DA taking second look at police-involved shooting

2014-08-12T17:00:00Z 2014-08-12T19:09:25Z DA taking second look at police-involved shootingKerana Todorov ktodorov@napanews.com Napa Valley Register

The Napa County District Attorney’s Office is reconsidering charging a man shot by Napa Police in May 2012 in east Napa, two years after deciding not to prosecute him “based on the totality of circumstances and the interests of justice.”

“I agreed to re-review our initial determination not to charge Mr. Contreras,” Napa County District Attorney Gary Lieberstein said last week, referring to Alejandre Contreras, who also goes by Luis Alejandre. “I am unable to comment further on the process or details that led to the decision to re-review.”

Lieberstein said his office had received a request from Napa Police to review his decision not to prosecute Alejandre in connection with the shooting. Exactly who made the request is unclear. Police Capt. Jeff Troendly said last week that Police Chief Richard Melton had made no such request.

As of Tuesday, no new decision has been made on the case, he said. An attorney for Alejandre could not be reached for comment.

The decision not to charge Alejandre was one issue that led law enforcement unions to endorse Tom Kensok as he sought to unseat Lieberstein in the June primary election.

“I don’t believe any jury under the circumstance of what happened in that case would convict Mr. Contreras,” Lieberstein said in an interview early May. “My job, ethically, is not to file a case I can’t prove.”

Luis Alejandre filed a federal lawsuit in September 2012, four months after Officer Thomas Keener shot him in a backyard of the 2100 block of Parrish Road in Napa, alleging violation of his civil rights and negligence. Alejandre, who was not armed, survived the shooting.

Lawyers for the city of Napa and Keener asked the judge in June to postpone a hearing in this civil lawsuit from June to August, saying that the Napa County district attorney was “‘still considering the matter as it concerns the plaintiff and the defendant officer,’” according to court records. Lawyers for both parties agreed this summer to place the suit on hold while Lieberstein was reviewing the case.

The next hearing is Aug. 22. The city so far has spent about $99,000 to defend the lawsuit, according to Assistant City Attorney David C. Jones.

The Napa County District Attorney’s Office in February 2013 found Keener had committed no crime.

Alejandre, who was also hit with a flashlight during the incident , alleges in the complaint his constitutional rights were violated because the beating and shooting were unlawful, and that Keener had no probable cause to believe the plaintiff was involved in criminal activity prior to the chase beginning.

Alejandre also alleges the city failed to train its officers and command staff properly, according to the complaint. The plaintiff also claims Keener acted with malice and oppression, used excessive force and caused emotional distress.

According to the District Attorney’s February 2013 report , Keener said he began chasing Alejandre because he thought he was dumping narcotics and failed to stop when ordered to.

Keener said he caught up with Alejandre after going over four fences and they struggled. The officer said he had fallen on his back, exhausted, moments before he fired his gun once.

Alejandre was grabbing for the officer’s flashlight and his gun, according to the report. Keener believed Alejandre intended to hit him with his flashlight and take his gun to kill him, the report stated.

Alejandre, whose blood tested positive for methamphetamine, said he was walking home when he saw Keener’s patrol car. He fled because he was scared to be arrested and deported, according to the report.

He alleges he was running out of steam when Keener started hitting him on the head with a flashlight, according to the DA’s report. Alejandre grabbed the flashlight so he wouldn’t be hit anymore, according to the report.

Lieberstein is expected to win re-election in November. Kensok announced last week that he was suspending his campaign.

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(21) Comments

  1. Stephen R Gianelli
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    Stephen R Gianelli - August 12, 2014 11:32 pm
    In the early 1980's the incident that led to the Napa police unions supporting Solano County deputy prosecutor Jerry Mautner in his run against 20 year incumbent DA Jim Boitanto was Boitano's refusal to file murder charges against a mentally disturbed man who killed a police dog during a standoff with Napa cops. Boitano was not very diplomatic when he explained that the crime of murder requires the death of a human being - but nevertheless, it shows how unreasonable Napa police officers can be when the District Attorney refuses to file charges against a suspect the cops want prosecuted. It also reminds us who have been around since the 1980's that the Napa cops recruiting a DA challenger out of Solano County if they don't get there way is nothing new. Glad it didn't work this time (like when Boitano was shown the door).
  2. crooked6pence
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    crooked6pence - August 13, 2014 5:12 am
    Could it be that Kensok agreed to drop out of the race if Lieberstein agreed to prosecute this case...
  3. Oldtimenapan
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    Oldtimenapan - August 13, 2014 8:01 am
    That's really a stretch
  4. Oldtimenapan
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    Oldtimenapan - August 13, 2014 8:02 am
    Thanks for those comments. The DA has to be netural.
  5. crooked6pence
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    crooked6pence - August 13, 2014 1:56 pm
    Is it? Maybe you could explain how you came to your conclusion. I came to mine by reading the article and noticing this glaring statement from Lieberstein when he decided not to pursue charges - "“I don’t believe any jury under the circumstance of what happened in that case would convict Mr. Contreras,” Lieberstein said in an interview early May. “My job, ethically, is not to file a case I can’t prove.”"

    Then Kensok drops out of the running a week ago and Lieberstein suddenly decides to change his "ethics" and take a second look at something he was so adamant about not prosecuting in the past? What new evidence has come to light for him to now change his opinion?

