Opinion » Shredder

Failure to communicate

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I try to be amusing while shredding the shortcomings of the powers that be, but there's absolutely nothing funny about the recently released police bodycam video that captured the tragic May 10, 2021, events when SLO Police Detective Luca Benedetti was killed in the line of duty by mentally ill alleged burglar Edward Giron as police attempted to execute a search warrant of his apartment.

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The YouTube video is devastating to watch. After attempting to call Giron by phone, knock on his door and yell for him to come out, and use an apartment manager-supplied key to gain entry, police used a battering ram and broke the door in. Giron shot Detective Benedetti in the head with a shotgun through the open door, the other officers on the second-floor landing fled down the stairs to take cover, with Detective Steve Orozco sustaining two gunshot wounds. Then he and Officer Joseph Hurni returned fire.

Giron took Detective Benedetti's assault rifle and shot back, and then, wounded by police gunfire, he retreated to his apartment and killed himself with a gunshot to the head using the assault rifle. It's a horrible tragedy. It also makes it—to my mind—crystal clear that given the circumstances of the moment, police actions were justified, and Detective Orozco and Officer Hurni behaved with heroism and honor.

The problem is it didn't have to happen that way, and thanks to a records request from The Tribune, recently released reports by the SLO County Sheriff's Office, the SLO County District Attorney's Office, and Cuesta Polygraph Investigations show a massive systemic failure of communication and procedure, not to mention a gaping lack of effective mental health services in the county.

According to those reports and reportage by The Tribune, the officers didn't know Giron was in the midst of a mental health crisis, had deep animosity and paranoia toward law enforcement, and was probably armed. The real question law enforcement needs to investigate and answer is: Why didn't they know?

Giron had a history of mental illness, was twice reported missing, and had 14 documented interactions with police between March 2020 and January 2021, three of which noted he possibly had a gun. In one case, in July of 2020, an anonymous female caller requested a welfare check and warned that Giron may want to harm police and may have a gun, and according to Tribune reporting, "It does not appear police made in-person contact with Giron regarding this call." In another instance, a neighbor called about Giron's loud music, crying and screaming, and erratic behavior. Police came and concluded his behavior was bizarre but didn't warrant further action.

Detective Marissa Womack was supposed to do a background check on Giron prior to the search warrant operation. She discovered the past police contacts with Giron and said she told Detective Orozco, but, again, according to The Trib, she "did not believe there were any areas of significant concern that needed to be documented in the operations plan."

She also discovered Giron had no legally registered guns in his name, though police eventually discovered six rifles and shotguns in his apartment. Detective Womack later said she was unaware of Giron's manic behavior or she would have included it in the plan. Detective Orozco seems to contradict Detective Womack in the reports, saying he wasn't aware of Giron's mental health situation or former police interactions. Someone is misremembering.

What a mess. What a fiasco. With the right information, this might all have been avoided. If guns weren't so easily available, if mental health care wasn't so sadly unavailable, if, if, if ...

Meanwhile, when given the opportunity to condemn gun violence at their June 6 meeting, two members of the SLO County Board of Supervisors voted against the "Resolution declaring the first Friday in June to be National Gun Violence Awareness Day in the county of San Luis Obispo." Want to guess which two?

Fifth District Supe Debbie Arnold didn't like the resolution because what about "defensive gun use"? See? Guns can't be bad because they can save someone ... from presumably someone else with a gun. Great argument ... not.

First District Supe John Peschong truly believes "this is actually a mental health question." He also claimed he supported "a lot of funding" for "behavioral health," though apparently not enough to help someone like Giron, whose illness was left untreated and who was able to acquire six weapons illegally because our country is awash in guns. The resolution passed 3 humans to 2 ostriches. Sigh.

Speaking of sticking your head in the sand, Hate Month continues. Anti-Semitic and homophobic flyers were distributed in yards in Paso Robles on June 7, and on June 10, two masked yahoos flew a homophobic banner from the Los Osos Valley Road overpass bridge on Highway 101 in south San Luis Obispo. In rainbow-colored letters, the banner said PEDOPHILES, and underneath in black letters NOT WELCOME.

Usually this space is reserved for roasting the tool bag du jour, but today I give a shoutout to Facebook poster Kara Woodruff, who like a total badass responded to the yahoos' hate speech with some free speech of her own. She recorded herself confronting the two men on the overpass, and after about four minutes of berating them, the masked cowards gathered their banner and hit the bricks. Bravo, Kara! Bravo! Δ

The Shredder celebrates Pride Month. Comment at [email protected].

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