Updates on Happy John Dine Killing (Santa Cruz) FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Fri, 26 Dec 1997 14:54:55 -0800 (PST)


FWD from Robert Norse (Bathrobespierre) at <norse@netcom.com>

All Eyes But the Police Saw No Gun: Cover-Up Crystallizes in Happy John Killing
Letter to the Metro Santa Cruz by Robert Norse 12/19/97
[Underlined portions were cut by the Metro]

        Good for Celia Scott for making public and putting in the Main
Library documents  that were part of the D.A.Us Investigation into the
John Dine killing.  Now we need a truly independent tribunal to hold full
public hearings and disclosure of all documents in the case.
        Santa Cruzans for Full Disclosure [SCfFD] formed shortly after
the retarded but innocuous THappyU John Dine was killed on November
12th.   We called for public hearings and an independent review when it
seemed likely that a cover-up was in progress.  This conclusion seemed
hard to avoid since virtually every witness not associated with the
police contradicted the official story from  the SCPD and the District
AttorneyUs office issued just 16 hours after Dine lay dying on the
sidewalk.  The SCPD itself rushed forward with its early "Dine's toy gun
made me do its exoneration" just three hours after the shooting.
        A day after Officer Carey killed John Dine,  Police Chief Steve
Belcher and District Attorney Art Danner held a press conference,
restricted to invited media, that fleshed out the Justifiable Homicide
conclusion.  The two announced that Dine had a weapon in his hand, a
weapon pointed, a combat stance, and a threatening demeanor--and that all
witness testimony was consistent with these conclusions.
        This story is based on  the two witnesses whose accounts most
exonerated Officer Carey:  the Catalyst bouncer Ben Newman and Carey's
partner, Martin Over.  Newman, in the back of the police car, made the
complaint that initiated the fatal sequence of events leading to Dine's
killing,
        Within days after the killing, eyewitnesses Alani Balawejder,
Stacey Buckelew, Mike Schultz, Tom Murphy, Larry Reddick, and eight
others agreed they saw nothing in DineUs hand, no threatening behavior,
nothing pointed at the police, and no combat stance.  The five named
witnesses went public with their accounts; Schultz, Buckelew, and Murphy
publicly used the word "murder" to describe Carey's actions.
        Released to the public on December 10th at Mayor ScottUs order,
the D.A.Us report gives even more cause for concern. According to that
report, four additional witnesses (Lianna Forest, Leslie Plumblee,
Shannon Gannon, and Margaret Bonacker) watched the shooting and saw no
weapon in Dine's hand, much less a weapon pointed at the police.  In
addition, seven others--reluctant to come forward publicly--have told
SCfFD that Dine was had nothing in his hands and nothing pointed at the
police when he was shot down. Are the  two involved officers & a witness
friendly with the killer & hostile to Dine more credible than the many
independent eyewitness?
        Belcher and Danner think so.  The case remains closed.  Officer
Carey is on the beat with a weapon on his belt.   Chief Belcher cashes in
his monthly paycheck and perhaps a Christmas bonus in spite of what is
the clearest case of  gross incompetence or outright misconduct in the
SCPD in a decade.  Even the public copy of the D.A.'s investigation is
incomplete: lacking Officer CareyUs police report, a transcript of the
police radio transmissions, and Happy John's rap sheet, to name only
three crucial documents.  John Dine's ashes are all that is left of a
street person, who reported frequent harassment by the police downtown.
        The Santa Cruz County Sentinel  meanwhile has wallowed in police
apologetics.  Its sudden editorial call for an independent investigation
(12/11) welcome as it was, was obviously forced on them by the public
disclosure of the police reports and witness testimony to the D.A. .  Its
RnewsS stories were police/D.A. pap & PR hand-outs. Within four days of
the shooting, it praised the police in 2 editorials lauding the police &
closed the case.
        The Sentinel delayed or buried critical letters on the shooting,
sidelined or deleted any mention of the massive swell of protest around
this case, and assigned a reporter (Karen Clark) so prejudiced against
street people like Happy John, and activists in Santa Cruzans for Full
Disclosure that she can't bring herself to interview them.   Neither
Clark, nor Bob Gammon, the previous Sentinel  reporter on the case had
any interest in reviewing the videoed statements of the eyewitness
accounts of Buckelew, Schultz and others --who were shocked and outraged
at the media/police coverup.
        The Citizens Police Review Board [CPRB] showed similar timidity
and disinterest in the death of a street person.    The CPRB held no
emergency meeting in the weeks that followed the slaying.  No early or
independent investigation; and  in spite of a room full of people, it
declined to go on record and vote on the matter.  Instead it held a brief
discussion on "general rules" to follow in the case of an independent
investigation, yet came up with no specific guidelines.   It concluded
the meeting by refusing to schedule a special public hearing on the Dine
case or even an early regular meeting.  Members of the public who want
open public hearings and an independent investigation on the Dine case
should attend its December 29th RclosedS hearing and demand it be
opened.
        Uninterested in poor people's rights, the local ACLU has done
nothing.  It fell to people like Dine to speak up for the homeless.
Dine  marched in a parade against police brutality and spent many hours
supporting homeless rights at the 7 1/2 month long City Hall Sleepers
Protest  last year.   This year he received his reward--gift-wrapped by
the SCPD, the D.A., the Sentinel,  and the Metro Santa Cruz.
        Non-police witnesses testified they heard Carey say "don't move"
after, not before the shots.   Three claim they saw an officer (probably
Over), remove a weapon from DineUs clothing and throw it to the ground
where the toy gun was later found.
        Metro Santa CruzUs contribution to the quest for justice in the
RHappyS John Dine case so far (12/11) was a 11/19 Nuz column which
sympathetically remembered Dine & suggested  a "full" (but not
necessarily independent) investigation "so that similar tragedies will be
avoided".   Eric Johnson--who wrote the column--then denounced me as a
"self-styled homeless activist" "trying to churn up fear and anger around
this tragedy" whose  "hysterical paranoid provocations", "polarize the
community and make the process more difficult."  His writing may also
have led readers to believe that I flooded Metro with e-mails, faxes, and
hostile phone calls--none of which happened.
        Officer Carey shot an innocent man dead.  All of us make mistakes
under pressure.  Was it justifiable homicide,  murder, or something in
between?  Belcher and Danner had their answer ready early.   The rest of
us require a more careful examination and weighing of all the testimony.
Whatever the outcome of that investigation --whether Carey is exonerated
or implicated--repressing and misrepresenting evidence is still a
cover-up, behavior we cannot tolerate in police chief or district
attorney.