    I don't think I'm that far off...
  6. jojojackson
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    jojojackson - August 13, 2014 2:55 pm
    Lieberstein, Have you lost your mind, how about finishing up other officer related shooting cases before taking on brainless rants about Mr. Contreras. The Poccia Case is a fine example of SLOW trail procedures, This police shooting of Mr. Poccia way before the Contreras Police Felony assault, you can't even make it to trial, I think I see now why the Napa Police Department , Napa Sheriff Department and many others want you replaced..
  7. Miss Halley
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    Miss Halley - August 13, 2014 6:16 pm
    I doubt that anything new came up. This screams politics.....was not this officer just involved in something else recently?
  8. Savethechildren
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    Savethechildren - August 13, 2014 10:01 pm
    "he fled because he was afraid of being arrested and deported". If this is truly the case, then why is he still here, and why are we still dealing with this 2 years later? Stop shooting unarmed people by the way as it's very unbecoming.
  9. Stephen R Gianelli
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    Stephen R Gianelli - August 14, 2014 3:13 am
    Not only does the DA have to be neutral, he or she must decide whether criminal charges are filed - not the police - as the referenced examples vividly illustrate. Clearly, the police want Alejandre Contreras charged with a crime to chill his suit against the police for civil rights violations and excessive force. No can we be filing "murder" charges against someone who kills a police dog.
  10. Stephen R Gianelli
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    Stephen R Gianelli - August 14, 2014 3:13 am
    You're that far off.
  11. rocketman
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    rocketman - August 14, 2014 5:48 am
    Uhhhhhh, jojo, there is no criminal trial for the DA's office in the Poccia case......there may be a "civil" trial, but that has nothing to do with the DA.
  12. rocketman
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    rocketman - August 14, 2014 5:50 am
    Not quite SRG. The canine was killed in July of 1979 and the cops were mad at the judge who OR'ed the suspect. The cops were never mad at Boitano over this issue. You are trying to recreate history, not tell it.
  13. rocketman
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    rocketman - August 14, 2014 5:53 am
    Cases get re-looked at all the time, remember Dr. Posey?
  14. Oldtimenapan
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    Oldtimenapan - August 14, 2014 8:05 am
    Unless you have insider information, which you shouldn't. We will all find out why he changed his mind when it unfolds. It's obvious your a Kensok fan but he's not going to be the guy.
  15. Oldtimenapan
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    Oldtimenapan - August 14, 2014 8:09 am
    When the police become mind readers and possess X-ray vision then they will probably know when to shoot or not to shoot. You Monday-morning quarterbacks really amuse me as you sit in the comfort of your homes and second guess people who are putting their butts on the line to keep you safe. Go give it a try sometime and let's see how well you perform.
  16. Old Time Napkin
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    Old Time Napkin - August 14, 2014 11:17 am
    If this individual had been deported and stayed in his home country where he belonged there would not have been a shooting. Police make split second decisions every day and it takes the courts years to determine if they were right or wrong. All these decisions decided by judges who sit in their ivory towers and make those decisions when they never had to walk in the shoes of a police officer. There's a huge outcry when police shoot someone, but no outcry when an officer gets shot and killed.
  17. MrWnC
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    MrWnC - August 14, 2014 3:33 pm
    The DA needs to apply the law. He should not be making sympathetic judgement calls.

    I disagree OTN I have seen on many occasions communities rally around their officers when one is hurt or killed in the line of duty.

    All too often people who have never walked in the shoes of the officers making the split second judgement calls monday morning quarterback the event. Worst of all they don't even wait until all the facts are known.
  18. Stephen R Gianelli
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    Stephen R Gianelli - August 15, 2014 1:18 am
    I was a friend of Jim Boitano and I discussed the entire episode at length with him. I also discussed it with John Cooley (who represented the man who killed Vem the police dog), lawyers in town then. The police wanted him to charge the man who killed Vem the police dog with murdering a police officer in the line of duty. Jim rather bluntly explained that the charge of murder required the killing of a human being, not an animal. Additionally, the dismissal of criminal charges against the man (who was a junior college student cowering in a closet that the police sent the police dog in after) were dismissed, Napa police officers held a "sick-out" in protest that lasted 12 days and caused Sherriff Bucky Stewart to scramble to cover the patrol shifts. Although there was a prior history of bad blood by the Napa cops against Boitano, all relating to him declining to file charges they wanted filed, it was his refusal to go after the killer of vem the police dog that tore the rag off the bush
  19. rocketman
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    rocketman - August 15, 2014 6:52 am
    Again, purely fiction on your part, but I understand what "some" lawyers do. The 12 day sickout you refer to lasted all of 24 HOURS. The troops were right back to work. The whole sickout dealt with a JUDGE OR-ing the suspect that slashed the throat of Vem. The cops were upset that stronger charges could not be filed but that was not the reason for the cops reaching out to a competitior for James D. Boitano. BTW, to correct the record again. The cops solicited Dave Paulson to run against Boitano. Paulson agreed but was called into his boss' office and was threatened with termination if he did. Mautner stepped up to the plate after the same threat. The cops here and elsewhere used this incident to garner stronger legislation for police canines that are attacked performing their duties. Also Stewart didn't scramble anybody. Ken Jennings had his senior staff work the street. (for 24 hours) I was present during all of this SRG. All of it!
  20. Old Time Napkin
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    Old Time Napkin - August 15, 2014 1:00 pm
    Mr.WnC, I should have said "little outcry" when officers are shot. It depends on the community and how they support their law enforcement. I worked in that profession for 35 years and I've walked inn those shoes. The incident in Missouri is a classic example of people and the media creating a huge problem before all the facts are known.
  21. MrWnC
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    MrWnC - August 15, 2014 3:56 pm
    I know. We worked together.
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