Attorney: Citizen video can contradict police reports
On Dec. 10, 2013, there were protests at Santa Rosa City Hall following the October 2013 fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus.
Approximately 100 protesters gathered in front of City Hall, some carrying white crosses about three-feet long. Police told protesters they could not enter the building with the crosses. A scuffle ensued and police arrested protester Ramon Cairo on charges of assaulting a police officer — striking him with one of the signs.
Santa Rosa attorney Izaak Schwaiger represented Cairo. “He was leading protests at City Hall. They were marching up to the front of City Hall,” Schwaiger said, “carrying white crosses in protest. SRPD met them at the door. The confrontation became physical when the protesters tried to enter and the cops didn’t want them in. My client was accused of a couple of felonies for assaulting peace officers,” Schwaiger said.
Though there was no body-worn camera footage from police involved at the time, the video camera of an independent journalist caught the scene. “They didn’t have body cams,” Schwaiger said. “SRPD now has body cams. We had this. The DA didn’t have it. The cops didn’t have it. The scene that they described was totally different than the scene that was on film,” he said.
“They said there was a loud and angry crowd approaching,” Schwaiger said. “There were over 100 people approaching — it was totally silent. I’m not saying they were liars,” he said. “They perceived it one way. I am not going to fault them for that. But the system fails when these perceptions get transmuted into facts.” Cairo was found not guilty.
“A big part of that was this video,” Schwaiger said. “He was accused of hitting a cop in the face with his cross. What we saw in the video was the officer was pulling at him, trying to pull him back through the line of police to arrest him. He was pulling back. The cop let go. He swings forward as he’s falling. His cross hit the guy. You could see it on the video. The cop’s perception — I believe honestly — was that he was attacked. That was not the case.”
The video was crucial evidence to exonerate his client, Schwaiger said. Body-worn police cameras help him do his job in nearly every case, he said. “If I have a bad case, I want to know about it,” he said. “I’m not going to take a case to trial when the client is patently guilty and without a defense. If I have a loser of a case, I am doing my client a disservice if I don’t let them know.”