Flyer by HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom)  408-423-4833


Cover Story for a Killing: D.A.'s Investigation--Was a Gun In Happy John's Hand?
by Becky Johnson and Robert Norse  Notes on an Article for Street Spirit

All Non-Police Associated Witnesses Saw No Gun In Happy John's Hand,
No Gun Pointed
        In "Unanswered Questions' (Street Spirit  12/96) writer Lucy
Kemnitzer explored media, police, and district attorney response in the
fatal police shooting of the disabled hippy  "Happy John" Dine in Santa
Cruz on November 12th.   Santa Cruzans for Full Disclosure [SCfFD]
demanded an independent investigation, public hearings, and suspension
of the involved officers when it seemed likely a cover-up was in
progress.  Within 16 hours after the slaying, both Police Chief Steve
Belcher and District Attorney Art Danner exonerated the killer, Officer
Conor Carey.  These two top officials chose to believe Carey,  Officer
Martin Over (Carey's partner), and Ben Newman, the bouncer at a local
nightclub, rather than 10 other independent unrelated eyewitnesses, who
saw the slaying.  Newman was the man who directed police attention to Dine
and a friend of Carey's.
        The police department and D.A. quickly concluded that Carey shot
the eccentric Dine in response to brandishing and pointing a toy gun.
But all non-police associated witnesses saw no weapon in Dine's hand and
nothing pointed at the police, contradicting the Official Exoneration
issued just 16 hours after Dine lay dying on the sidewalk.
        At a press conference for hand-picked media 16 hours after the
shooting,  Belcher and Danner publicly reported that  Dine had a weapon
out, a weapon pointed, a combat stance, and a threatening demeanor--and
that all witness testimony was consistent with these conclusions.  But
eyewitnesses Alani Balawejder, Stacey Buckelew, Mike Schultz, Tom Murphy,
Larry Reddick, and eight others agreed they saw nothing in Dine's hand,
no threatening behavior, nothing pointed at the police, and no combat
stance.  Murphy, Buckelew, and Schultz publicly called the shooting "murder".

