City of Half Moon Bay must demand more, initiate police reforms.

This letter was published in the Half Moon Bay Review.

Last week, Sandra Harmon’s daughter filed suit against the county, the city of Half Moon Bay and several individuals for (among other things) the wrongful death of her mom.

The complaint was not unexpected given the circumstances of the shooting, but what was surprising was the detailed nature of what can only be described as a putative indictment of the behavior of Deputy David Dominguez, numerous other San Mateo County Sheriff’s deputies and the Sheriff’s Office as well as the District Attorney’s Office.

Specifically, the complaint cites audio recordings that Harmon’s attorneys assert are a coherent and accurate record of the entire event. The complaint alleges that these recordings show that Dominguez fired at Harmon first. This despite Dominguez swearing that Harmon fired first, Sheriff Carlos Bolanos stating on June 19, 2020, that she fired first, and the District Attorney’s Office formally finding that she fired first. If proved, this miscarriage of truth is especially egregious given that the evidence was in plain view while in the possession of both the sheriff and the DA, and only a deliberate refusal to examine it can explain their collective failure.

The complaint is the first legal document that purports to reveal that Dominguez fired three rounds at Harmon before she had done anything and it is an enormous problem for the city and county. This is because the primary justification that the DA relied on to meet the threshold of “imminent threat,” which is required before anyone uses deadly force, was based entirely on that one assertion. Without it the entire finding by the DA’s Office — that the shooting was justified — collapses completely.

Even more shockingly, the complaint also cites video that shows Harmon being fatally shot in the back while complying with Dominguez’s directives, as she faced away from him with her arms above her head in a non-threatening position. When Bolanos shared this video with the public in mid-June, he stated that the video was “unaltered” despite the fact that it had been deliberately altered by his personnel by degrading the quality, thereby making it nearly impossible to see the real details. The DA, however, did have the full resolution copy and to date has offered no explanation for how his team failed to notice that the victim was facing away from the deputy with her arms above her head when she was fatally shot in the back.

Perhaps the greatest issue, and one we should all be focusing on, is the utter disregard and contempt both the sheriff and the DA have shown to our Coastside community. A member of our community was violently taken from us and what we’ve been given so far is a combination of half-truths, outright lies and a complete failure to investigate the homicide by the agencies purportedly responsible for protecting us.

This self-serving and variable interpretation of the truth in service of redirecting justice away from the deserving to those who have not earned it simply cannot be allowed to stand.

It is time for Mayor Robert Brownstone and the City Council to step in to assert and protect our rights as residents of Half Moon Bay. He can do this by directing city staff and the Public Safety Committee to formally require Bolanos and Wagstaffe to sit at individual public meetings to answer questions from the public, the media and the council regarding the Sandra Harmon shooting. These meetings should be held as soon as practicable and should embrace a format that allows for follow-up questioning from the public and whatever time necessary to answer questions.

Additionally, the mayor and council should move urgently to place local police reform on the list for council priorities for the coming year. Further, they should immediately direct staff to work with the sheriff, the Coastside Fire Protection District and any other relevant parties to implement a response structure similar to the one Oakland is rolling out for mental health emergencies.

Vilifying law enforcement and the good people who work in it serves no practical purpose, but it is equally fair to say that when a community has been as disserved as ours has been regarding the Harmon homicide we have every right to question the objectives, intent and justice that we have been given. We also have the right to truthful answers from the sheriff and DA, in clean, clear and unambiguous form.

Absent those answers, our only recourse remains, and should be, an immediate recall of both the sheriff and the district attorney on the grounds of dereliction of duty.

David Eblovi is a resident of Half Moon Bay.

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