The assault against Sagon Ahmes Penn by two San Diego cops was analogous to the dislodging of small pebbles that starts an avalanche—one that gathered speed with each new attempt by SDPD "investigators" to cover up the mounting evidence of Jacobs' and Riggs' misconduct. Only this landslide didn't bury the truth. It uncovered—albeit briefly—a cesspool of San Diego police corruption the depths of which have not been plumbed to this day.
It became clear to Encanto residents from the beginning—especially to those who had witnessed the incident—that police and DA investigators weren't in the least interested in what had actually happened. They were simply interested in finding Penn guilty of murder. Investigators refused to interview people who had seen the tragedy from start to finish because what they saw wasn't "helpful" in establishing Penn's guilt. They destroyed notes taken from other interviews deemed "unfavorable" to the prosecution's case and fabricated in their reports statements the witnesses subsequently denied, under oath, having made.
Perhaps ironically this meant that all eyewitnesses called by the DA except Donovan Jacobs and Sara Pena-Ruiz were treated as "hostile witnesses". One such witness was Angela McKibben-Lovett, who called 911 and said "I'd like to report police brutality happening in front of my house!"
In court she testified that "Jacobs was definitely the aggressor, his face turned red and he looked like the type who wanted to start something," and that when Penn retreated with his hands in the air, Jacobs pulled out his billy-club and started swinging at Penn's midsection. "He (Penn) was blocking the blows, and I was glad," she added.
When she saw Jacobs straddle Penn's chest and repeatedly punch him in the face, she called police because Penn was "being beaten, not arrested—I was scared because I knew something was gonna happen." She testified that Riggs was also beating Penn.
Her husband, Anthony A. Lovett, testified that he saw Penn using defensive martial-arts techniques, and that a neighbor shouted for him to call the police and to tell them to "make sure you send black officers!"
Significantly, in the immediate aftermath of the incident Donovan Jacobs refused to speak to police investigators unless he was first granted immunity, and only then with his attorney present. He also claimed that it was RIGGS who first engaged in hostilities with Sagon Penn, not himself. This claim was contradicted by every other eyewitness.
It would come back to haunt Jacobs, as would many other aspects of his character and behavior during trial testimony. As more and more of Jacobs' self-serving fabrications began to unravel, even some of Thomas Riggs' family members would express their disgust at his continued lying on the witness stand. Michael Riggs, a younger brother of the slain officer, referred to Jacobs as a bigot whose actions caused Penn to fire the shot that killed his brother.
It was clear from the outset that all was not right with Officer Jacobs. Even in the Police Academy he'd been counseled for his hostile tendencies toward "minorities", particularly black people. Part of a transcript released to the defense team of one such counseling session by an Academic Supervisor read, in part:
"Unless you show some considerable change or at least some more consideration for others and can change your behavior…we don't want you, because you are going to do nothing but create problems for yourself, for the public and for the department."
Jacobs didn't heed the warning. At least three formal complaints had been filed against him for abusing black citizens during his first five years on the force. He was also suspended once for using excessive force against a black suspect.
Trial testimony also revealed that Jacobs had photographed and compiled illegal dossiers of over 500 black San Diegans. Jacobs claimed he'd been given "permission" to compile dossiers of "gang members". Gang Unit Supervisor H. Olias denied under oath that Jacobs had ever been given such permission, and offered in support of this a written memo issued in either 1982 or 1983 that prohibited anyone outside the Gang Unit from maintaining dossiers on citizens. Per Olias' testimony only two of Jacobs' 500 so-called "gang members" were actually in gangs.
Despite ongoing revelations concerning his racist attitude and behavior towards black San Diegans, Jacobs continually denied he was anything other than a fair-minded and professional policeman—an angel with a badge. He repeatedly testified that using racial slurs "is something so out of line with my character that I can say without a doubt that I would never do it" and that "…such words are not in my vocabulary". In one press interview he claimed "I'm as clean as a newborn babe. I'm just what the prosecution showed you"—referring to the District Attorney's representation of Jacobs as a "model officer."
