The problem with a city, like El Paso, which relies on creating illusions of reality, is that the inconvenient truth always comes out. Many of you are aware of the video of Sgt. James Brown that has been circulating on social media and on the national news circuit the last few days. It is poignantly appropriate that we are discussing the death of Brown the day after Memorial Day and a few days after I exposed the “safest city lie” that the city recently awarded itself. I believe all of these events, plus the ones I have been sharing with you about police misconduct, have created a culture of impunity that endangers the welfare of the city.
Sgt. James Brown died in June 2012, while under the custody of the El Paso Sheriff’s Department. That we are finding out about this incident, almost three years later, is further testament of how the El Paso leadership operates in the shadows. This incident also further demonstrates the incompetence of the local news media. Although the Washington Post and other national media, not to mention social media, have reported on this death, only KFOX has delved into the issue locally. As a matter of fact they were the ones to bring the death to light.
In the video, Sgt. Brown repeatedly yells that he can’t breathe to the five to eight sheriff’s deputies and at least two medical professionals that are subduing him for noncompliance. The 26-year old active duty soldier had checked himself into the jail to serve a weekend sentence for DWI. He left in a casket.
From the video it is impossible to determine how the actions or inactions of the sheriff’s deputies may have led to Brown’s death. This is because the video is not a complete record of the events and because the context of the whole event is difficult to ascertain from the video.
However, what the video does demonstrate is that the secrecy surrounding how El Paso’s law enforcement operates is key to keeping the community’s ire at bay but, more importantly, it adds further evidence to the lack of training and oversight within the community’s law enforcement community.
Taken as one video, the lack of professionalism and training can be dismissed but coupled with all of the other evidence I have been documenting over the years it demonstrates that El Paso’ lack of a professionally trained law enforcement together with an incompetent leadership is a serious concern for the community.
A serious problem that is glossed over by the city’s leadership with the help of incompetent news media outlets, secrecy under the guise of litigation and lies of the “safest city in the nation.”
The nexus to the problem is the lack of leadership from the top to the bottom.
Consider that the city’s mayor has encouraged the lie of the “safest city” through promoting a nonexistent award and follow this issue through to the county’s highest law enforcement officer, Sheriff Richard Wiles.
Richard Wiles was an assistant police chief, under police chief Carlos Leon, now a county commissioner when Leon was accused in 1999 of allowing a drug cartel infiltration of the police department. The accusation was never investigated, instead the whistleblower, also an assistant police chief, was targeted for retaliation through criminal investigations.
In 2004, various courts of inquiries were launched to investigate police misconduct. The actions of Leon and Wiled were scrutinized. Between 1999 and 2004, about 7,300 instances of police misconduct were documented. Of these, almost 25% were for excessive use of force. Two hundred and five were criminal investigations of police officers.
Although the courts of inquiry were mostly unsuccessful, they exposed many allegations of leadership failures within the police department. In 2003, the police were accused of negligence about how they handled Montwood students, who were protesting a policy change at their high school. The city paid $190,000 and agreed to retain a consultant to review El Paso police procedures.
In 2011, numerous police officers were arrested on various serious offenses ranging from sexual assault (Zake Rivera), an improper relationship with a minor (Miguel Lucero), through the numerous police officers charged with filing false police reports in the overtime scandal involving TXDOT funds.
The bumbling idiocy is also amply demonstrated by police officer Anthony Weatherbee who was arrested for allegedly stealing a DVD movie and a flashlight from a Walmart. Let us also not forget the police officer arrested for stealing cash from the wedding he had been hired to protect against thieves.
Never mind that a sitting county commissioner, prior to being elected, Carlos Leon worked for Bob Jones, who is currently incarcerated for public corruption.
The lack of professional training has been highlighted in the numerous cases that have come to light. At the center of these examples of law enforcement misconduct is Richard Wiles who rose through the ranks under the tutelage of Carlos Leon.
This system of engrained impunity is part of most aspects of law enforcement in the city. All of it supported by weak institutions and a leadership that relies on lies and innuendo to dismiss the obvious problems. Remember how in 2011, the city’s crime lab was put on probation because of its inability to reliably test the drugs used in criminal convictions? Jaime Esparza, the county attorney and police chief Greg Allen all proclaimed that the probation was not a serious problem because there was no evidence that anyone “intentionally” did anything wrong. Never mind that the drugs used to convict individuals may have been tainted by the failed lab.
Never mind that a county commissioner, Willie Gandara, is currently in jail for drug trafficking.
And, never mind that the city’s mayor, Oscar Leeser, last week congratulated the police department on the safest city award that the city created and bestowed upon itself.
What these examples show is a clear indication that training and discipline is severely lacking within the ranks of El Paso’s law enforcement community. The culture of impunity has been manifesting itself for many years under the direct supervision of Carlos Leon and Richard Wiles.
Sgt. Brown’s video is just further proof that a lack of honesty and leadership is at the core of the many instances of law enforcement misconduct especially when you add the death of Daniel Saenz as part of the evidence. Seanz died while in the custody of the El Paso Police Department at the county jail where Brown also died.
A lack of effective leadership, a lack of professionalism and a lack of training is as corrupt as the recent numerous cases of public corruption in El Paso were. The only difference is that, unlike the public corruption cases, no one is investigating them properly.
Remember that the numerous cases of public corruption cases left many other cases uninvestigated and more importantly, were not investigated by local officials but rather by the FBI.
The death of Sgt. Brown is just one more example of how incompetent the local news media is and how the city leadership is intent on keeping the façade of “it’s all good” intact by whatever means it can, including endangering the welfare of the city’s residents that evidence shows sometimes leads to death at the hands of those who are supposed to be keeping people safe.