Local Media Jump on Police Bandwagon
        Local media quickly jumped on board. The Santa Cruz County
Sentinel, the only local daily newspaper presented news stories, heavily
weighted to favor the police conclusion, which largely ignored the
witnesses who saw no threatening behavior from Dine.  Within four days of
the shooting, it wrote two editorials lauding the police and closing the
case.   The weekly Santa Cruz Metro  blasted local activist Robert Norse
as a "self-styled homeless activist" "trying to churn up fear and anger
around this tragedy" whose  "hysterical paranoid provocations', 'polarize
the community and make the process more difficult", and "dishonor the
death of John Dine."  Neither Sentinel, the Metro, nor any mainstream
media came to see the videoed statements of the eyewitness accounts of
Stacey Buckelew, Michael Schultz and others --who were shocked and
outraged at the media/police coverup of what they termed 'murder'."

D.A.'s Report's Made Public At Last
          On December 10th under pressure from SCfFD, local civil
liberties attorney Ed Frey, and other concerned community members, Danner
and Belcher finally released at least part of their investigation to the
City Manager, who put it in the public library because directed to do so
by Mayor Celia Scott, Officer Involved Shooting of John Dine 12/11/97.
That investigation included eyewitness statements made to police soon
after the killing and transcripts of verbal statements by Newman, Carey,
and CareyUs partner, Martin Over.  It concluded (within 10 days after the
killing) that the shooting was Rjustifiable.S  After the D.A.'s
investigation was wrenched from its hiding place,  the Sentinel quickly
backpedaled and called for an independent investigation--a position
obviously forced on them by the public disclosure of the police reports
and witness testimony.  However their lead story reiterated the prior
police/DA cover story  that Dine had a gun in his hand pointed at the
police--a conclusion which no independent eyewitness confirmed, including
many otherwise sympathetic to the police (Shannon Gammon-- a friend of
Officer CareyUs, Leslie and David Plumblee--downtown merchants).

Catalyst Bouncer Ben Newman's Testimony: Contradictory and Contaminated
        A reading of the D.A.'s report shows that Danner chose to believe
the witness whose story most exonerated Officer Carey--namely that of
Carey's friend Ben Newman.  Newman's personal relationship with Carey and
his own involvement in the case would make his account questionable in
any case.  Further, Newman makes several claims that do not match any of
the other witness statements:    "The officers told him to 'freeze' at
least 5 times".  None of the non-police witnesses heard any such
admonitions.  "He pulled out a gun and pointed it back and forth between
the two officers"  "He was advancing towards the officers when he was
shot"  None of the non-police witnesses saw anything of the kind.
        Newman even contradicts himself saying at one point he witnessed
the entire shooting and at another point he had ducked down and did not
see the actual shooting.  Carey himself said of Newman "I don't know if
he had a clear view of actually what I did on the scene  ...I think that
side has a grid in front of it."
        Most important, virtually all other witnesses (including four new
ones who had not previously been known to SCfFD ) discredited the key
elements of Newman's account which were the main justification for the
shooting.  None of them saw a weapon in Dine's hand and/or a weapon
pointed at the police.
        Newman's testimony itself was misreported by Danner and Belcher.
None of the witnesses used the words Rcombat stanceS but Belcher told
reporters Newman had used those words--which were repeated in Danner's
November 21st press release.   Subsequently, the autopsy revealed
(according to the Sentinel) there had been no combat stance.

