Is California skipping investigations in deadly police shootings?
On Sunday, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy shot and killed a man suspected of stabbing an elderly woman near a gas station in Altadena.
Both the Sheriff’s homicide unit and its Internal Affairs Bureau reportedly launched investigations.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Rob Bonta announced that the state Department of Justice launched its own probe, noting in a press release that preliminary findings indicated that the man killed “ was not in possession of a deadly weapon at the time of the fatal shooting.”
Bonta didn’t launch the investigation solely out of personal interest. A state law passed in 2020 — and supported by Bonta, then an Assemblymember — requires the Department of Justice to investigate whenever a law enforcement officer kills a citizen who isn’t armed with a deadly weapon.
But as CalMatters’ justice reporter Nigel Duara found, the department isn’t always investigating the cases referred to it. Nor is it explaining why. Nor was it even tracking “non-qualifying” killings — until Nigel started asking about them.
- A Justice Department spokesperson: “Given the mandate and the need to rapidly implement a major new statewide initiative, our office focused on…qualifying events.”
The lack of record-keeping has angered shooting victims’ advocates and local prosecutors alike, including those in Sonoma County after Bonta’s office declined a case:
- Izaak Schwaiger, a lawyer representing the family of a man shot by a Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputy: “To just get turned a cold shoulder like this is indefensible, and it’s a misapplication of the attorney general’s duty under the law.”
- Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch: “It would be helpful to have a written explanation of how the determination was made to decline participation in the investigation.”
Ever since the law was passed, evidence has been mounting that the Department of Justice was straining under the added caseload of dozens of new complex shooting investigations.
Even when an investigation is opened, that’s only the beginning. Last November, the state had opened 25 cases and resolved only one. Now, it’s 31 opened, two resolved, according to the CalMatters tracker.
CalMatters covers the Legislature: With the state Legislature back in session, CalMatters has you covered with guides to keep track of your lawmakers, explore its record diversity, make your voice heard and understand how state government works. We also have Spanish-language versions for the Legislature’s demographics and the state government explainer.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 California’s jungle crude
A report published by two conservation nonprofits estimates that a major fraction of the gas in your tank comes from one of the most biodiverse and ecologically sensitive places on earth.
- Angeline Robertson, senior researcher at Stand.earth and the report’s senior author: “One in every nine tanks of gas, diesel or jet fuel pumped in California comes from the Amazon.”
For all it’s green cred, the New York Times reports, California is the Amazon oil drilling industry’s top customer:
- 50% of Amazonian crude (most of it Ecuadorian) is shipped to California;
- Half of that goes to three L.A.-area refineries;
- LAX is a major consumer: 1 in 6 gallons of jet fuel pumped there comes from the Amazon.
What conclusion should we draw? It may depend on your political views. Environmentalists say the report underscores just how important it is for the world to wean itself from fossil fuels.
But the analysis also backs up one of the California oil industry’s biggest (and most memed) talking points: Make it easier to drill more here and save Ecuador’s exceedingly cute sloths.
Meanwhile, an industry effort to overturn a law that drastically restricts where new oil and gas wells can go is expected to qualify for the 2024 ballot any day now. Expect fierce pushback from Gov. Gavin Newsom and most other Democrats.
In other energy news, this from CalMatters’ environment reporter Nadia Lopez:
Federal regulators earlier this week rejected a request from operator Pacific Gas and Electric to resume a review of its application to extend the lifespan of California’s last nuclear facility, the Diablo Canyon power plant.
How we got here:
- PG&E applied for a license renewal in 2009, but withdrew the application in 2018 after finalizing plans to permanently close the facility in 2025.
- Newsom and state lawmakers reversed course last September, instead calling on the utility to keep the plant that supplies about 10% of the state’s electricity open until 2030 as the state transitions to renewable sources.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to deny the license extension means the utility will need to start the relicensing application process all over again to extend operations. The utility on Wednesday told CalMatters that it will submit a new renewal application for a 20-year period at the end of this year.
- PG&E spokesperson Suzanne Hosn: “PG&E remains committed to complying with current legislative policy to ensure the state has the option to keep the Diablo Canyon power plant online to ensure electrical reliability as California continues toward its clean energy future.”
