Did OC Human Relations Breach an Anaheim Community's Trust During Last Summer's Unrest?

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OC Human Relations
Anaheim's city manager has yet to propose a model for a civilian review board, a task the council unanimously directed him to do in January, but the very idea has already caused political tensions to arise from the police union.

In his staff report, Bob Wingenroth strongly favored the possibility of Police Chief John Welter's current 22-member Advisory Board serving as a base to be improved upon. "As part of this approach," the city manager wrote, "the advisory board could also utilize the pre-existing partnership with the Orange County Human Relations Commission." He went on to note the agency had played a role in "fostering dialogue" between the police and the community.

But is that truly a credible blueprint for a watchdog agency?

Public records obtained by the Weekly reveal that, during the city's greatest civic crisis last year, a several-days-long conflagration that arose in the wake of a series of police shootings, the OCHRC, a mediating organization that has done good work over decades, dispatched canvassers to Anna Drive and collected general "observations" from residents without disclosing the fact that they would later be reported back to both Wingenroth and Welter.

After a pair of fatal officer-involved shootings over a weekend in late July left two young Latino men dead, CEO/Executive Director Rusty Kennedy forwarded an email originally addressed to the Orange County Board of Supervisors to Wingenroth and Welter on the morning of July 23, 2012. "I and my staff are completely available to you 24/7," Kennedy wrote to Welter personally.

Bilingual canvassers, he noted, had already been dispatched to Anna Drive--site of the police shooting that killed 25 year-old Manuel Diaz--as well as to the APD headquarters, where a Sunday demonstration occurred the next day when activists briefly took over the front lobby.

Amber Stephens
Chief Welter addresses the OCHRC facilitated forum last year

"Many people from surrounding areas...were adding to the pandemonium," Kennedy wrote,"including numerous 'masked' individuals, like the Guy Fox [sic] anarchists who have been frequenting the Kelly Thomas demonstrations, the Angel Hernandez public forum we held with APD, and other hot button confrontations." The email relayed a number of other possible factors behind the protest, like high unemployment during a hot summer, but did not mention any frustrations with police as a possible motivating force.

Such grievances, though, were on full display at the aforementioned forum the commission hosted in March with regards to last year's spat of controversial officer-involved shootings at Ponderosa Elementary School.

The weekend of back-to-back fatal officer-involved shootings in July that followed months later did not mark the end of OCHRC canvassing. After the ATF-led Operation Halo raid on August 10, 2012 in Anna Drive and other adjacent neighborhoods, observations were collected and forwarded to Chief Welter in another email marked as being of 'high' importance.

"I have Edgar Medina on his way to Anna Dr. to talk with residents and help," Kennedy wrote to Welter and Anaheim Police Captain Jarret Young early that morning. "He has a positive relationship with a key leaders [sic] there, Yesenia Rojas."

While Rojas has indeed emerged as a leader in the community, she denied having a positive relationship with Medina. "He has no relationship with me," she tells the Weekly. "I have never seen him in Anna Drive. They shouldn't be using my name for their pendejadas!" Asked if Rojas had ever heard of the commission working in her neighborhood during the summer months, she replied,"In reality, no."

The emails detail the canvassing that Medina and another commission staffer Joyce Sanchez did that day. "They made contact with at least 25 families including those who had family members arrested," Kennedy wrote. Among the points provided were that, "Many of the parents say their kids are not in gangs. That they are really good kids, but maybe are hanging around some gang kids." This notion was explained away as "denial" by Medina.

According to the email, most of the families were said to have had no complaints about police conduct during the operation. Associates of Manuel Diaz were also noted as believing the raids to be in retaliation for the demonstrations. "Some of the youth might be more problematic tonight. Possibly lighting trash fires or blocking streets is possible," the email states.

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