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Fresno’s police auditor publishes 1st quarter report

Fresno City Hall

Fresno’s police auditor publishes 1st quarter report

The first report from FPD auditor John Gliatta shows the truth about our Police Department, good or bad, will come out.

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You’ve got to admire John Gliatta’s courage and professionalism.

At the same time, you’ve got to hope he’s not headed for trouble.

Gliatta, of course, is Fresno’s police auditor and head of City Hall’s Office of Independent Review. He reviews how various Police Department policies and procedures are executed in the real world. He writes and publishes quarterly reports based on these reviews.

Gliatta was hired in August 2017, so he hasn’t been on the job all that long. He recently posted on the city’s website his First Quarter 2018 report. This is only his second quarterly report as Fresno’s police auditor.

The police auditor job has been on the books for about eight years. Gliatta is the third person to hold it. The first, Eddie Aubrey, wasn’t much of a report writer. That was probably one of the reasons Aubrey didn’t last long. The second police auditor, Rick Rasmussen, was a diligent scribe who often applauded officers for their professional conduct in tough situations but wasn’t afraid to criticize the department when necessary. For example, Rasmussen in one of his 2016 reports took officers as a group to task for failing to routinely activate their body cameras.

Each police auditor will have his own definition of what’s important, his own way of structuring the quarterly reports and his own style of writing.

I sense that Gliatta thinks it important to dig into allegations of misbehavior by individual officers and report on what he finds. I sense that Gliatta sees this transparency as maintaining, if not strengthening, the bond between police and the policed.

If I’m right, the Fourth Quarter 2018 report has a remarkable example of Gliatta’s direct, even blunt, reportorial manner.

The item I’m referring to is identified as IA2017-0126. It is an Internal Affairs investigation of a complaint against an officer.

The complaining party is an officer, as well.

Here is how the incident unfolded, according to Gliatta’s report:

Two officers, described as O1 and O2, responded to a call about a burglary in progress. The homeowner and a neighbor had the male suspect in hand when the officers arrived. The suspect was sitting on the curb. The suspect was unrestrained (no handcuffs).

The homeowner and the neighbor flanked the suspect. O2 stood in front of this threesome, speaking to the homeowner. While this was going on, O1, standing behind the suspect, began inspecting the suspect’s jacket, which had been lying on the sidewalk. All of this was recorded by O1’s body camera.

Gliatta wrote: “O1 removed a semi-automatic pistol and advised O2 (that it) ‘may be a BB gun or something.’ O1 began handling the pistol while it was pointed in the direction of O2, the suspect, the homeowner, and the neighbor. O1 tried several times to clear the weapon by racking the slide three times with the magazine still seated in the weapon. When O1 racked the slide back the fourth time he was able to remove the magazine which clearly showed it contained live rounds. A review of the evidence log determined the pistol was a .25 caliber Raven pistol with six rounds loaded in the magazine.”

According to Gliatta, O2, who remained focused on the suspect and interviewing the homeowner and neighbor, was never informed by O1 that the pistol was not a BB gun but a .25 caliber weapon.

Gliatta wrote: “O1 then placed the pistol and magazine on the patrol car hood and used the vehicle spotlight to illuminate the hood. O1 then walked back to the area where the suspect was seated, turning his back to the patrol car, and began talking to the suspect. O2, the homeowner, and neighbor left the area to inspect the location where the homeowner spotted the suspect.”

We now come to alleged incident that sparked the IA investigation: O1’s claim that a supervisor was disrespectful to him and his partner when the supervisor addressed them about officer safety issues.

Gliatta wrote that about five minutes after O2, the homeowner and the neighbor had left the curb, a police supervisor arrived on the scene. The supervisor, Gliatta wrote, “immediately noticed the pistol on the hood of the vehicle and the still unsecured suspect seated at the curb. The supervisor questioned O1 on why the suspect was not handcuffed and requested that O1 handcuff the suspect. The supervisor had to repeat the request several times before O1 complied.”

The suspect was handcuffed and the weapon was secured. The supervisor then spoke to the two officers about firearms safety. The talk apparently did not sit well with O1.

“O1 alleged the supervisor was disrespectful and used profanity when the supervisor was addressing them on the safety issues,” Gliatta wrote. “IA conducted interviews of one witness and O2. The allegations of the use of profanity and disrespectful treatment could not be corroborated.”

Gliatta wrote that he “concurred” with the IA’s finding.

Gliatta also wrote that he found the safety violations by O1 to be “egregious.” In his report, Gliatta included several Fresno Police Department policies and training tips regarding the handling of firearms. Two bits of advice are especially pertinent to this incident: 1.) “Every gun is loaded;” 2.) “Never let the muzzle cover anything that you don’t want to destroy.”

Gliatta concluded his review of the incident with the recommendation that “O1 receives additional training regarding the safe handling of firearms, regardless of the level of familiarity with weapons which are seldom encountered.”

(I found the .25 caliber Raven pistol to be described on the Internet as a typical example of the “Saturday Night Special” handgun. Are “Saturday Night Specials” unusual in Fresno?)

Gliatta added that “body worn camera footage recorded by O1 should be used to aid in this training.”

Two things struck me as of particular interest in Gliatta’s review of this IA investigation.

The first is his introduction to his findings. Gliatta wrote: “During the review period there were six newly assigned IA investigations and nine investigations completed. Of the nine completed investigations, the OIR concurred with each of the IA findings but also discovered an action not within policy which was not previously reported.”

I wish I knew what that second sentence means. What “action not within policy” did the OIR discover? Are we talking about O1’s mishandling of the pistol? And what is meant by “not previously reported”? Was somebody supposed to report something to someone, but failed to do so until Gliatta stepped in?

I tried several times to contact Chief Jerry Dyer, but without success.

The second thing about this incident that was of special interest to me is the fact that Gliatta chose to write about it.

On the surface, the incident might not seem all that significant. The suspect didn’t leap from the curb, grab the gun from the patrol car hood, load the weapon and shoot someone before escaping. All’s well that ends well, right?

And Gliatta’s review could be seen as shining an unnecessarily critical public light on the brave and professional men and women in the Fresno Police Department. For example, the source of O1’s complaint is that the supervisor who corrected the “egregious” safety violation allegedly included some rather colorful language in his commands to O1. No one in authority could confirm whether the supervisor did, in fact, give O1 a thorough chewing out. But who could blame the supervisor if he had used language suitable to an Old Army drill sergeant? And if this did happen, have we gotten to the point in our modern public-safety employment culture that O1 couldn’t see that perhaps he deserved such a frank chewing out, and taken it like an adult rather than turning to Internal Affairs?

Gliatta might have anticipated these public relations-type thoughts and left IA2017-0126 out of his First Quarter 2018 report. The report runs to 29 pages. No one would have noticed. And there can be no doubt from the hard experiences of the Eddie Aubrey-Rick Rasmussen eras that the Office of Independent Review can cause considerable heartburn in the Chief’s Office and among the ranks of the Fresno Police Officers Association.

Trouble there eventually means political trouble at City Hall. And make no mistake – the Office of Independent Review lives in a political world.

But John Gliatta did write about O1 and the Raven pistol. The people of Fresno get to read what he wrote. The truth about our Police Department, good or bad, will come out.

That speaks well about our new Police Auditor and the Mayor and City Manager who appointed him.

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George Hostetter

George Hostetter is a contributor to CVObserver.

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