Where Was the “Stand Your Ground Law” When Sagon Penn Needed It? PART 4
- Author: Al_Hajj_Frederick_Minshall
- Updated: April 28, 2016
- Published January 17, 2013
The unwillingness of white American jurors to convict cops of criminal wrongdoing no matter how blatant the crime is fairly easily demonstrated statistically—particularly when the victims of police crime aren’t white. I’ve discussed the blatant pro-white bias of the American “justice” system in previous blogs. I’m still waiting to hear arguments to the contrary from Geoff Kennedy’s “usual suspects”.
The 1986 murder of Cara Knott by California Highway Patrolman Craig Peyer was the one incident that more than anything else forced white San Diegans—most importantly those who constituted the majority of impaneled jurors in the 2nd Sagon Penn trial—to face the reality that cops can and do commit crimes under cover of their badges. As far as I remember this was at the time publicly acknowledged exactly twice—once in a speech I gave in front of the San Diego Superior Court building at a demonstration to protest the retrial of Sagon Penn, and again by Attorney Milton Silverman during closing defense arguments of that retrial.
In nearly every other allegation of police violence, the knee-jerk reaction of many white Americans is that the “perp” deserved what he or she got, no matter the circumstances—especially if said “perp” wasn’t white. Even in the most outrageous cases of police violence most white apologists sympathize with the cops because of the “stressful nature” of their job. Similar excuses are used to rationalize US military atrocities.
The real tragedy in this is that there seems to be so many white Americans who view themselves as being at war with everyone else—to the point where, no matter how reprehensible or vicious, they rationalize American police or soldier aggression in terms of “defense”, of themselves individually or of some paranoid perception of social “order”, or both.
There was no way, however, to apply such rationalizations to the killing of Cara Knott. She was a young, white female San Diego State co-ed who came from a “respectable” neighborhood and with no criminal record—her family counted police officers among their friends.
But she was still dead at a cop’s hands. And despite a mountain of evidence that Craig Peyer illegally pulled Ms Knott over on an isolated Highway 15 off-ramp, made sexual advances to her, then panicked, bludgeoned and strangled her when she threatened to report him, it still took two trials for majority-white juries to convict Peyer for her murder, and his white neighbors continued to rally to his support during both trials.
That this should be the case, and that it should take the murder of a young middle-class white woman for white San Diegans to begin to understand what their black neighbors have endured for years, in my opinion reflects the twisting of American moral standards by our society’s white supremacist legacy. This influence did not somehow evaporate with the “Brown vs. the Board of Education” decision in 1964 or other “reforms” deemed to have bestowed human rights upon black or other Americans “of color”.
The immediate result of the Peyer trial was that in mid-1980s San Diego white female drivers became just as afraid of being pulled over by the police as black drivers had been for decades. The California Highway Patrol and other local law enforcement agencies began allowing female motorists to drive to a crowded area before pulling over if they were afraid of stopping in an isolated location.
Thus did many in San Diego’s white community come to understand that the only differences between Donovan Jacobs’ and Thomas Riggs’ assault of Sagon Penn and Craig Peyer’s assault of Cara Knott was that Penn successfully defended himself against his attackers and Knott couldn’t, and that the cops assaulted Penn on a crowded neighborhood street instead of on an isolated freeway off-ramp.
The exercise of power without accountability is inherently evil. White San Diegans’ complacent acceptance of police violence perpetrated in their names against people of color was, at least for a while, shaken by realization that their own children could also become its victims.
Over the next five years more evidence of police corruption, including that pointing to San Diego Police officer involvement in prostitution and murder—and murders of prostitutes—would come to light. Between 1985 and 1990 at least 45 women—about half of them prostitutes—were murdered. I’m not suggesting that all, or even most of them were killed by cops, but almost certainly some of them were.
Perhaps the most famous example was Donna Marie Gentile. She was a known prostitute and police informer, and she lived to the age of 22. In June 1985, a month after her release from Los Colinas County Jail, her naked, beaten corpse was found on a hillside in east San Diego Co. One of her nipples was bitten off, and her mouth and throat had been stuffed with rocks and gravel.
