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Councilwoman Cole's cop committee picks panned

Civil rights lawyers warn of police surveillance in Branch case

Marc Kohnen discusses the discovery of police surveillance at Robert Branch support events
  • Marc Kohnen discusses the discovery of police surveillance at Robert Branch support events

Civil rights lawyers and activists from the National Action Network gathered downtown on Wednesday (December 21) to blast new city-council president Myrtle Cole for her appointments to the council's Public Safety and Livable Communities Committee.

After teaming with council Republicans to defeat David Alvarez's bid for the presidency, Cole assigned three of them, including committee head Chris Cate, Lorie Zapf, and Barbara Bry to the committee along with Chris Ward.

The critics said the lack of diversity in the membership, along with the fact that the members represent affluent areas mostly north of Interstate 8, mean that issues including those raised by a recent report on racial profiling in traffic stops are unlikely to receive proper attention.

"I thought at one time that Myrtle Cole really cared about her community, but from what it appears to be right now, she doesn't," said Cornelius Bowser, whose work includes community outreach and gang suppression efforts.

"Instead of acknowledging that racial profiling exists," Bowser continued, "they'll just say, 'Well, everyone has biases.' But research demonstrates that although everyone has bias it's overwhelmingly focused against black people, who are seen as criminals and as dangerous."

Local National Action Network president Shane Harris characterized Cole's appointments as an instance of "paying back her Republican friends who voted her in as council president."

"Cole says she'll serve as an advisor, but why didn't she put herself on that committee? Why didn't she put David Alvarez or Georgette Gomez on that committee?" Harris also said that Cate "has spoken very clearly about his bias for police," and that "we know Lorie Zapf is racially biased; that's another conversation, but that's why she hired a black guy in her office."

Of Cole, Harris promised to "give her hell for the next two years" and to find an opponent to run against her in a reelection bid.

Also revealed at the press conference were allegations of widespread police surveillance surrounding the case of Robert Branch, who was choked into unconsciousness by an off-duty sheriff's deputy in 2015, yet found himself facing felony charges including assault on an officer.

According to Branch's lawyers Marc Kohnen and Dan Gilleon, law enforcement has quietly been attending rallies and community meetings in support of Branch, recording and photographing attendees.

"Anytime the government makes an effort to chill or suppress free speech it's a horrifying thing for democracy," said Kohnen. "This is like Cointelpro of the '60s being used to attack civil rights. We're not a terrorist organization. This is surveillance of normal citizens. It feels like gestapo tactics to me.

"This is why we need civilian oversight — this is government run amok. I want our oversight committee to take action, and I ask them what they're going to do about this."

Added Gilleon: "This is how worried they are that we're going to expose what they're doing: they're literally going into churches where civil rights leaders are talking about issues and recording and monitoring everything that's being said. Maybe they have a right to do that, but it certainly doesn't suggest that they're really looking for the truth; it seems they're trying to target people who might be exposing them."

The lawyers say they learned about the surveillance during the discovery period before Branch's trial, which is set to begin in 33 days.

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Public Safety and Livable Communities Committee is as phony as a wooden watch. It is made up of self serving political hacks. It would appear that Chris Cate, Lorie Zapf, Barbara Bry and Chris Ward are mostly concerned with keeping the unwashed masses away from their "north of 8" area instead of addressing the problems that exist south of 8. They are all a good reason not to live in San Diego.

There is far more wrong with the SDPD than the matter of racial profiling. As to whether these councilpersons are the wrong group, I can't claim to know. But since Kev-boy seems totally happy with the department and its current chief, if any reforms are to be made, the push will need to come from the council. And that department needs a huge shake-op, not more money and higher pay scales. It has suffered from decades of failures of leadership and political chiefs.

Maybe but the SDPD suffers from low staffing. San Diego has one of the smallest, if not the smallest, street officer-per-capita of cities of the same size. The biggest problem they have is they also have one of the largest administrators per cop-on-the-street.

This is just more cronyism as our elected Leaders all smile to the masses while promoting "Business as usual" in $an Diego.

Myrtle Cole is a disgrace. She should never have been made president of City Council. Shortly after taking that office, Cole was interviewed on KPBS by Alison St. John. Cole's answers were vague and vapid, substanceless, without a single concrete plan for the future.

Glittering generalities are Myrtle Cole's verbal specialty, but political damage is her practical forte, as in her outrageous appointments to the all-white Public Safety and Livable Communities Committee. What a travesty. Public safety is lacking in southeast San Diego and livable communities are all north of I-8.

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