections since last week.
Suhr said the enforcement is necessary to reduce the number of pedestrian fatalities. Drivers who enter the box without enough space to get to the other side will have to pay an expensive price for breaking the law, he noted.
Mayor Lee also said police will also be cracking down on those drivers who choose to double-park their vehicles, including commercial vehicles.
15-Year-Old Boy Fatally Shot On Saturday Identified
A 15-year-old boy who was fatally shot in East Oakland on Saturday morning was a sophomore at Fremont High School in Oakland, a school district spokesman said Wednesday.
Oakland police said Isaiah C. Smith was found suffering from a gunshot wound when officers responded to a reported shooting in the 5400 block of Trask Street just before noon on Saturday. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
No one has been arrested for the fatal shooting and police haven’t disclosed any information about suspects or motive.
Oakland schools spokesman Troy Flint said, “Everyone at the school is distraught that someone so young had his life taken from him so violently.”
Flint said the shooting that claimed Isaiah’s life “is not unheard of” in Oakland but he said, “It’s always agonizing to deal with the loss of life for a student so early.”
Flint said grief counselors have been at Fremont High School this week to help students deal with Isaiah’s death, especially those students who were close to him.
He said the continuing violence in the Oakland community “is an ongoing issue” that school district officials are trying to address, even though Isaiah’s death occurred away from school over the weekend.
“We are looking at ways to support our students so they don’t fall to violence in this manner,” Flint said.
Two Pittsburg Men Arrested In Sept. 23 Shooting Deaths Of Father, Son
Two Pittsburg men have been booked into the Santa Clara County Main Jail on suspicion of murdering a 69-year-old man and his son on Sept. 23 near Capitol Expressway in South San Jose, a police spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Availek Hepburn-Marin, 20, and Tearri Jaquille Richard, 20, have been arrested in connection with the shooting deaths of Keith Lang and his 29-year-old son Bryan Lang, according to San Jose police Sgt. Heather Randol.
On Sept. 23, at 8:56 p.m., police received a report of a male shot inside a residence in the 100 block of Rancho Drive about a block west of Capitol, according to officers.
Officers arrived at the house and located the father and son, both shot at least once. They were pronounced dead at the scene.
An adult female who was also hurt at the home during the incident, but not from gunfire, was transported to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries, according to police.
Police declined to provide further information about the arrests or the investigation.
County’s Flood Response Abates But Rain And High Tides Expected
Reports of flooding in Marin County began to taper off Wednesday afternoon as the heaviest rains passed, but intermittent rain and unsettled weather is expected to continue through Friday, county officials said late Wednesday afternoon.
Parts of Marin County, including Novato, received more than four inches of rain in 24 hours, and winds were clocked as high as 55 mph, according to the Marin County Fire Department.
The wind and rain caused flooding, mud slides and power outages, and PG&E responded to 15 power outages throughout the county, some caused by downed trees, before mid-afternoon, according to fire officials.
Tidal flooding and surface rainwater caused major traffic tie-ups in populated areas of Richardson Bay and San Francisco Bay. The Marin County Department of Public Works said tides were well over the predicted 6.5-foot level Wednesday morning, reaching 7.8 feet.
Tides are expected to remain above the predicted levels throughout the week, and should diminish to a predicted high tide of six feet by late Monday morning.
Intermittent rain and unsettled weather is expected through Friday with up to 1.5 more inches possible by late Wednesday night, according to the National Weather Service.
A dry weekend is forecast but unsettled weather is expected next week.
There were no road closures in unincorporated Marin County, according to the Department of Public Works.
Flooding did take place on Miller Avenue and Camino Alto in Mill Valley, Bridge Street between Marin City and Sausalito and at the Shelter Bay ramp on U.S. Highway 101. The southbound South Novato Boulevard exit in Novato also flooded.
14-Year-Old Boy To Be Tried As Adult In Gang-Related Attempted Murder
San Jose police said Wednesday that a 14-year-old boy arrested last week in the allegedly gang-related attempted murder of another teen in East San Jose will be tried as an adult.
Officers of the Police Department’s gang investigations unit arrested Christian Cotero last Thursday at his San Jose residence on suspicion of attempted murder with a gang enhancement, police spokesman Officer Albert Morales said.
Cotero, described by police as a street gang member, is suspected of confronting and then following a 17-year-old male member of a rival gang for several blocks on Nov. 17 and then stabbing him at least once, police said.
Police were called to the scene of the stabbing at 4:14 p.m. that day. They found the victim outside of a home in the 2000 block of Terilyn Avenue and had him taken to a hospital to be treated for life-threatening injuries.