A month before she’d testified at a civil service commission hearing about her involvement with San Diego Police Lt. Carl Black and Officer Larry Avrech. She had also hinted about her services at “cop parties”—at least one of which was rumored to have been attended by Assistant Chief Bob Burgreen. Officer Avrech was subsequently fired. Lt. Black was demoted to sergeant, but was reinstated to his former rank a year later. Donna Gentile was, however, still dead and her autopsy file remains sealed.
And she predicted her death. The following is an excerpt from a taped statement released by her attorney wherein she said, “In case I disappear somewhere or is missing, I want my lawyer to give this to the press. I have no intention of disappearing or going out of town without letting my lawyer know first. Because of the publicity that I have given a police scandal, this is the reason why I’m making this. . . .I feel someone in a uniform with a badge can still be a serious criminal.”
I worked at the San Diego County Mental Health facility, at the time adjacent to University of California Medical Center. San Diego Police Officers and County sheriffs frequently brought in “suspects” and prisoners for psychiatric evaluation. A few days after Ms Gentile’s murder, a black female Sheriff’s Deputy assigned to Los Colinas brought a female prisoner to County Mental Health. The Deputy told me that Gentile had “…begged not to be released, because the cops were waiting for her.”
I published an article containing this information in the next edition of the “San Diego Voice & Viewpoint”. Two or three days after its release the editor told me her paper could no longer accept copy from me, and she explicitly stated the police pressured her to fire me because of that article. It may have been Sun Tzu who said, “If your enemies attack you, it is a good thing—thus you know you are effective.” Were Ms Gentile still alive, she might argue that it’s possible to have too much of a good thing in that regard.
Not long after, and again while on duty at CMH, an SDPD officer warned me against antagonizing the commander of the department’s Vice-Squad by continuing to publicly mention the Gentile and other prostitute murders that implicated cops, because “…that guy is a killer.” I will not name this officer, or identify him beyond stating that he had testified at one of the Penn trials.
I also relate the following incident that occurred in the winter of 1987, my last year working at San Diego County Mental Health. Again, I’ve omitted names, including that of the victim—in her case because I never learned it. My ex-wife also worked at County Mental Health as an admissions clerk (that’s where we met). I was a licensed EMT and was employed as a nurse’s assistant. My ex worked the graveyard shift, and I worked “swing”-shift (15:00-23:00).
One morning she called me at the end of her shift, terrified. She, another admissions clerk and the Licensed Vocational Nurse on duty had seen and heard the following: Two SDPD officers had brought a white female in their custody to CMH for evaluation by the duty psychiatrist. The woman appeared to be in her late 20s or early 30s. She had cigarette burns on her arms and chest, and one on her forehead.
After interviewing her, the psychiatrist said to the cops, “She’s not psychotic—she’s terrified. What happened to her?” The cops did not reply. After refusing to admit the woman as a patient the psychiatrist left the screening area. My ex and the other two staff persons still present heard the young woman ask the cops, “Are you gonna put me in a dumpster too?” It was widely known that some of the murdered prostitutes had been found in dumpsters.
About four hours later the naked corpse of a young woman was found propped up against the back of a van in a Hillcrest parking lot about a mile away from the County Mental Health facility. When this was announced on the early morning news, my ex-wife called me. The other two women on her shift were just as terrified as she was.
I talked to all three on the phone, and urged them to come forward immediately to identify the body. They didn’t want to, but I explained if the cops saw that they could be cowed into silence they were in far greater danger than if they spoke out publicly—again (as the bible says), “evil doers hateth the light”. I offered to accompany them to the county morgue, and to give them my name, and would explain that the three women thought they could identify the body but wanted to remain anonymous because they were afraid. My ex and her two co-workers agreed.
Before going to pick up the women, I called Michael Tuck, a news anchorman and commentator with channel 10. He was a well-known local gadfly, and had come out on our side in the Sagon Penn case (which was how we’d met). He was almost universally despised by the cops. He told me to call him back from the morgue if a positive ID was made.
