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Police Aide Says He Regrets Words About Slayings

Oxnard: Spokesman apologizes to the City Council for calling officers 'equal opportunity' shooters.

January 10, 2002|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As the parents of a slain Oxnard man listened, a police spokesman who had publicly described Oxnard officers as "equal opportunity" shooters apologized for "poor judgment" and said he did not mean to demean their son.

Spokesman David Keith, speaking to the Oxnard City Council and a crowd of 200 on Tuesday evening, offered his "sincere apologies" to the council, the Police Department and "most importantly, the family of [Robert] Jones. No malice whatsoever was intended."

At a neighborhood meeting in September, a month after police shot the black artist, Keith noted the races of five police homicide victims and of the officers involved, then said the shootings were "equal opportunity."

"I was trying to dispel any thought that these incidents were racially motivated," Keith told the City Council. "I certainly regret making these statements."

Jones' mother and stepfather, Ida and Steve Perkins, declined to comment on the apology.

"This is still very much a fresh wound to the family," said their attorney, Gabriella Navarro Busch. "But I can say they were very touched by the show of support by the community, and it really warmed their hearts."

The Perkinses flew in from Oregon, where they moved after Jones' slaying, to join community groups in a protest of Keith's comments and his suggestions that the 23-year-old may have been on drugs when he was killed.

Several speakers for black and Latino groups told the council Tuesday that it should be more involved in the city's law enforcement.

Attorney Greg Ramirez, who spoke for the local Mexican American Bar Assn., said the council should take a forceful leadership role with the Police Department.

"When something is wrong, you've got to stand up," he said.

Ramirez accused police of distorting the truth about Jones' shooting and attempting to blemish his reputation by making inaccurate statements that he had a criminal record. Jones had been acquitted of resisting arrest. A weapons possession charge was pending.

"I'm here to condemn a practice," Ramirez said, "essentially a character assassination of the person who was shot, to justify the shooting."

He challenged the council to sanction Keith or stand guilty of ratifying his conduct.

John Hatcher, president of the local chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, and David Rodriguez of the League of United Latin American Citizens, also asked the council to act on Keith's comments and the spate of police shootings in 2001.

"Redirect the leadership of the Police Department or change it," Rodriguez said.

Jones was shot Aug. 24 during a standoff in his north Oxnard home. His mother had called police to take the distraught and severely depressed young man to a hospital for treatment. Police said Jones was shot because he was brandishing a 13-inch knife and had moved toward officers after they entered his bedroom and opened a closet where he was hiding.

Keith said he wasn't pressured by his superiors to apologize.

Police Chief Art Lopez said he considered the apology heartfelt.

"It was a very unfortunate comment," Lopez said. "But we are all human. He made a mistake, and he acknowledged it."

Keith did not apologize for comments he made at the same September meeting suggesting that Jones might have been high on the drug PCP. Toxicology tests found no illegal drugs in Jones' system.

Lopez said he would reserve judgment on that issue until he reviews a transcript of Keith's comments. The transcript was prepared for Ramirez, who was initially the Perkinses' lawyer but has handed off the case because of a conflict.

The transcript says Keith stated repeatedly that the department did not know whether Jones was on PCP. But Keith also said Jones acted like someone under the influence of drugs. He said Jones showed no effects when twice doused with pepper spray and was not slowed much after being shot twice with a beanbag shotgun.

"Typically, you think of PCP and things like that when someone doesn't react to those kinds of things," Keith said, according to the transcript.

Ramirez said he does not believe that police used pepper spray, because the coroner's report makes no mention of finding the noxious substance on Jones' skin or clothing.

When the Police Department's investigation of the shooting is completed, the results will be given to the district attorney's office. The district attorney found that the other four lethal shootings in 2001 were justified.

The state attorney general, the U.S. attorney's office and the FBI are also conducting inquiries into Jones' death.

Shortly after the Jones killing, Chief Lopez vowed to better train members of his department to avoid fatal confrontations with mentally ill people.

Eight Oxnard officers finished a 40-hour training course in December. Twenty to 25 of the department's 200 officers eventually will be trained, Lopez said.

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