The local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has planned two town-hall meetings in Modesto to discuss allegations of excessive force by police, and to call for independent investigations of those incidents.
"We have always thought, and always will believe that it is a conflict of interest for law enforcement to be the sole investigators of themselves," said Wendy Byrd, president of the Modesto/Stanislaus NAACP.
At the first meeting, Thursday, Stanislaus County residents are invited to voice their concerns about excessive force. At the second, May 21, the NAACP invited law enforcement officials to respond to the residents' concerns about excessive force. But the sheriff and Modesto police chief said they can't be there.
Both meetings are open to the public and will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. at the King-Kennedy Memorial Center, 601 Martin Luther King Blvd. The meetings are sponsored by the NAACP, the King-Kennedy center board of directors and Caravan for Justice II, a civil rights group based in the Bay Area.
Sheriff Adam Christianson said he has told NAACP officials he will not be able to attend the May 21 meeting because of a family commitment. He said he will pass along the NAACP's invitation to anyone else in his department who is available that evening. Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden said he also has a commitment and won't be attending, and neither will any of his officers or staff.
Christianson said there is no need for a third party to investigate allegations of excessive force in his department. Christianson said the department has a thorough investigative process, and "as sheriff, I hold my people accountable."
In October, the NAACP complained to the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors that the Sheriff's Department won't allow a third party to watch interviews with the complainants.
The complaints stemmed from incidents in which members of the motorcycle club Most Envied contend they were pulled over, harassed and roughed up by law enforcement for no reason.
Christianson said the department will never allow a third party to witness the interview, because that would "compromise the integrity of the citizen complaint process."
Two lawsuits over downtown arrests
Two people are suing Modesto in lawsuits over their treatment while being arrested at downtown clubs.
Wendell Jamon Jones, a San Jose attorney, is suing because he says police used excessive force to arrest him as he left a 10th Street club as the 2005 X-Clamation Festival wound down. His case heads to trial today at the U.S. District Court in Fresno.
Margaret Shepherd, a Stockton mother, was caught up in an altercation at another 10th Street bar while she celebrated her son's 21st birthday in January 2007. Her case is moving through the same court.
The city says Jones and Shepherd resisted arrest and that police acted within the scope of their authority.
Wasden said his department tracks closely the use of force. He also said his department would never allow a third party to investigate complaints of excessive force, because these types of inquiries deal with personnel issues and the Police Officer's Bill of Rights.
"I encourage anyone with a complaint to come forward, but certainly not in a town hall meeting," Wasden said.
"Community members are seeking more transparency and accountability," said Alonzo Gradford, a criminal defense attorney and the legal redress chairman for the Modesto/Stanislaus NAACP. "We believe that the majority of officers do a good job; however, as in any organization, there are a few who cross the line."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2394.