"Don't Move, Don't Move" Before or After the Shots?
        In the DAU's report, four witnesses state the police warned Dine
not to move after not before the shots.  John Blake, Manager of
McWhorters, across the street from the shooting on the sidewalk, said he
heard "Fuck off!" (presumably from Dine), followed by two shots, followed
by "Don't Move, Don't Move."  David Plumblee, Leslie Plumblee, and  Lee
Charron told police they heard the verbal warnings after not before the
fatal shots.

DAUs Own Eyewitnesses Saw No Weapon
        According to the DA's report,  Lianna Forest, Leslie Plumblee,
Margaret Bonacker and Shannon Gannon were  all eye-witnesses to the
shooting. Bonacker was in the far lane of traffic, across Soquel Ave.,
perhaps 200 yards away, in a vehicle slowing for a red light.  Her
fiancee who was driving the vehicle at the time, is a friend of Conor
Carey.  Bonacker reports seeing "the police car headlights shining on a
male" but later said she "could not see the males hands because of
darkness."  She said they tried to call 911 on the cell phone, but
couldn't because the battery went dead.  They called 911 when they
arrived home.
        Shannon Gannon, Bonacker's fiancee says in a November 14th
interview, he could hear the driver officer yell 'Get down'.  He saw the
male standing on the sidewalk reach towards his waist and make a motion
like he was taking something out before being shot. He saw the passenger
officer approach the the man lying on the sidewalk and saw the passenger
officer kick something away.  He claims he then dialed 911 on his cell
phone and told Santa Cruz Police Dispatch what he had seen.
        Lianna Forest, a 62 year old writer and teacher, was driving the
vehicle in the lane directly behind the police car before it suddenly
swerved into the right lane to accost Happy John at the bus stop.  As she
slowly drove past the scene she saw Happy John raise his right hand to
just above his waist immediately before or as he was being fired upon.
She specifically did not see a gun.
        Leslie Plumblee was in the her GMC Jimmy (the pick-up truck
described by Buckelew and Schultz). Plumblee, according to an interview
conducted by Sgt. Seiley on November 12th, reported Dine "may have swung
up one arm".  Plumblee then saw officers stand over Dine's body which
was "convulsing like he was having a grand mal seizure" shouting "Don't
move! Don't move!"  None of these witnesses, including Leslie Plumblee
saw a gun in Happy John's hand.

Witness Dropped from Investigation
        Tom Murphy who, according to police reports filed that fatal
night, was "10 - 15 feet" away from the suspect at the time of the
shooting was dropped completely from the final list of witnesses. Officer
Dave LaFaver interviewed Murphy at the scene. Murphy told him "I didn't
see any weapon or anything!  It was just pure murder, the cops murdered
that guy!"
        DA investigators Alan Johnson and Marty Krauel  made no attempt
to view videos from Santa Cruzans for Full Disclosure which documented
Tom Murphy's eyewitness testimony and recorded his concern that he was
twice threatened by local police officers.   Nor has witness, Clinton
Haness been interviewed by the DA, although videotapes of his testimony,
of having seen Officer Over "strip search" John Dine's mortally wounded
body, take something out and throw it on the ground, have already aired
on Community TV (Club Cruz 12/9)

Business as Usual: Officer Exonerated
        Yet the case remains closed.  Officer Carey and Officer Over have
returned to duty.  Chief Belcher cashes in his monthly paycheck and
perhaps a Christmas bonus.  Art Danner, in spite of what is the clearest
case of gross incompetence or outright obstruction of justice in the
SCPD in a decade, exonerates everyone.
        John Dine's ashes are all that is left of a street person, who
reported frequent harassment by the police downtown and, according to a
former counselor of his, Alan Van Cleave, Dine had complained of specific
harassment by a Catalyst bouncer.  In a conversation about two weeks
before the shooting, Dine told him a bouncer had barred him from the
public sidewalk in front of the Catalyst, all the way from Cathcart to Maple.

