The Daily Press was impressed by City Manager Rod Gould’s sobering report on the Santa Monica Police Department’s disastrous investigation of school board member Oscar de la Torre, who, if you don’t know by now, was caught on camera at a fist fight between two high school students. The question was, did de la Torre step in and break up the fight soon enough, or did he let it continue as part of an old-school, conflict resolution strategy where two people solve their problems by duking it out. Ultimately, de la Torre was investigated for possible child endangerment. Prosecutors declined to file charges.
We feel confident that Gould, who took full responsibility for the questionable tactics used by the lead investigator, and Police Chief Tim Jackman will begin implementing the seven recommendations made by the Office of Independent Review, which studied the de la Torre investigation at the request of the city manager and found serious problems with the way in which the lead investigator dealt with witnesses and wrote his final report. Gould and Jackman have committed to delivering a progress report within 90 days.
We were also pleased that members of the council expressed their concerns with the investigation, with City Councilman Kevin McKeown saying the OIR report was the most difficult material on Santa Monica he has ever had to read. Council members were upset, and rightfully so.
While the OIR report found that nothing illegal occurred and no evidence was planted, the way in which the lead investigator, Sgt. Dave Thomas, went about his job is reprehensible and he should be severely disciplined along with those who were supposed to be supervising his actions. From what the OIR report stated, Thomas had to answer to only one person, hardly the oversight needed for such a high-profile case involving a public official who has been on record criticizing the police department. Jackman and his command staff dropped the ball.
And why was Thomas’ report written in a way that was based more on opinion than fact? Why was it written differently than the standard format as the OIR report said? Thomas is supposed to be one of the SMPD’s top investigators. How could he veer so far from the typical police report, where just the facts are presented? Was he having an off day? Or was there a sinister motive, as de la Torre and his supporters believe? And who was the person responsible for sending Superintendent Tim Cuneo a copy of the video that sparked the investigation, and a note essentially accusing de la Torre of encouraging violence so that he can get more funding for the Pico Youth & Family Center, an after-school program he runs?
Many questions will most likely never be answered. The important thing is Gould and Jackman have promised publicly to make changes within the department to ensure that the public trust is restored and that the SMPD can continue to serve this community at a high level. Another critical step is to foster a stronger relationship between de la Torre, the youth center and the SMPD. While de la Torre may irk some people, at least he is doing the difficult, and sometimes dangerous, work of trying to keep kids away from gangs and drugs. The police, through their work at the Police Activities League, are trying to accomplish the same thing. de la Torre and the SMPD should be working together, not fighting each other.