Environmental justice groups and anti-nuclear advocates opposed to the plant’s extension praised the decision, citing long-held concerns over spent nuclear waste and safety issues due to the plant’s proximity to seismic fault lines.
2 The case of the disappearing student body
As with office furniture, Zoom and that video game with the talking raccoon, demand was high for a California State University education at the height of the pandemic. In the fall of 2020, Cal State posted its highest-ever enrollment figures.
But as CalMatters’ higher education reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn explains, that boom has busted — and that could come with a hefty price tag for the county’s largest public university system.
- California State University system vice chancellor Steve Relyea: “The California State University is facing an unprecedented moment in its 62-year history.”
- In the last two years, the system saw a decline of 27,000 students
- Seven campuses — including CSU Channel Islands, Chico State and San Francisco State — are under their state enrollment targets by 10% or more
- More than 18% of last year’s freshman didn’t come back this year
Now CSU leaders are warning the under-enrolled campuses to find new students or prepare for budget cuts. Starting in 2024 (at the earliest), any campus missing its enrollment target by 10% or more will permanently lose up to 5% of its state enrollment funding.
3 California’s parallel political universe
What are the biggest issues facing California?
It turns out Gov. Gavin Newsom and California’s GOP legislators actually agree: The cost of living, homelessness, the drought and the fentanyl crisis.
So how should the state address those problems, particularly under the specter of a projected $22.5 billion-dollar budget shortfall?
Well, there’s the rub.
On Wednesday, California’s Senate Republicans laid out their agenda. The caucus is just 8 members — not enough to field a full baseball team, much less push through their own legislation in the chamber of 40. So as noted by my colleague, Sameea Kamal, they’ll need a lot of cooperation from Democrats to get any of these bills passed.
Ideas with a fighting chance:
- Sen. Janet Nguyen, who represents northern Orange County, proposes an increase to a tax credit for renters.
- Sen. Kelly Seyarto from Murrieta, is proposing an anti-fentanyl task force.
- Sen. Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh from Rancho Cucamonga wants to increase the number of beds at mental health facilities.
- Sen. Shannon Grove from Bakersfield wants to redefine human trafficking as a “violent crime,” something Democratic Attorney General Rob Bonta has said he might support.
Dead on arrival:
- Senate Minority Leader Brian Jones has re-upped last session’s effort to suspend the gas tax and ease low carbon fuel standards, both for one year.
- Ochoa Bogh rolled out a bill that would add a felony to California’s criminal code for “serial theft.”
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s state government has a sorry history of botched programs, and long-term care insurance is another example.
CalMatters columnist Jim Newton: California’s warehouse boom comes with health, environmental costs for Inland Empire residents.
Other things worth your time
Two mass shootings in three days. Are these copycat crimes? // Los Angeles Times
Half Moon Bay shooting highlights poor conditions on farms // San Francisco Chronicle
A leader in gun control efforts, California confronts its limits // Washington Post
The spectre of anti-Asian violence in the Monterey Park shooting // The New Yorker
Shasta to become first California county to drop Dominion // Record Searchlight
Wave of rural nursing home closures grows amid staffing crunch // California Healthline
A reckoning over race: How 4 words upended a university’s journalism program // LAist
L.A. schools learning loss days cost $611 per student a day // Los Angeles Times
As Biden mulls 2024, a progressive group is urging ‘Don’t Run Joe’ // San Francisco Chronicle
Facebook to reinstate Trump // Axios
California’s social services agency website included links to anti-immigrant group // KPBS
The fight over California’s ancient water // The Atlantic
Millions in child care funds unspent as providers wait months for money // San Diego Union-Tribune
Judge questions law targeting docs who share COVID-19 misinformation // Sacramento Bee
Judge orders release of Paul Pelosi 911 call // Los Angeles Times
San Jose gun shop inspections by police have big holes // San Jose Mercury News
SF street artist swipes city property, sells it online for thousands // San Francisco Standard
Sacramento-area Peet’s Coffee first US location to unionize // Sacramento Bee
Why California wasn’t prepared for the atmospheric rivers // Los Angeles Times
Opinion: Alec Baldwin didn’t have to talk to the police. Neither do you // New York Times