Citizens Police Review Board and the ACLU: Failure to Act
        The Citizens Police Review Board  looks over the shoulder of the
police department but has neither independent investigatory power nor
disciplinary powers of its own.  The CPRB  held no emergency meeting in
the weeks that followed the slaying.  It took no action on an early
independent investigation at their regular meeting.  In spite of a room
full of people, it declined to go on record and vote on the matter.  It
declined to endorse public hearings as a policy.   It concluded the
meeting by refusing to schedule a special public hearing on the Dine case
or even an early regular meeting.   Instead it simply continued Rregular
processesS by scheduling a closed hearing on the Dine case for late December.
        At that hearing,  it may vote for independent investigation and
public hearings, or send the case back to the police department for
further information.  Will City Council agree to fund an independent
investigator for $100/hour? Will the CPRB agree to subpoena Police Chief
Belcher at public hearings to explain why he chose to believe implicated
police officers and a friend of the killer over 10 independent witnesses
who saw no weapon in Dine's hand?  Its past record of rubberstamping
police misconduct gives us little cause for hope.
        Some members of the community are calling to establish a tribunal
that will weigh the evidence in the Dine case and go further to
investigate general harassment of the homeless in Santa Cruz. Former
Berkeley Citizens Police Review Commissioner attorney Osha Neumann has
agreed to sit on this body.
        A local ACLU member has declined to publicly call for an
independent investigation in the Dine case, noting that he didnUt think
too many people were interested.  This disinterest is not mutual: Dine
marched in a parade against police brutality on October 18th and spent
many hours supporting homeless rights at the 7 1/2 month long City Hall
Sleepers Protest  last year.  Nor is it s widespread as the ACLU member
seems to think.  About seventy people kept a vigil for John Dine the
night after he was killed, all demanding a full and independent
investigation.  Twenty-five attended the December 8th citizens Police
Review Board  meeting; all who spoke at that meeting called for the same
thing.  Carey and Belcher had no defenders.  Except, implicitly, the
Board itself, which betrayed either sympathy or timidity by doing nothing.
        Three eyewitnesses [Lee Charron, David Plumlee, and Shannon
Gannon] claim in the D.A.Us report that they saw an officer (probably
Over), remove a weapon from Dine's clothing and throw it to the
ground--where it would not have been had Dine been pointing it at the
police.  Clinton Haness (not in the D.A.'s report) also saw the gun
removed and dropped.

Unasked Questions and Foregone Conclusions
        Police Chief Steve Belcher first used the term "combat stance" to
describe John Dine's posturing at the moment he was shot to
death--unconfirmed by any of the witnesses (including the police
witnesses) and refuted by the autopsy report.  Belcher called the
shooting "justifiable' at a 10 pm press conference held the night of the
shooting.  The Police Chief was privy to all reports from 12 eyewitnesses
to the shooting, of which 10 did not see a gun in Happy John's hand.  Now
at least 3 are calling it murder.  Belcher has ruled it a justifiable
shooting.
        District Attorney Art Danner characterized John Dine as having a
history of assaultive behavior and violent tendencies--which contradicts
almost all testimony from DineUs friends and associates.  Dine's alleged
arrest in Santa Clara for assault with a deadly weapon was not in the
DAUs report.   The DA's investigators never asked Ben Newman if he knew
Happy John, or if he knew him to carry toy guns or about an earlier
incident, alleged by Dine's friend and former counselor Allen Van Cleave,
in which Dine was told by a Catalyst bouncer to stay off the sidewalk
near the Catalyst.  Officer Martin Over was never asked if he knew John
Dine had possessed toy guns previous to the lethal shooting, what he said
to Carey about it, whether he had previously detained or arrested Dine.
        An "injury incident" at Juan Pablo Home where Dine had hit his
own head against the wall was used as evidence of Dine's "violence."
Danner ignored a molestation complaint against a staff member there
September 5th but accepts the Home's self-justifying descriptions of Dine
to make Carey's killing more credible.

        Skeptics who question the accuracy of this critique should read
the DAUs report, available at the Main Public Library.
Flyer by HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom)  408-423-4833
12/25/97

Feel encouraged to call or fax in to the Santa Cruz City Council and/or
Citizens Police Review Board.  I shall try to get e-mail addresses at next
posting.

END FORWARD