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Repeated Use Of Force Questioned In California

Repeated Use Of Force Questioned In California

San Jose Mercury News via YellowBrix

December 28, 2009

In July 2007, San Jose police officer John Marfia knocked Camille Monet Fisher to the floor of a downtown parking garage, smashing her face into the asphalt. Two weeks later, she would learn a fetus she was carrying was dead.

In October 2007, Marfia struck Carlos Duran with both hands in the chest, knocked him down, and then pinned his head to the pavement.

In November 2007, Marfia knocked Hai Tran to the ground, and then punched a companion who he said tried to intercede.

Marfia said all three incidents occurred after drunk patrons in the downtown nightclub district tried to fight him; all three were booked on charges of resisting arrest.

In the months following, two things happened: three suspects won their criminal cases. And the San Jose Police Department promoted Marfia to the rank of sergeant.

“I feel that it’s unfair that the department still allows a person like that to be on the force,” Fisher said last week. “It’s upsetting to me that he still has his job and is still on the streets where he can continue doing awful things to people.”

A Mercury News investigation identified Marfia among more than a dozen officers who repeatedly used force in recent cases where resisting arrest was the primary charge. A review of one year of resisting-arrest cases turned up 10 officers, including Marfia, using force in four or more incidents. Another was Steven Payne Jr., the officer seen on a controversial video Advertisement shocking a San Jose State University student with his Taser gun. A third was Jeffrey Guy, one of the officers who used force on mechanic Scott Wright in an incident described last month in the newspaper.

An additional five officers had used force three times and had been accused at least once in court of using excessive force or falsely reporting the incidents.

The newspaper’s review turned up 321 instances of officers using force in resisting-arrest cases over a one-year period ending in October 2008; resisting arrest long has drawn concern among experts and police officials nationwide because it can be used as a cover for unwarranted force.

Although San Jose officers fill out reports each time they use force in the line of duty, department officials said they had never kept systematic track of which officers are involved in repeated uses of force. Nor had the department monitored which officers repeatedly take people into custody when the main crime is resisting arrest. Such tracking is commonplace in other cities, as a way to identify officers who may need more training, supervision or discipline.

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