When the story of the fatal Swat raid on a house on North San Marino Avenue in San Gabriel, California broke 623 days ago, it appeared to most people to be an open and shut case. In the last 21 months it has lost that kind of clarity.
When Pomona Swat officer Shaun Diamond died during that “dynamic entry” raid in service of a search warrant, based on a still secret affidavit, Los Angeles and national media relied on a hackneyed “angle,” or prefabricated plot, to explain to the public what had happened. The premise of this “angle” was that America was in the midst of a civil war being fought between an army of militarized policemen and hordes of terrorist “gangs.”
Diamond was almost universally reported to have been a “hero” who was “murdered” by a “Mongols motorcycle gangster” named David Martinez. What actually happened was something different and much more important for the American public to know. But the real, national issue that the case illustrated was almost immediately hidden under a deluge of sentimental, pro-police propaganda and self-righteously angry, anti-Mongols rhetoric.
Among the recognized national press, only Radley Balko writing in the Washington Post seems to have gotten it right. The day after the Swat raid, Balko wrote: “The tactics the police used here created confrontation and risk. Why not apprehend him as he’s coming or going from the house? I suspect few people will have much sympathy for Martinez. But the tactics also put his father at risk, a guy neighbors spoke highly of to the local media. These tactics put cops at risk. Other bystanders, like children, are at risk too. All unnecessarily. At some point, maybe we’ll accumulate enough bodies to start realizing that.”
Balko has written extensively about the “militarization” of American police. It is an old, if mostly ignored, public issue about which neither of the two presumed Presidential candidates nor the sitting President have any publicly voiced opinions.
But it is still one of the elephants relieving itself in our national living room and it didn’t start with the raid on Martinez’ home. Two decades ago, a sociologist named Timothy J. Dunn defined this militarization as “the use of military rhetoric and ideology, as well as military tactics, strategy, technology, equipment, and forces.”
A couple of years later, in 1999, Diane Cecilia Weber wrote a briefing paper for the Cato Institute that warned that “state and local police officers are increasingly emulating the war-fighting tactics of soldiers,” and that “a culture of paramilitarism” already pervaded many police departments.
Diamond was almost certainly a victim of that “culture of paramilitarism” rather than the lawlessness of a “motorcycle gangster.” He dressed like a special operations soldier, he called himself an operator and he was part of a squad that arrived in a tank and used military weapons and tactics. No doubt he did all that with the best of intentions.
The raid in which Diamond died was one of seven simultaneous, destructive raids on homes of suspected Mongols. The raids were executed at four in the morning and they were clearly intended to be a form of extrajudicial punishment. Police would later say the Swat raiders were looking for a gun used in a crime. But the nature of the raids was absolutely intended to terrify, humiliate and inconvenience the residents of those homes for their affiliation with a notorious and often vilified “outlaw motorcycle gang.”
Diamond died after he was shot in the back of the head with what seems to have been a TESAR or Hatton door breaching round: which is a kind of 12 gauge shotgun round that fires a “slug” made of wax and metal powder and is commonly used by militarized police and the Army and Marines to open locked doors; in war torn cities like Fallujah and Los Angeles. The details of the exact sequence of events that got Diamond killed should have been revealed at Martinez’ trial long ago. But Martinez has never stood trial.
And many people, naïve about American criminal justice, have wondered why. So here is what has happened instead.
Paul Kim, who is prosecuting Martinez, has spent much of the last year running for judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court. He finished third in last month’s primary elections with 14.8 percent of the vote.
Martinez is on either his third or fourth lawyer, depending on which lawyers you count. At the time he pled not guilty to murder, Martinez was represented by Pasadena attorney Tom Medrano. After Medrano resigned the case, over what seems to have been Martinez’ inability to pay him, Martinez was briefly represented by public defender Mearl Lottman. Lottman was soon replaced by Brady B. Sullivan who is widely regarded as the best trial attorney among Los Angeles County public defenders. Sullivan had enormous resources at his disposal but he has a reputation for being rude and that seems to have led to his estrangement from Martinez and the defendant’s family.
Martinez is now represented by Edward Anthony Esqueda who seems to be much more charming than Sullivan and much less esteemed by his peers. Esqueda was placed on three years probation and suspended from the practice of law for 90 days by the California Bar in September 2011. He was again placed on one year’s probation by the Bar Association in August 2012. Esqueda has declined to answer or acknowledge repeated emails and telephone calls from The Aging Rebel about the case over the last year.
James M. Allard, a widely known and well respected private detective in Long Beach was part of Martinez’ defense team. He is no longer part of the case and he has refused to comment about it. An informed source told The Aging Rebel that Allard “hopes to participate in Martinez’ defense again.”
So far, Martinez has appeared at 29 pretrial hearings or conferences. The last of those conferences was at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center on July 7. There are no additional pretrial proceedings scheduled for the next 30 days.
Martinez does not yet have a trial date.