Then my ex-wife, her fellow clerk and the LVN and I went down to the county morgue. The morgue staff agreed to let the women view Medical Examiner photos of the corpse. They did not give their names. They did positively identify the dead woman as the one brought in by the cops to CMH the night before. I saw one of the photographs. The woman had a cigarette burn on her forehead.
I called Michael Tuck from the pay-phone at the morgue (they still had pay-phones back then) and told him my ex-wife and the other two women had identified the corpse as belonging to the woman they’d seen in police custody only a few hours earlier. Tuck’s exact words were, “Oh…S**T! Get down here right NOW!”
We did. We were all placed around a conference table and it was lights, camera, action…The women were interviewed and told what they saw and heard, and related how terrified the woman had seemed to them. We left the studio with Mr. Tuck’s assurances the station would broadcast the story on the six o’clock news.
But the story never aired. I called Tuck, and he said the cops dragged out an incarcerated junkie alleged to be the boyfriend of the woman who had been brought to County Mental Health, and he had said the body wasn’t that of his girlfriend.
What had happened to the woman who’d been brought to CMH? “Released from custody”—and as far as I know she’s never been seen alive since. The body at the morgue was tagged “Jane Doe”. In researching this article I checked the SDPD “Cold Cases 1986-1990” website. There was no photo matching that of the woman I saw, and no case listed that matched the particulars of the above-described incident.
The following day my supervisor at CMH informed me the cops had contacted her and wanted to know the names of the staff persons who’d identified the body. She demanded I tell her their names, and I refused. This angered my supervisor. I assume she eventually got over it.
I haven’t. I’m haunted by this incident. I believe San Diego cops not only took this woman’s life—they took her NAME. And what also haunts me is the possibility they used her to send a message to a certain loudmouthed CMH employee to shut the hell up about cops and prostitutes in San Diego. I didn’t even consider this possibility at first—not until I remembered the officer’s warning about the Vice-Squad commander.
But the fact is the cops knew where to find me. Pretty much all those working the streets had seen me, because at one time or another they’d brought people they’d detained to CMH. There were even a few cops who didn’t hate me. They knew what kind of demons they worked with, even if they kept quiet about it. I fervently pray to Allah Sub’hanahu wa Ta’ala—Glorious, Perfect and Most High God—that my public criticisms of San Diego cops was not the reason that young woman was killed.
This cover-up, as I believe it to be, was part of a campaign of misdirection and deception that passed for an “investigation” of murders of women that implicated six or more San Diego cops. Those conducting the investigation would eventually attribute many of these murders to the “Green River Killer” in Washington State, and Assistant San Diego DA Bonnie Dumanis would triumphantly declare said murders “solved”. Case closed. There is no evidence whatever to support that conclusion.
But of course absolving the SDPD was the purpose of the investigation to begin with, as declared by Chief Burgreen regarding the Gentile case: “We have lived with it for such a long time and we need to finally put to rest an answer to how (the Gentile murder) occurred. I am tired of hearing the innuendo. I am tired of reading stories in the newspaper that allege that a San Diego police officer or officers were involved in the murder of Donna Gentile. I want to put to rest once and for all that speculation.”
Burgreen announced this when he assigned Assistant Chief Norm Stamper to the joint SDPD/Sheriff’s Dept “Metropolitan Homicide Task Force”, less than a year after Tom Streed, an 18-year veteran of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Dept homicide unit was summarily dismissed from said Task Force.
Streed had been the first to investigate the Gentile murder (her body was found in the County Sheriff’s jurisdiction) and the first to raise the possibility of SDPD involvement in her murder and in the 1986 disappearance of her friend Cynthia Maine. Ms Maine, who had had sex with at least two SDPD officers, had told Streed about Gentile boasting of having had sex with numerous police officials and had recounted myriad examples of illegal activity by SDPD officers, particularly those of the Eastern Division.
Streed had been investigating the Gentile murder for nearly four years and Ms Maine was one of his primary informants in his investigation. When her family filed a missing persons report with the SDPD, Streed wasn’t notified, and said he didn’t learn about it until he was assigned to the Homicide Task Force. When he questioned this he was promptly removed from the Task Force for not being a “team player”. After that Assistant SDPD Chief Norm Stamper was brought in to “review”—translation: QUASH—the investigation. Ms Maine has never resurfaced and is presumed dead.
