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Public trust

SLO Police Department has not upheld its end of the bargain to be transparent after last year's officer shooting

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"Transparency, accountability, and public trust."

That is what SLO city and county officials promised the community after the May 10, 2021, shooting deaths of SLO Police Detective Luca Benedetti and Eddie Giron, and the wounding of a second detective, Steve Orozco.

They broke their promise.

For a year, the city's narrative has not changed. When officers arrived to serve a search warrant to recover recently stolen goods—20 cartons of cigarettes, a large box of tools, and a couple of computers and climbing gear from businesses near Giron's apartment—Giron, "lying in wait," shot and killed Benedetti, wounded Orozco, and then shot himself.

For a year, Detective Benedetti has been memorialized in ceremonies on plazas and piers, across bronze plagues, up and down the Central Coast and in the state Capitol, candlelight and roses.

For a year there has been not a city word about the Police Department's core principle on use of force, Policy 300, which provides:

"The department's guiding principle when using force shall be reverence for human life. Officers shall attempt to control an incident by using time, distance, communication, and available resources in an effort to de-escalate the situation, whenever it is safe, feasible, and reasonable to do so."

There was a word about use of force in July 2021, just two months after this tragedy. The commander of the SLO County Regional SWAT team, Brian Amoroso—who was the acting chief of the SLOPD on May 10, Benedetti's supervisor in both groups—said about SWAT teams and the use of force:

"Any type of force is always our last resort. Our goal is to just simply make the area safe and let crisis negotiators do what they are trained to do, [which is] how we can achieve a peaceful resolution so that everyone can go home."

Also, there are the words from Benedetti himself to consider. According to a brother officer and SWAT Team member, Benedetti "lived and breathed being a member of SWAT Team" and often advised, "We have all day, no stress."

For over a year, not a peep from the city about the numerous disturbing the peace contacts the SLOPD had with Giron—at least 10, with at least 13 different officers, and, as evidenced by emails and calls, family and friends asking for and receiving at least three "welfare checks" on Giron by SLOPD.

Mentally ill, Giron went from being a 12-year employee at Costco and a six-year employee at a climbing gym to losing both jobs during the pandemic 2020 summer as his illness took him from being a young boy's Big Brother, a supervisor and teacher to climbers—in particular the young and novice—to being a man losing his grip on reality.

Annoying others with loud music and noise, dancing in front of and in the aisles of Trader Joe's, spinning doughnuts with his truck in crowded parking lots, avoiding his many supporting and worried friends and family.

Eddie's increasing spiral into isolation and what must have been mental chaos was known by all, including some early understanding SLOPD officers, including that department's community outreach manager.

Yet, for a year, city and county officials, including the SLOPD, and the so-called "independent outside investigator" are silent, hiding behind the boilerplate excuses of the "continuing investigation" and "privacy interests."

To escape their promised "accountability," it has been necessary for the city and its partners to ignore the promise of "transparency." They need for Eddie Giron to have been "lying in wait," leaving themselves with no responsibility.

No one excuses the shooting of Benedetti and Orozco, but real issues remain, among which are:

1) Who or what set this whole matter in motion?

2) Who, up to the point of banging on and breaking through Giron's front—and only—door was in the position to stop this? Whose bullets hit whom?

3) Where was the consideration of lesser alternatives, such as getting its own community outreach manager or CAT (SLOPD Community Action Team) group involved? A minister, friend, family member, regular SLOPD "beat" cop who might have some relationship with Eddie? Drones? Dogs? Tear gas or flash-bang devices?

4) Where was the "reverence for life"? Are the police policies and statements public relations or real commitments?

5) Where was the effort to "control an incident by using time, distance, communication, and available resources in an effort to de-escalate the situation"? This situation was not a matter of de-escalating the episode; it was a matter of not creating the situation in the first place, so de-escalation was not needed!

5) What happened to force as a "last resort"? Here it appears to be the first resort, and the neighbors without warning were ducking and hiding as shots caromed around the neighborhood in and out of windows, furniture, and structures.

From early morning in the police station at roll call to 5:30 or so in the afternoon at the apartment of a sick, cornered, paranoid, probably scared man, it is quite clear who had 10 or 11 hours to stop whatever hubris or plain carelessness might have set events in motion.

As a friend and retired, respected police lieutenant in another city once confided to me, "kicking down doors is the fun part of the job."

This case involves the clearly unnecessary and careless loss of two lives.

When can we expect the transparency and accountability to occur? When it does, maybe then the public trust will be more complete. Δ

Howard Gillingham is a former federal defender and adjunct professor at Loyola Law School. Send a response to the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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