But on December 12th, 1985 Sagon Penn's Attorney Milton Silverman filed documents with the court revealing that Jacobs' "clean character" had nonetheless allowed him to take part in desert maneuvers with a paramilitary outfit that also involved members of the KKK and the Aryan Brotherhood.
Nor was it only "gang members" who complained of Jacobs' overbearing and racist behavior. Former Police Lt Doyle A. Wheeler, who a year earlier had taken medical retirement from the SDPD after being first to respond to the massacre of 21 people by James A. Huberty at a San Ysidro MacDonald's, testified that he had repeatedly warned his superiors that Donovan Jacobs was a "racist hot-head" and a "bully", only to see his warnings rebuffed or ignored.
Wheeler would later become Chief of the Seattle Police Dept. The aftermath of his testimony in the Penn case will be discussed in further installments of this blog.
Mark MacIntyre was another former SDPD Officer and one who had served in the field with Donovan Jacobs. At the time of the assault against Sagon Penn MacIntyre had left the force and served as senior pastor of Calvary Chapel in Alpine, CA. He said: "In my opinion, Donovan Jacobs is one of the most prejudiced white people I've known…if there were an ideal candidate for the Ku Klux Klan, he would be one." MacIntyre himself was white.
Perhaps the most devastating account of Jacobs' hostility towards black people came from Nathaniel Jordan, another former SDPD officer who had refused to testify until he was subpoenaed because he feared police retaliation. His fears were to prove justified.
Jordan, who was black, testified that Donovan Jacobs routinely called black suspects and prisoners "n****r" and "boy". Jordan worked with Jacobs on the Street Narcotics Enforcement Team in 1982-83. He recounted how he nearly came to blows with Jacobs himself during a squad conference when Jacobs called him a "n****r" after Jordan confronted Jacobs about the latter's misconduct during a field encounter.
One can't help but wonder when Jacobs' vocabulary "lost" such words--before or after he was forced to testify about assaulting Sagon Penn?
All the above, and much more, was to come out over the course of two extremely high-profile trials in San Diego Superior Court. On August 10th, 1986 a jury acquitted Sagon Penn of murder for the death of Thomas Riggs, two counts of attempted murder of Donovan Jacobs, and of one count of attempted murder of Sara Pena-Ruiz. The Jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquittal of all voluntary manslaughter charges.
District Attorney Ed Miller—despite widespread community outrage over his decision—moved to retry Sagon Penn for voluntary manslaughter. On July 17th, 1987 as second jury found Sagon Penn not guilty of voluntary manslaughter and attempted voluntary manslaughter, deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquittal of involuntary manslaughter in Riggs' death, 10 to 2 in favor of acquittal of assault with a deadly weapon against Jacobs and 7 to 5 in favor of conviction of assault with a deadly weapon against Pena-Ruiz.
After the verdict was announced presiding Superior Court Judge J. Morgan Lester denounced SDPD officers and supervisors for use of excessive force, tampering with evidence and perjury on the witness stand. DA Miller did not seek a third trial.
The California Attorney General's office launched an investigation into whether Jacobs used excessive force, and whether he and other prosecution witnesses perjured themselves. The investigation was ultimately dropped when it became clear that Sagon Penn wanted nothing whatsoever to do with another possible trial and would refuse to cooperate.
Sagon Penn's acquittal was not only a legal victory but a win for the people of those San Diego communities most afflicted by police abuse. But it did not end ongoing police crime in the town former mayor Pete Wilson had dubbed "America's finest city." Nor did it end persecution of Sagon Ahmes Penn, his family, supporters, and the witnesses who testified for him by the SDPD, which one young San Diegan recently called "San Diego's biggest criminal gang".
Next, Part 3—More Cop Crime.
Those wishing to post a comment in response to this blog are invited to e-mail it to HajjFHM@aol.com. Criteria for acceptance or rejection of comments is outlined under my 09/22/12 blog titled "Khalas". Please specify the name or screen name under which you want your post to appear.