Fired San Diego Police Officer Larry Avrech was by all accounts a suspect in Gentile’s murder. He of course denied involvement, but hinted that other SDPD personnel might be responsible. He also commented that Stamper’s review of the Gentile case was like “…having the fox guarding the chicken coop”, and that an independent agency should have been in charge of the investigation. He added “When the police investigate their own, nine times out of ten there is no evidence that comes forward.”
Tell us something we don’t know, Larry. One of the original Task Force members was former Internal Affairs officer Hal Goudarzi, who would be removed only after another female informant came forward and charged that he had drugged and threatened her. He was the “liaison” between the SDPD and Sheriff’s Dept investigator Tom Streed.
Almost certainly the above-referenced “Cold-Case File” site only goes back to 1986 because otherwise the murder of Donna Gentile would have to be included in it, or else be challenged for its glaring omission.
In the years following Sagon Penn’s acquittal the cops continued to harass him and those who supported him and testified on his behalf. Compared to others, I got off easy. A police cruiser remained parked across the street from my house nearly every day for a while. My friend Guiermo Mendez one day pointed out that the cruiser was parked in front of a drug dealer’s house.
After that I started paying closer attention. On more than one occasion I saw customers walk AROUND the parked cruiser as they left with their purchases. But the cops were too busy watching me prune my roses to pay attention. SDPD cruisers followed me pretty much anywhere I drove in San Diego during that time. Needless to say I did my best to obey all traffic rules.
San Diego cops generally considered themselves above the rules. Once a couple of them threatened to arrest my ex-wife at CMH because she refused to let them leave a person they’d brought in without being evaluated by the duty psychiatrist as required by CMH regulations. The psychiatrist was seeing another patient. The cops didn’t want to wait, and they didn’t want to take their subject with them. They preferred to leave an unknown, unrestrained and possibly psychotic individual in a room with three women (way to “protect and serve”, guys).
However, the admissions clerks controlled the electronic system that unlocked the screening room door which allowed cops, ambulance personnel, patients etc to enter or leave. Per police regulations the cops had to disarm before they came in, and they could not get out unless my ex “buzzed” them out. So they threatened to arrest her for doing her job.
I was unaware this was going on when I arrived at screening to take my ex to the hospital cafeteria for lunch. Two nursing supervisors were at the screening room entrance blocking my way. They were afraid violence would ensue between me and the cops and I’d be arrested as well.
I became extremely angry when I learned of the cops’ threat, but the situation was finally defused by the supervisors who got the cops (and me) to back off. I think I was wearing my Sagon Penn T-shirt that night. I hope so.
Thomas Penn was caught in an FBI sting operation for conspiring to sell crack cocaine and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. He pled guilty, and stated in court: “I was involved in a crime, so I must do the time.” That sounds very much like Thomas Penn as I remember him. I later heard he died in Federal Prison, but I’ve been unable to find documentation to substantiate that rumor. I sincerely hope it’s not true.
In August of 1987 plainclothes detective Ronald King accosted and assaulted his former co-worker, SDPD officer Nathaniel Jordan, then on medical leave from the Department, when King emerged from a nearby credit union and saw Jordan’s car in a handicapped zone with the engine running. Patrolman John McGill joined in and put a choke-hold on Jordan.
Jordan was in the handicapped zone awaiting two nine year-old boys from the Pop Warner football team he coached who had gone into a store to buy ice cream. He said there was nowhere else to park, and that there were several double-parked cars nearby.
Jordan had testified for the defense in Sagon Penn’s retrial concerning Donovan Jacob’s racist attitudes and conduct toward black San Diegans (including himself). He had avoided testifying in the first trial, and only did so in the second under subpoena. He said “After testifying in the (Penn) case, I was almost certain something like this was going to happen. And it did.”
Jordan was charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer. And, as was the case with Sagon Penn Defense Committee Chairwoman Reiko Obata, who was earlier jailed for “DUI” despite testing negative for drugs and alcohol, the cops denied any wrongdoing. According to police spokesmen, these encounters with Penn witnesses and supporters were “coincidental”.
