Marek Warszawski

Violent video raises ‘questions’ for Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer. Will we get answers?

Fresno police chief comments on body cam video showing officer punching teen

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer responds to community reaction about excessive force after release of Fresno police body cam video showing an officer punching a teen several times in the face.
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Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer responds to community reaction about excessive force after release of Fresno police body cam video showing an officer punching a teen several times in the face.

By now, you’ve probably seen the disturbing video.

Captured by a Fresno police officer’s body camera, it shows a fellow officer repeatedly punching a teenage male in the face during a Jan. 23 probation search at an apartment complex near downtown Fresno.

The 17-year-old, identified as London Wallace in an excessive force lawsuit filed by his family, has no gang affiliations or criminal record, according to his attorney, Nolan Kane.

The pugilistic cop, identified as Christopher Martinez in the same court documents, has been assigned to desk duty while the incident is under internal investigation, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said at a Wednesday news conference.

(Yes, the term “pugilistic” was purposeful. A simple Google search shows Martinez competes in amateur boxing. He once held the United Combat Association junior middleweight belt.)

Opinion

“The video that I have reviewed certainly raises concerns and raises questions for me as a police chief,” Dyer said. “Those questions will be answered.”

As a local resident and citizen of planet Earth, the video raises concerns and questions for me as well. Though I doubt most of mine will be answered.

Namely:

● The incident took place eight months ago. Has the internal affairs investigation been ongoing all this time, and if so what’s taking so long? Or did it begin once everyone saw the video and the department started feeling the heat?

● Do we really trust cops to investigate themselves? Especially when the public is kept in the dark.

A glaring awareness disparity

● Dyer says he saw the video for the first time earlier this week after a local TV station asked him to comment. Why did it take so long? Was Dyer unaware of the incident, and if so how come he wasn’t made aware?

When Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula was arrested on charges of willful cruelty to a child last December, Dyer was notified within hours. I realize the two cases aren’t analogous, but that’s quite a disparity. How come a young black man getting punched by a cop doesn’t merit more notice by department brass?

● Would this incident have ever come to light if not for the family’s lawsuit?

● Why did Officer Martinez feel the need to pummel someone who wasn’t threatening him or anyone else and had already been patted down? And does he have a history of doing this?

Martinez’s explanation, that he feared Wallace would flee the scene and was backed up against a second-floor balcony railing, simply doesn’t hold up to anyone who’s seen the video.

● “By punching Wallace in the face,” Martinez wrote in the police report, “I received the desired effect, creating the distance between me and Wallace.”

Are Fresno police officers trained to get the “desired effect” in ways that don’t involve physical harm?

Incident complicates chief’s retirement

● Will this incident impact how long Dyer remains chief? When Dyer declared he was running for mayor, he said he would take a leave of absence before his Oct. 16 retirement date so there wouldn’t be a perception he’s campaigning on city time.

Well, it’s late August, and there’s still no indication when Dyer will step aside. But this complicates matters. If he takes a leave of absence now, the same folks who want him to hang up his badge will accuse him of dodging a thorny issue.

● Given that Dyer refused to step down as chief once he announced his run for mayor, how can he assure the public that political considerations will not influence his handling of this case?

● How can the relationship between Fresno’s police and its residents, especially people of color, be improved when this kind of stuff keeps happening?

● Why does FPD lack an all-encompassing community policing program that focuses on prevention rather than punishment? It’s a strategy that seems to be working in downtown Fresno, at least.

● How come Fresno doesn’t have independent civilian oversight over the conduct of its police officers like a growing number of U.S. cities? (Fresno has a Citizens Public Safety Advisory Board, created by Mayor Lee Brand in March 2017, but it meets behind closed doors and lacks any real authority.)

Oh, I can answer that. It’s because Dyer and others have blocked every attempt to establish one.

Marek Warszawski writes opinion columns on news, politics, sports and quality of life issues for The Fresno Bee, where he has worked since 1998. He is a Bay Area native, a UC Davis graduate and lifelong Sierra frolicker. He welcomes discourse with readers but does not suffer fools nor trolls.
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