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May 14, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, May 14, 2004

D.A excusses officer of excessive force charges D.A excusses officer of excessive force charges (May 14, 2004)

Family threatens to file claim against city

by Bill D'Agostino

Palo Alto Police Officer Brad Kilpatrick, accused of using excessive force when he ticketed a black teenage boy in March, was cleared by the district attorney's office Wednesday, sparking angry protests from locals who felt the boy was targeted because of his race.

Meanwhile, the teenager's attorney, Andrew Pierce, said the family was planning to file a claim with the city, a precursor to a potential lawsuit.

The district attorney's report said that 14-year-old Jameel Douglas was riding to Terman Middle School on his skateboard, without a helmet, on March 3, when Kilpatrick approached him.

"I don't have to talk to you," Jameel reportedly told the officer.

Witnesses had conflicting accounts of the incident itself. According to a crossing guard, Jameel was trying to "get away" when Kilpatrick grabbed him into a bear hug, and then held onto his left arm, the district attorney's report noted.

Other witnesses, though, didn't recall the bear hug or that Jameel was trying to get away. And another witness recounted the officer shaking Jameel like a "rag doll," but she refused to talk to investigators.

Kilpatrick gave Jameel a ticket for riding without a helmet, the second such penalty he had given the teen.

The officer then escorted him to school so Jameel "would not be embarrassed in front of his peers and so that he would not be late," the report noted.

"I'm still not going to wear a helmet," Jameel later told another officer.

The report concluded that the officer's actions were "reasonable," Assistant District Attorney Karen Sinunu wrote.

None of the witnesses thought the officer did the right thing, Pierce noted.

"It does seem to me that she (Sinunu) seemed to be giving more credit to the officer's account than the witnesses' accounts," said Pierce, a former Human Relations Commissioner for Palo Alto and a current county commissioner.

Jameel suffered no injuries, and sought no medical attention.

The Palo Alto police department also concluded its own internal investigation into the incident this week. Kilpatrick was scheduled to return to full duty on Thursday, according to Police Chief Lynne Johnson, who couldn't comment further on the investigation. Kilpatrick had been on restricted duty.

Johnson said she agreed with Sinunu's conclusion that a crime hadn't been committed.

The incident, coming shortly after two Asian-American officers allegedly beat a black man sitting in his car, has raised concerns of racial bias within the police department. The city settled with the man, Albert Hopkins, giving him $250,000. A hearing is currently underway to determine if charges against the two officers should go to trial.

Police officials believe race wasn't a factor in either incident.

Aram James, a local attorney who publicly alleged the officer used excessive force and committed battery, disagreed.

"I am not surprised, and I'm angry and I'm outraged," said James, who plans to contact the attorney general's office. He also brought forward a witness in the earlier incident regarding the two officers.

James, the fiancÚ of Jameel's mother, conducted his own investigation of the incident, including interviewing and videotaping six witnesses. County investigators read his "voluminous correspondence" to prosecutors and police officials, Sinunu wrote.

James was angered by Sinunu's decision not to press charges, noting that only white officers did the investigation.

James told Jameel the news when the middle school student came home on Wednesday afternoon.

"He said that it didn't matter because the officer would do it again and eventually he would get caught," James said.

Jameel then grabbed his skateboard and went out to ride. He took his helmet, James reported.

Since the incident, James has been driving his future stepson to school every day, fearful other cops could target him. "I think this has, to some level, brought us closer as a family," James said.

The report noted that Jameel had received two previous tickets, but James disputed that, saying it was only one. "They don't have the facts right. That's pretty pathetic," he complained.

Local black advocates also believe Kilpatrick was unfairly exonerated this week.

"I have two sons suspended from Palo Alto schools for doing less than what this officer did," said Joyce Osagiede, who sits on the PTA council board. "Why should they have to abide by the laws of the community if the police don't?"

Racism has been a growing problem in Palo Alto, added Osagiede. In January, Graffiti was found inside in the Cubberley Community Center that used the N-word, she said. One bathroom was marked with the scrawl "whites only."

"When the police behave this way, it tells racists that its OK," Osagiede said.

Using the California Public Records Act, James requested all tickets that the officer has given out in the last two years for bicyclists and skateboarders not wearing helmets.

Of the 23 tickets the officer had given out, three were to blacks. James noted that represents 13 percent, far more than the 2 percent that make up Palo Alto's black population. But Johnson noted that Palo Alto officers interact with people outside of Palo Alto, and that a far comparison would take into account the more diverse populations of Mountain View, Menlo Park and East Palo Alto.

Kilpatrick did not return a call for comment by press time.

Staff writer Bill D'Agostino can be e-mailed at

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