Veteran L.A. Sheriff’s Chief blames pride and inexperience
By Chris Levister –
A 35 year veteran of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department with extensive experience in homicide cases has accused the Redlands Police Department of mishandling the investigation into the January 5 shooting deaths of two black teenagers and the wounding of two others. He called on the state Attorney General’s office to step in.
Retired LASD Division Chief, Ronnie M. Williams, the grandfather of murder victim Quinn McCaleb 17, says the high profile case has been compromised by pride and botched police tactics.
Williams said on the night of the shootings he and his wife Sharon were driven by a retired LASD lieutenant from Los Angeles to the north Redlands crime scene in the 900 block of Oxford Drive.
“What I observed was ‘chaos’,” he said. “You had a double homicide, two others wounded, an unsecured crime scene, no obvious police command post, no bloodhounds, no airships with the possibility of multiple suspects on foot and in vehicles, and potential witnesses running around in a state of panic.”
Williams said after consoling his daughter, family members and others at the scene, he went to the Redlands Police Department to offer then-Chief Jim Bueermann his observations and professional assistance.
“I noted they had no suspects in custody and no witnesses at the station. I assured the Chief that the Black-Latino strife in Redlands is not unique. I looked him in the eye and said my professional advice is you need outside help.”
Williams said a formal offer of assistance by LASD’s Major Crime Bureau was declined. He said there is no evidence that Bueermann called San Bernardino County for help.
“They declined help from the sixth largest law enforcement agency in the nation. It would appear that pride has blinded their objectivity and sidelined their focus.”
Williams said LASD colleagues and other members of area law enforcement have expressed concern over the lack of progress in the investigation. He called the Redlands Police Department a well run, well meaning 75-officer operation that at the time of the shootings was ill-equipped, ill-trained and lacking in the sophistication required to conduct a successful investigation into a crime of this magnitude.
“They don’t have a homicide unit.” He said homicide officers must undergo specialized training. Williams said Redlands officers do not have the tools and equipment required to follow a multitude of protocols: determining the trajectory of bullets fired, "lifting" fingerprints, casting tire and foot impressions, forensic biology including blood, semen or other body fluids, hair, nail scrapings or blood stain patterns. He said homicide cases can be made or lost in the first hours of an investigation, so proper training is critical.
“You can’t have officers assigned to burglary and robbery detail and expect them to roll out equipped to handle a double murder. Not in L.A., not even in a small community like Redlands,” said Williams.
He alleged the department erroneously hung the case solely on one suspect despite several witness accounts of seeing multiple hooded suspects emerge from a dark colored Honda.
Police earlier this year said the suspect fled on foot, but current Redlands Police Chief Mark Garcia said the gunman left the scene in an older Honda or similar vehicle.
During an August 31 news conference, Garcia announced a $10,000 reward for information regarding the shooting along with a new sketch of the suspect. Police have served search warrants and made arrests, but none of the suspects were tied to the shooting.
“We need to get information out that may help us solve this brutal crime.”
Quinn’s parents David and Shanita Williams-McCaleb spoke during the conference.
“We are under siege. Parents are afraid to let their children play outside,” said Shanita. “I feel the police have lost sight of what is important. They are trying to preserve an image of a quiet, safe family-based community.” When asked why police declined outside help, Shanita said Garcia responded, “In no way are we being prideful. We are working with the DA’s office. We’re using their expertise.”
She said even as racial tensions between blacks and Latinos grew over the years, police citing budget cuts reassigned the two community patrol officers who kept a lid on.
“Other members of the victims’ families at the conference urged anyone who can help police solve the case to come forward.” Gail Howard, the mother of one of the wounded teens said “everyone else has moved on, but we, as victims, are still stuck on Jan 5.”
In the shooting’s aftermath emotions ran high. The specter of racism loomed as teens and young adults complained of years of racial tension between blacks and Latinos in the area. A vigil and prayer walk drew 800 people.
Williams lauded the city’s community outreach efforts. “Vigils and marches are great for catharsis and unity building but they don’t bring suspects to justice. This is becoming a cold case.”
The California Attorney General’s office had no comment on the allegations. Chief Bueermann was not available for comment. Chief Garcia declined to be interviewed for this story. Police spokesman Carl Baker said Garcia would be available to speak two days after our request and publication deadline.
Baker then issued a statement saying:
“The Chief met privately last week with the families of the victims for more than an hour to apprise them of the status of the investigation and answer their questions prior to Wednesday’s (last week) press conference. Obviously, there are some aspects of the investigation which cannot be discussed at this time.”
Baker wrote “the Redlands Police Department and its Investigations Bureau have a commendable record of clearing homicide investigations over more than a decade, with virtually every homicide investigation since 1998 resulting in suspects convicted or currently in custody awaiting trial for murder. The investigation into the January 5, 2011, murders of Quinn McCaleb and Andrew Jackson remains a top priority for the department and continues to receive that same level of attention and dedication.”
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