By Robert Salonga
The Mercury News
SAN JOSE, Calif. — The police chief and officers union are rebuking their civilian watchdog for failing to warn the department about a jailed suspect’s threats to shoot the next officers he encountered on the street.
Steven Yoshun Garrison, 48, called the Office of the Independent Police Auditor on Monday from the Santa Clara County Main Jail where he was in custody for an assault arrest and complained about being frequently stopped by white officers. Garrison is black.
Steven Yoshun Garrison, 48, called the Office of the Independent Police Auditor on Monday from the Santa Clara County Main Jail where he was in custody for an assault arrest and complained about being frequently stopped by white officers. He then threatened to shoot the next officers he encounters. (Photo/San Jose PD)
According to multiple law-enforcement sources and a police bulletin obtained by this news organization, Garrison stated in his expletive-laced complaint that “next time I am going to shoot them in their (expletive) face. I am going to defend myself. I have the right to do that.”
Police were never alerted to the threat, and sources say it wasn’t discovered until Wednesday, when the SJPD Internal Affairs unit conducting a random audit of submitted police complaints found and listened to the recording. Soon after, a safety alert was sent out to officers warning them about Garrison.
“I’m disappointed that this type of information wasn’t relayed as quickly as it possibly could,” said police Chief Eddie Garcia. “I know that’s an expectation others have of us when these threats come in as well.”
IPA Aaron Zisser, while expressing contrition, said confidentiality protections prevent him from speaking specifically about the shooting threat and corresponding complaint, but that he empathized with Garcia’s sentiment.
“I conveyed to them how absolutely seriously we take any threats against officers,” Zisser said. “We have notified the police department when we’ve received threats and have gotten nothing but the absolute most attentive, most serious response.”
Garrison has been in custody since Sunday, the day before he called in the complaint and reported shooting threat, according to jail records.
But the San Jose Police Officers’ Association said while that was being confirmed, their rank-and-file were out on the street Thursday wondering if their next enforcement stop was going to end in a shooting. Garrison has a criminal record spanning more than 25 years and includes past assault and domestic-violence cases.
“To have an Independent Police Auditor with serious credibility issues is one thing, but to also be incompetent to the point of putting every police officer’s life in danger crosses the line and Mr. Zisser needs to be immediately removed from office,” union President Paul Kelly said in a statement.
Kelly’s repeated call for Zisser’s termination, and his “credibility” remark, refers to a controversy that marred the annual police audit report spearheaded by Zisser, which the union, Garcia and several city council members including Mayor Sam Liccardo criticized as distorting certain use-of-force cases. The report did not initially disclose that what appeared to be startling percentages of racial disparities were based on just three arrests.
Zisser said his office’s protocol is to immediately alert the police department when a complaint includes a threat. He did not specify why that did not happen in Garrison’s case.
“Obviously the nature of the threat as published in that bulletin is alarming and absolutely should have been flagged by our office to the police department,” he said.
As to why he did not promptly see the threat, he said the volume of complaints to his office means he does not immediately see every complaint and that he relies on his staff to help him identify threats. But he also said “it’s my responsibility to make sure there is a strong protocol in place to flag a serious threat, and that the protocol is followed uniformly. The buck stops with me, and I will do everything I can to enhance and tighten those procedures.”
But for Kelly and the union, their last straw for Zisser has long passed.
“What would Mr. Zisser say to the family of a murdered police officer whose death could have been prevented by disclosure of this criminal’s threat made several days ago? Ooops?” Kelly said. “Mr. Zisser must go.”
Garrison’s threat is particularly resonant to SJPD, with the 2001 death of rookie Officer Jeffrey Fontana, who was shot in the head without warning by a suspect as he attempted to make a traffic stop, and Michael Johnson, who was shot and killed in 2015 in an ambush while responding to a call about a suicidal man.
“I would hope people would recognize that officers have been killed and ambushed throughout the country and information like this needs to be shared immediately,” Garcia said. “To not have that information, to allow my officers to at least have a heads up, is extremely unfortunate.”
©2018 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)