Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) records from the past five years show that officers have mistakenly fired a gun while pursuing a robbery suspect, stolen earbuds from a store manager and attempted to get preferential treatment to adopt a puppy.
SMPD provided four records of officer misconduct to the Santa Monica Daily Press after the Daily Press initiated a public records request under a new state law, S.B. 1421, that requires police departments to provide all records that involve officers firing guns, using force that results in death or injury, committing sexual assault or being dishonest. The law took effect Jan. 1 and applies to records created in the past five years.
SMPD is providing the records to the Daily Press on a rolling basis and is continuing to search for records regarding the use of force. It has provided records involving the discharge of firearms and general misconduct. The department has no records of sexual assault.
Two officers were investigated for shooting their guns and two were fired or suspended for violating department policies.
Sergeant Christopher Skogh, a 19-year veteran of the department, was suspended without pay for 40 hours because SMPD found he had negligently discharged his gun while pursuing a robbery suspect, while Arsenio Valenzuela was exonerated for shooting at a vehicle burglary suspect because he thought the suspect was armed.
In October 2015, Skogh was following a robbery suspect in his police car at about 8:30 p.m. in north Venice when he saw the suspect hunch over and put his hands into his waistband. Skogh parked his car and pursued the suspect on foot. He pointed his gun at him and ordered him to stop, then yelling at him twice to get on the ground.
Contrary to SMPD’s weapons training, Skogh’s finger was on the trigger, and he accidentally shot toward the suspect when he suddenly stopped and turned around. The suspect was unhurt and was arrested for robbery.
Skogh said he did not intend to shoot his gun and SMPD ruled that he negligently discharged the weapon. Lieutenant Douglas Kohno and Chief of Police Jacqueline Seabrooks wrote in a letter to Skogh that all SMPD weapons training reinforces the dangers of placing one’s finger on the trigger if one does not intend to discharge the firearm.
“In the future, you are expected to exercise extreme caution when handling assigned firearms and follow all department procedures when carrying and using your firearms,” the letter said.
Valenzuela also shot a gun at a suspect, but SMPD concluded he used his gun because he felt he and his partner’s lives were in danger and took no action against him.
In July 2016, Valenzuela and his partner responded to a suspicious person radio call regarding a man looking into parked cars in the North of Montana neighborhood. When he and his partner arrived in their patrol car, they saw the suspect crouched behind a car. Valenzuela got out of the patrol car and shot once, missing the man, and then walked over to the car with his gun still drawn, ordering the man to put his hands up. The man was arrested by other officers on the scene.
Valenzuela said in an interview with an internal investigator that he fired his gun because he saw the man crouching with his hands in front of him and he saw the reflection of a metallic object in his hands, which he believed to be a gun but was actually a key fob. Based on the man’s position, Valenzuela believed he would shoot at him and his partner. He also told the investigator that he had encountered armed burglary suspects before in the area.
“It appears you made a conscious decision to shoot at a suspect who presented, in your state of mind, an imminent threat of death or great bodily injury based on your observations,” Lieutenant Sal Lucio and Seabrooks wrote in a letter to Valenzuela.
SMPD also found that two officers violated SMPD policies. One, Edward Parraga, was caught on tape stealing earbuds from the office of the manager of Sephora’s Third Street Promenade location while investigating a robbery in June 2016 and was fired. The other, Kevin McInerney, was suspended without pay for 140 hours because he tried to use his status as a police officer to supersede the waiting list to adopt a puppy. He no longer works for SMPD.
In October 2013, McInerney and his partner helped arrest the occupants of a stolen car in downtown Santa Monica and transported a puppy that was found in the car to the City of Santa Monica Animal Shelter. McInerney told the shelter’s staff that he wanted to be placed on the list to adopt the puppy, but because the shelter was closed at that time, around 10 p.m., his request was not relayed to the staff members responsible for the adoption lists.
McInerney came to the shelter the next morning, expecting to adopt the dog, but was told that someone else came earlier in the morning and was in first place on the adoption list. He said he felt he should be first on the list and shelter staff encouraged him to show up at the adoption time and speak with the person who was first on the list to see if she would be willing to let him adopt the dog.
Over the next few days, McInerney attempted to get preferential treatment from SMPD’s Animal Control Unit by leaving voicemails with its supervisor, who told McInerney he could not move him to the top of the list.
McInerney went to the animal shelter at the adoption time and met the woman who was first on the adoption list. The woman told SMPD in an internal investigation into the incident that he had told her he was the officer who rescued the puppy and he was going to get it for his daughter. She said she was willing to let McInerney adopt the puppy after speaking with him.
Two other women on the adoption list witnessed their exchange and said told investigators they felt that McInerney was pressuring her into giving up the puppy. One suspected that he did not really have a daughter, which McInerney later admitted after lying to another officer.
She then asked him where he found the puppy and he said he found it “in the ghetto.” The woman, a resident of the Pico neighborhood, thought he was referring to Pico and asked him what part of Santa Monica he was referring to. She said McInerney told her he was referring to South Central.
The woman later told another officer at the shelter that she felt it was inappropriate for an officer to use the word “ghetto,” believed McInerney was lying about having a daughter and manipulated the other woman into letting him adopt the puppy.
The officer called McInerney into the shelter office and told him “everybody inside [the shelter] believed that [you were] lying through [your] teeth” and warned him that officers must “do the right thing.” McInerney then left the shelter and the puppy was left behind to undergo veterinary procedures.
As the department investigated the situation more, a lieutenant decided that McInerney would not be allowed to adopt the dog and the woman who was first on the waiting list would adopt it instead. McInerney was told not to discuss the incident with anyone but later spoke with the woman about it and took possession of the dog.
“Your actions … clearly show you had an expectation of special treatment because your status as a Santa Monica police officer gave you greater access to the system,” Lieutenant Mike Beautz and Seabrooks wrote in a letter to McInerney. “Your usage of [the word “ghetto] … was conduct unbecoming an officer of this department, and was discourteous and disrespectful.”
I experienced misconduct and am still trying to figure out how and who to report police misconduct to. Sadly, what I experienced and am still finding is not only a civil liberties issue, a healthcare issue but also raising concerns about various powers that be within Santa Monica. It has disappointed me and given me little hope of resolving the matters considering the large amounts of funding received by the city for their “projects”.
5 years and 100s of Police personnel. Probably millions of citizen contacts. 4 mistakes is a VERY MINOR rate of misconduct. Keep up the good work.
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