“We are extremely sensitive to any appearance that we would do something like that,” SDPD Cdr. Keith Enerson said of the allegations by Jordan and Obata. “These are unfortunate coincidences that both of these people were connected to the Penn trial….” As my 13 year-old granddaughter would say, “Yeah, right.”
Milt Silverman agreed to represent Jordan and filed a civil suit against the municipality of San Diego. “I feel morally obligated to represent him because he didn’t want to testify, and he told me there would be retaliation,” Silverman said. “I told him if there was, I would represent him.”
Probably the most bizarre case of retaliation against a Penn trial witness was the torture and attempted assassination of former SDPD Lt. Doyle Wheeler at his home in Sun Crest, WA—a small community less than 10 miles from Spokane—to which he and his family had moved in 1985 because of repeated death threats from San Diego Police Officers for his testimony. As with Nathaniel Jordan, his fears proved justified.
On April 19th, 1988 four intruders broke into Wheeler’s house, and forced him at gunpoint to write a “suicide” note apologizing for lying about Donovan Jacobs in the Penn trials. When he initially refused, the intruders threatened to remain until his wife and children came home and kill them too. Wheeler wrote the note. After that one of the assailants called the SDPD Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit from his phone, asked to speak to Donovan Jacobs, then hung up.
The intruders then took him to his basement, tied his wrists and ankles, burned him with cigarettes, then put a pillow over his face and shot into it. Wheeler sustained a grazing wound to his head and ear, but “played possum” in hopes his attackers would think they’d killed him and leave. They did so, fleeing in Wheeler’s car.
Wheeler managed, using his tongue and nose, to press “911” on a phone in his basement. Some of Wheeler’s neighbors had seen the four strangers around his house on the day of the attack, and at least one saw them flee the scene in Wheeler’s car.
The attempted assassination of Doyle Wheeler would be covered on ABC 20/20 and on “Unsolved Mysteries”. This was, incidentally, my one second (or less) of “fame”—the former program included a brief shot of a 200 lbs thinner, long-haired, beardless version of myself speaking at a Sagon Penn Defense rally as part of the background for the Wheeler story.
Bill Kolender was chief of the San Diego Police Dept at the time of the attack, and immediately argued that Wheeler was mentally disturbed and had “staged” the whole thing. How Wheeler managed to tie himself up and then shoot himself in the head was never explained. The California State Attorney General’s Office issued a statement saying there was no evidence his gunshot wound was self-inflicted. However the Stevens Co., WA Sheriff’s Dept conducted only a superficial “investigation” of the attack and quickly dropped it—I believe this was according to the wishes of their “brother officers” down south.
Jacobs threw a party and sold “Doyle Wheeler Hit-Team” T-shirts to his fellow officers. When he learned of this, Wheeler said, “Donovan Jacobs, for all intents and purposes, is confessing and thumbing his nose at the system by saying, ‘I did it, but you can’t prove it.'” I suggest instead it’s a reflection of Jacobs taking for granted that being “free, white and 21″—and a cop—enables him to get away with almost anything. Considering that he has never faced ANY legal consequences for the lives he’s destroyed, it’s hard to argue with that.
First and foremost of those lives was that of Sagon Ahmes Penn. In an October 1988 interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said that when he shot Riggs and Jacobs on March 31st, 1985 “…Sagon Penn was killed that night, too. He no longer exists.” He added, “I might have made something of myself.” He had once considered a career in law enforcement.
Despite changing his name, trying to resume his education and becoming a father, Sagon was plagued by repeated run-ins with the cops. Some, probably most, were clearly harassment, such as the absurd claim that he was once stopped for making an obscene gesture at an INS Officer while driving past an immigration checkpoint, or when he was jumped by five SDPD officers for “disturbing the peace”—a charge which was later dropped.
Others were related to incidents of domestic violence. Sagon Penn would never again achieve anything resembling stability. He spent at least two of his remaining 17 years of life behind bars. In 1990 he was alleged to have attempted suicide, and on July 4th, 2002 he apparently succeeded. His body was found in his mother’s living room, along with a suicide note. The autopsy report said he had ingested Benadryl and alcohol.
