Santana: Anaheim Skirts Police Accountability

Spencer Custodio/Voice of OC

Anaheim police Sgt. Michael R. Lozeau questions three people at Maxwell Park Aug. 3. He confronted a Voice of OC reporter for taking photos of the interaction.

Anaheim Police Chief Jorge Cisneros has apologized to Voice of OC.

He just can’t say why.

Earlier this summer, Voice of OC reporter Spencer Custodio was harassed by an Anaheim police officer while Custodio was doing his job — taking photographs of officer Michael Lozeau doing his job while stopping homeless people driving near Maxwell Park.

Lozeau also later told his Public Information Officer that Custodio didn’t identify himself as a journalist – a declaration that clearly isn’t backed up by the facts.

Thanks to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the public has the right to film government officials.

“The First Amendment protects the right to gather information about what public officials do on public property, and specifically, a right to record matters of public interest,” the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes California, ruled in the widely-cited 1995 case Fordythe v. Seattle.

“Simply put, the First Amendment protects the act of photographing, filming, or otherwise recording police officers conducting their official duties in public,” the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in a ruling last year.

It’s stunning that the U.S. Constitution isn’t respected on the streets of Anaheim.

Custodio politely and professionally identified himself as a journalist and also educated officer Lozano about the First Amendment after being verbally harassed by the officer.

That only earned him more harassment.

Want to play that game, huh?” was Lozeau’s response when informed of the First Amendment right to film government officials in the course of their work.

Lozeau – whose efforts were recognized in 2015 by former Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada – is currently the subject of a federal lawsuit over public filming of his duties.

After our reporter’s interaction with Lozeau, we filed public records requests for the body cam audio of their discussion and for information about Anaheim PD training on filming rights of the public.

Deputy Police Chief Julian Harvey also told me that the entire incident would be reviewed.

Cisneros recently told me that a review of the interaction between Lozano and Custodio had been finished.

That’s when he said he wanted to apologize, which we appreciate and respect.

Yet when I asked what he was apologizing for, Cisneros looked down at his desk, searching for a word, a phrase he couldn’t find.

After a long, uncomfortable lull, Cisneros said, “for the impact on your agency.”

You mean the fact that our reporter was harassed by an armed police officer for simply taking a photograph, after identifying himself as a journalist from a safe distance?

Or that your officer, one who is recognized for homeless interaction, doesn’t know the law when it comes to having the public photograph or film his work?

Or most troubling, that this officer’s interaction with our journalist just didn’t meet any sense of professional standards, much less that of a law enforcement officer?

Is that what you mean by impact? I asked.

Cisneros, who told me he prides himself on running a transparent and open shop that is responsive to public concerns, asked me to give him some time to consult with Anaheim’s City Attorney – to see if there was any further comment they could offer on their review of the incident.

Yet Cisneros later called back to say he wouldn’t be able to expand on his short comments, citing restrictions under state legislation known as the Police Officers Bill of Rights (POBAR).

Thus, we have no idea of what happened with regard to Lozeau.

Now, it seems very clear the department doesn’t stand behind his actions.

Yet they still remain totally shielded from public scrutiny.

That seems to be a pattern emerging in local law enforcement, of avoiding transparency and accountability, especially here in Orange County.

Note that Cisneros replaced outgoing Police Chief Raul Quesada, who was removed last year after the local police officers’ union protested increased discipline and held a no-confidence vote. Ditto for Santa Ana Police Chief Carlos Rojas, who also was removed after police union officials complained to local elected leaders about heightened discipline.

Anaheim officials also have denied our public records request for a copy of the body cam audio of this incident, citing exemptions under state law. Our attorneys disagree and we are currently reviewing our legal options.

The entire incident raises troubling questions about a total lack of transparency and accountability regarding incidents out in the field.

Most importantly, all of these incidents make you question how elected city officials can reasonably steer half the city budget to a class of municipal worker that just doesn’t have to answer any questions about how they do their job.