Am I the only one to notice that when we point out the crimes committed by people in power against blacks, Natives, Hispanics, Muslims and gays, we get accused of being "divisive," playing victim and paranoia by the very people who support racial and religious profiling? Seems to me profiling is a reaction to paranoia by folks who convince themselves that all blacks, Hispanics, Natives, Muslims and homosexuals are out to destroy them personally.
A question for you, sir: How many times have people told you that you paranoid Muslims are conspiring to destroy America?
Geoff Kennedy--01/03/12, 22:09
It would take me too long to count the number of times people have said that in the comments section of your and my blogs alone.
"Hajj I would like to say that your latest piece on Sagon Penn was just as good as your first piece. What really runs through my mind reading the second part was the scale of the police corruption.
As far as I am concerned there should have been an independent investigation into the SDPD by the California Attorney General. Which was very possible because there were plenty of witnesses and other evidence of police corruption to use in a grand jury investigation and even a trial.
If the California state troopers had investigated this case they could have had half the dirty cops on the force in jail no time flat.
Furthermore Hajj I do not understand why there was no effort ot get the FBI involved in this matter. The FBI has investigated and arrested numerous New Orleans Police Department officers for corruption. And the NOPD is way more corrupt than the SDPD.
There should have been some kind of an appeal to the U.S.
Attorney for the southern district of California to conduct a grand jury
investigation. Furthermore Hajj your story highlights the need for
independent citizens commissions to investigate police abuses."
Cesar Martinson--01/08/12, 20:50
Greetings, Brother Cesar--as to the scale of SDPD corruption, as I indicated in the first paragraph we've just scratched the surface of it. As your example of the NOPD clearly demonstrates, this is the rule not the exception.
And you will see in Part 3 that Sagon himself made it clear he would not cooperate if Donovan Jacobs was put on trial for illegal assault. As much as I might have wished otherwise, I fully understand his choice. The kid remained damaged by his experience for the rest of his too-short life.
I do agree that Jacobs and other prosecution witnesses--except for Sarah Pena-Ruiz most of 'em cops--should have been charged with perjury, tampering with evidence and obstruction of justice. That maybe could have been done without requiring Sagon to testify, but probably not--any defense attorney worth his salt could pretty much argue that his clients had not received their rights to face their accusers without Penn's testimony.
I still think it was worth a shot, but obviously the state is seldom interested in putting its own minions on trial for their wrongdoing. The same is true of the Army. There's less inclination to follow questionable orders if there's a real possibility of prosecution for doing so.
You'll see once I've posted Part 4 that the California Highway Patrol was probably not the agency from which to expect an unbiased investigation of other cops--besides, their legal relationship to other CA law enforcement agencies isn't the same as that of AK State Troopers to local law here, except maybe in extreme rural parts not covered by a county sheriff's dept.
San Diego Co has one, and they were involved in investigating the Donna Gentile murder, and those of some other San Diego prostitutes which, for a time, implicated SD cops. Despite honest efforts by one whistle-blowing SD Sheriff (now retired), still what we got was a cover-up. After SDPD Chief Bill Kolender retired, he ran for--and was elected--county Sheriff.
One outcome of the Penn case was the creation of a police review board. Fought tooth-and-nail by the Police Officers Association when I was there, and the first recommendations for the board were all friends of Bill Kolender. As I pointed out at one public forum, this amounted to little more than complaining to a fox about stolen chickens.
What I think is more encouraging than the review board is a community-based organization called "CopWatch" that monitors police crime. The San Diego Chapter is named after Sagon Penn.
When you see Part 4, you might have to reconsider your statement that NOPD was more corrupt than SDPD. During the Penn years SDPD was involved in more questionable shootings (for which no cop was ever prosecuted) than all municipal police departments except Dallas PD. New Orleans cops weren't necessarily more corrupt than San Diego cops, they were just more blatant.