To this day, many in southeast San Diego believe he was murdered by the cops. I agree—the only question is whether they murdered him on March 31st, 1985 or on July 4th, 2002.
I last saw Sagon Penn in December 1988. I was leaving San Diego to start a new job in Niland, a small town in Imperial Co, CA. Sagon was in jail. I, my ex-wife and my seven year-old daughter came to visit him on our way out of town, but my daughter was not allowed to accompany us into the visiting area. I urged Sagon to leave San Diego because he would never be allowed to live in peace there. The last thing he said as we got up to leave was “I love you guys.”
We love you too, Sagon.
Those wishing to post a comment in response to this blog are invited to e-mail it to HajjFHM@aol.com. Criteria for acceptance or rejection of comments is outlined under my 09/22/12 blog titled “Khalas”. Please specify the name or screen name under which you want your post to appear.
Cesar Martinson–01/17/12; 21:26
“Hajj I would like to say that what happened to Sagon Penn was beyond doubt murder. Furthermore as I said in my other piece there should have been an investigation of this sad series of events by the California Attorney General.
Aside from that I believe that the events that you have written
about require us as citizens to be engaged and hold the police accountable when they break the law. If that requires not sending people back to their jobs in the state legislature or else where then so be it. Another thing that I think should be done is getting more civil rights legislation passed at the state level to protect minorities from these kinds of abuses.
To speak to your broader point about white supremacy I think that
we as a country need to do what South Africa did after their Jim Crow
system came to an end. And that is that we as a nation must set up a truth and reconciliation commission to explore this issue of white supremacy in our society and find ways of removing this cancer from our public institutions. I believe this is the only way to address the points you have brought up and to make us a more perfect union.”
Cesar–I agree with the “Truth and Reconciliation” approach, but I don’t think American society is capable of that. America has already chosen a different path. I suggest that the first steps in the direction of white supremacist reaction were taken when Ronald Reagan launched his campaign in the town square of Philadelphia, MS, where the three civil rights workers were murdered and buried in an earth dam by the local cops. His slogan: “TAKING BACK AMERICA.” From who? And for who?
Geoff Kennedy–01/18/12; 08:47
“It’s somewhat ironic that the FOX commentators are arguing we need assault rifles to protect ourselves from Big Gummint. Funny how the “conservatives” who like to say government is the problem never include the cops and the military. Folks like to cite one of the three biggest lies—”I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” My own version is to revise that statement a little to make it less of a lie—I’m from the government and I’m here to help you—die.” That would apply well to the treatment of black and Native Americans, Iraqis, Nicaraguans, Mexicans, Filipinos and Afghanis.
I have advocated a commission of truth and reconciliation for our country like those of South Africa, Guatemala and Ireland, I believe. But I agree with you it is far more politically correct to focus on the crimes of the communists and Muslims than on the crimes we finance with our own taxes. Your religion differs from mine in a number of ways, but, correct me if I’m wrong, doesn’t Islam also advocate paying more attention to our sins than to the sins of others?”
Absolutely, Geoff. Muhammad and the Holy Imams descended from him (alayhimus-Salaam) taught that we are required to maximize our own shortcomings and minimize others’ shortcomings.
And it is indeed ironic to the point of being almost CONTRADICTORY that the same paranoid mind-set that causes so many white Americans to never question the cops and the military also moves the “gun fetishists” among them to stockpile private caches of weapons to “defend” themselves against the “gubmint”, which is kept in power by the cops and the military!
Whatever makes them feel “safe” against the hordes of scary black people, Arabs and “illegal immigrants”, I guess…
A little statistic from a CATO Institute-funded National Police Misconduct Reporting Project to reinforce the above:
In 2010 American women were nearly three times as likely to be raped by a cop than by a civilian. But cops were less than half as likely as civilians to be convicted when tried for crimes, and received sentences more than three times shorter than those meted out to civilians. Obviously McGruff needs to tear into a few more uniformed behinds when “taking a bite out of crime.”