Family members of people killed by police in San Jose are the latest to speak out in a controversy between the Police Officers' Association and the Independent Police Auditor, which culminated in the IPA's resignation last week.
Gathered in front of City Hall this afternoon, the families of AJ Phillips, Diana Showman, Phillip Watkins, and several others called for the resignation of POA President Paul Kelly, saying he "bullied" and "attacked" Aaron Zisser into leaving his post.
The IPA handles citizen complaints about police, and the speakers said Kelly forced Zisser's resignation at a time when they had finally built trust with a government institution.
Laurie Valdez, the partner of Antonio Guzman Lopez, who was shot and killed on Feb. 21, 2014, said the City Council and mayor have been largely silent about the POA's actions, and that their silence is a "disease" that will spread throughout the San Jose Police Department.
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"We're not anti-police, we're anti-police violence," Valdez said. "Their behavior is horrible and we don't need bullies with badges in our streets, with guns, intimidating our community and blaming us for their actions."
Jason Reyes, the cousin of Anthony Nunez, said Kelly had waged an "old-time political smear campaign" against Zisser. Police were cleared of responsibility in Nunez's death after he shot himself twice, then was shot again by police in July 2016.
Reyes and other family members held a rally on the second anniversary of Nunez's death last month, and Zisser said he spoke with the family prior to the rally to listen to their concerns.
Kelly alleged that Zisser had attended an "anti-police" rally, and the POA shared photos of the family members protesting Nunez's death in a slideshow for news agencies.
Reyes and others accused Kelly of demonizing grieving families by sharing the photos and mischaracterizing Zisser's support during an emotional, sensitive time.
"Coming after me is one thing -- going after families is another," Zisser said last month when asked about the accusation.
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The families, led by advocacy group De-Bug, called for a complete overhaul in the San Jose Police Department's police accountability model, including a citizen oversight committee that doesn't answer to police Chief Eddie Garcia. He was not available to comment on the matter.
They said Zisser's resignation shattered their confidence in the IPA office being truly independent, and held up an IPA "application" drawn on poster board that said "ATTN: FORWARD TO POA," suggesting that Kelly would personally approve the next independent police auditor.
Richard Konda of the Asian Law Alliance and Rev. Jethroe Moore of the NAACP both called for Kelly's resignation.
Calling for better policing and describing the POA's allegations, and Zisser's resulting resignation, as a "grave wound to community trust," Deputy Public Defender Micael Estremera said, "We all live on these streets together."
Kelly first brought allegations against Zisser in June, saying he was a "rogue watchman" who authored an inaccurate report to over-represent police bias against people of color. Zisser denied the allegations, but submitted his resignation on Aug. 23, saying Kelly's "extraordinary personal attacks" had become too large an obstacle to his work.
In a statement today, POA spokesman Tom Saggau said, "The usual anti-police crowd should be ashamed of themselves for exploiting the families of individuals with mental health issues who were shot after wielding knives, guns, and power saws at police officers," referring to De-Bug and local advocacy groups.
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"Police officers are not clairvoyant, they can't just look at an individual and determine their mental health status, especially if they are armed with a deadly weapon," he said.
"Where were Richard Konda or Jeff Moore or the anti-police fringe groups in the days, weeks or months prior to these deadly encounters to offer mental health services or programs for these individuals who clearly needed help? They're too busy pointing fingers to provide actual solutions to those most in need of help," he added.
The San Jose Police Officer's Association on Monday sent the mayor and City Council a tentative agreement for three police oversight reforms, and Kelly said he will be open to working with assistant independent police auditor Shivaun Nurre when Zisser officially leaves on Oct. 1.