Questions swirl around flap between ONS and sheriff at scene of North Richmond shooting
on April 20, 2012
The day after Tuesday’s shooting in unincorporated North Richmond left a 22-year-old man dying on the sidewalk, a city anti-violence agency filed a complain tagainst a Contra Costa Sheriff’s deputy, accusing him of assaulting one of its staff members minutes after the fatal shooting of Lonnie Peterson III.
Office of Neighborhood Safety staff say a deputy shoved ONS Agent Kevin Muccular and kicked and dented a Richmond city vehicle. Muccular rushed to the scene after receiving a tip that a shooting had occurred.
What happened Tuesday is not altogether clear, but a little after 1 p.m., multiple gunmen opened fire from a passing vehicle on a group of three standing in front of Rancho Market & Deli. As the car sped off, Peterson lay mortally wounded, bleeding from the head. Another man was hit in the leg.
Minutes later, sheriff’s deputies were on the scene, and the crowd, which sheriff’s officials say was unruly, began to grow in front of the popular corner market. Before deputies could cordon off a perimeter, Muccular arrived in a city-issued gold Toyota Prius with two female colleagues as passengers. ONS officials commonly respond to scenes of violence, looking to engage participants and victims to intervene before retaliatory actions occur.
According to Muccular, as he drove up on Market Avenue, a deputy stopped the car and told him to turn around and leave. As Muccular pulled toward the curb, the deputy kicked the car, leaving a dent and a boot print in the driver’s side, Muccular said.
Muccular said he then exited the car and rushed to Peterson’s side, screaming at the deputy to call an ambulance but was told again by the deputy to leave. “The deputy said he wasn’t worried about that because the guy was dead,” Muccular said. “But I told him [Lonnie] was still breathing and to call an ambulance.”
Muccular said that moments after that exchange, the deputy pushed him.
“I told him I wanted his badge number, and he pushed me hard in the chest. We hear all the time from the youth about how unfair and aggressive the sheriff’s deputies are out in North Richmond,” Muccular said. “I saw it for myself this time. It was unbelievable.”
Muccular added, “If I was a smaller guy, he would have knocked me to the ground, that’s how hard (the push) was.”
“My staff members say Kevin was assaulted by the deputy sheriff and that our city vehicle was damaged in the same incident,” said ONS director DeVone Boggan, who filed the complaint on behalf of his staff. “At the same time, a young man was fighting for his life on the pavement, and we have concerns about the urgency with which response teams attended to his needs.”
Sheriff’s officials have confirmed that a complaint was filed and they will investigate, but did not have specific comments about what occurred Tuesday because the incident is under investigation.
Peterson was transported from the scene of the shooting by ambulance and then airlifted to a trauma center. Peterson succumbed to his injuries at John Muir Medical Center the next day. No arrests have been made, and Sheriff’s officials have not revealed whether they have any suspects.
Boggan said he spoke with Sheriff David Livingston, the county’s top law enforcement official, on Wednesday. “I believe [Livingston] is taking the matter seriously,” Boggan said. “He said there would be an investigation, and I am hopeful we can work together in the future.”
City Manager Bill Lindsay confirmed that he too spoke to Livingston, and that he was satisfied that the matter would be investigated.
Assistant Sheriff Donny Gordon, speaking on behalf of Livingston, said the investigation would be thorough. “We are a very transparent agency, and we take these allegations seriously,” Gordon said. “We are into the process of finding facts related to what occurred here, and if there were transgressions, we will take the appropriate action, or we will find out it didn’t occur that way.”
But Lt. Jon Moreland, the commander of more than 25 deputies and sergeants who patrol West Contra Costa — an area that includes North Richmond — said Thursday that he was not aware of any complaint against his deputy. “I can say that when my deputies arrived on scene, a somewhat hostile crowd quickly formed,” Moreland said. “We had to request city of Richmond and [California Highway Patrol for help] with crowd control.”
The altercation is the latest controversy between ONS and area law enforcement agencies since last year. In October, a fight broke out in a third floor suite at City Hall among several men from rival neighborhoods who were enrolled in an ONS fellowship program. The incident exposed rifts between ONS and the police department, which initially complained publicly about ONS agents’ lack of cooperation in the investigation. No charges were filed in connection with the fight.
ONS’ novel approach to anti-violence has at times been a difficult fit with law enforcement agencies. The police department assigns one high-ranking official to serve as a liaison with ONS, whose staff say it is crucial to their outreach efforts that they not be seen as by community members as tools of the police. Councilman Corky Booze pushed hard last month for an independent investigation into the agency, but was ultimately thwarted by council and community supporters of ONS, which has begun raising money to hire an independent auditor to analyze the agency’s performance.
The agency, created in 2007, has enjoyed growing praise as violent crime and homicides continue to ebb in the city. ONS agents are known to respond to crime scenes and attempt to dissuade victims and their associates from committing retaliatory violence.
The incident Tuesday highlighted a peculiar feature of Richmond’s anti-violence efforts. North Richmond, a one-square-mile enclave of about 4,000 residents, plays a significant role in the ongoing violence marked by feuds and retaliation between gang members there and in central and south Richmond.
But most of North Richmond is unincorporated, meaning that it is beyond the jurisdiction of Richmond police and ONS intervention specialists.
Still, police and ONS agents routinely cross into county territory. ONS and the Sheriff’s Office are do not have policies regarding how to work together.
“We work with the city police department, the district attorney; we are all working together in these neighborhoods,” Moreland said. “I can’t recall ONS coming up in any of those discussions, but I have no problem with opening dialogue with any of these groups.”
The emergency response time Tuesday is also in dispute. Boggan said his staff estimated that Peterson lay dying for about 40 minutes before being treated by paramedics. Moreland did not have any comments regarding response times.
“Might he still be with us today with a faster response? I don’t know,” Boggan said. “The young man was laying on the hot pavement, and the perception from my staff and many members of the community was that emergency response folks weren’t moving all that fast to get him the help he needed as he choked and coughed for breath.”
But store owner Lucky Braimah, who called 911, estimated that paramedics attended to Peterson “15 to 20 minutes” after the shooting. “Many people wanted to touch Lonnie and help them, and the police told them to move back,” Braimah said. The response times and the actions of emergency personnel “seemed normal to me; his injuries were very serious.”
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