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Santa Rosa council told not to talk about shooting incident

Sujey Lopez, second from right, stands with a large group of protesters in front of Santa Rosa City Hall, at the corner of Santa Rosa Avenue and 1st Street, during a protest march and vigil for Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa, Calif., on October 24, 2013, two days after the 13-year-old was shot and killed by a Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

Sujey Lopez, second from right, stands with a large group of protesters in front of Santa Rosa City Hall, at the corner of Santa Rosa Avenue and 1st Street, during a protest march and vigil for Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa, Calif., on October 24, 2013, two days after the 13-year-old was shot and killed by a Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

In the week since the shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez, the Santa Rosa City Council has been conspicuously silent about the tragedy that has sent protesters spilling into city streets.

That’s largely because the shooting happened just outside city limits and involved Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputies, not local police.

But the other reason is because City Attorney Caroline Fowler and City Manager Kathleen Millison have instructed City Council members to say nothing about it and refer all questions to the Santa Rosa Police Department, which is investigating the shooting.

Mayor Scott Bartley said he and other council members are in a “quandary” because while they recognize the community is suffering, they feel constrained in what they can say about the incident beyond calling it a tragedy.

“It sounds like you’re not being responsive, but there isn’t anything I can be responsive to,” Bartley said. “I’m caught.”

He said it has been “very frustrating” to not be able to discuss the shooting to date. He’s had numerous media interview requests, including a television news van that parked outside his house.

But he said it would be premature to say anything about the shooting until all the facts are known, which won’t happen until the investigation is complete.

“We’re not going to have any answers in two days and we’re not going to have any answers in a week,” Bartley said.

The time will come for a public dialogue about how to prevent such tragedies in the future, but right now “emotions are raw” and the grieving process needs to play out before that process can begin, Bartley said.

On Friday, Fowler emailed the council telling them it was “critical that you not comment on the sheriff incident that is being investigated by the SRPD.” She declined to discuss that advice, citing attorney-client privilege.

Millison followed up with an email stressing that “this is an active investigation and any comments or actions you take may represent interference with a police investigation which is a violation of law.”

But Councilwoman Julie Combs called such warnings “overly broad” and worried that they have a “chilling effect” on public discourse at a time when it is needed most.

“I think a responsible leader has to make certain statements when we have a tragedy in our community and I think we can do this and follow our legal advice without discussing the case directly,” Combs said.

One message she wants to send is that the community’s first priority is to care of the Lopez family in their time of need. She also said people have the right to grieve and be angry and to protest, as long as children are kept safe.

She also said it was important to recognize that “there is a feeling of broken trust” and that people need to engage in a dialogue that will lead to action that will “heal this new wound and the old wounds that have been long standing in our community.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. OnTwitter@citybeater





18 Responses to “Santa Rosa council told not to talk about shooting incident”

  1. Nephi says:

    When is the Sheriff’s term up? I think that a statement needs to be made by the voters of the county and vote the current sheriff out of office!

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 6

  2. Robert says:

    Let them speak! They have access to confidential police files and they should share them. It doesnt matter if releasing info before it is complete will damage the case. The city can afford to pay for the lawsuit for blowing civil or criminal case. It is their right to blow city money. It’s other people’s money so what do they care? Speak up and spill the beans and lets see how important you are. You only hired an attorney to keep you from screwing up legally. Why listen to their inconvenient advice? One recently didnt even know that confidential information was, get this, confidential. Idiots all.

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 7

  3. Greg Karraker says:

    What kind of weakling lets a city attorney muzzle his freedom of speech?

    If Bartley had a shred of leadership, instead of whining about being constrained, he would tell Ms. Fowler to peddle her advice in Venezuela. Then he would begin a public search for a city attorney who realizes where her paychecks come from.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  4. bear says:

    Nobody here is a lawyer, are you?

    You can bet the CC directed their employee – the City Attorney – to make this statement.

    The taxpayers are already going to pay millions for this heinous act. Why make it worse by having politicians talk about it?

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 11

  5. Reality Check says:

    How could a comment by a city council member interfere with a county (& FBI) investigation? This is nonsense. Whether commenting is a wise idea is another matter.

    It’s time for the council to inform the city attorney who works for whom, and to stop treating advice as a legal requirement.

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  6. RICHARD says:

    RE:” Millison followed up with an email stressing that “this is an active investigation and any comments or actions you take may represent interference with a police investigation which is a violation of law.””

    Council member Wysocky commented to a rowdy group to be respectful and show good manners, is that unlawful ?

    Council member Wysocky was at Tuesday’s rally, is that unlawful ?

    ” Congress shall make no law … abridging .. the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances …”

    Ms Millison, please stop abridging the people’s rights.

    Thumb up 21 Thumb down 1

  7. RICHARD says:

    RE:” Mayor Scott Bartley said he and other council members are in a “quandary”…”

    “It sounds like you’re not being responsive, but there isn’t anything I can be responsive to,” Bartley said. “I’m caught.””

    This is not the first instance of the mayor’s lack of leadership.

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 2

  8. RICHARD says:

    RE:” Attorney Caroline Fowler and City Manager Kathleen Millison have instructed City Council members ..”

    Don’t recall voting for Fowler nor Millison.

    Thumb up 20 Thumb down 2

  9. Papa E says:

    RE, Katie,
    Wow! Cannot remember when I last read such a Hate-filled missive.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

  10. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Katie-maybe you missed one of the points to this whole thing. The “crowd” was there not just for Andy, but for his family too. A family angry about a family member being shot is one thing, a family AND A COMMUNITY IN SUPPORT is something else. Yes, they are grieving, but they are angry too. They also know, in this case, they are not alone in that anger. Marching is a good thing.

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 5

  11. Reality Check says:

    Absent personal involvement in the incident, what could a council member add to the public’s understanding of this tragedy? Until the investigation is further along, it is wise to resist the temptation to pass (premature) judgment. If council members can’t resist, then make it clear they speak as private citizens.

    Why anything they might say would put the city at some financial risk is a mystery, which is the only valid reason for the city attorney’s action.

    Thumb up 24 Thumb down 2

  12. David Keller says:

    Thanks to Julie Combs, Gary Wysocky, Chris Coursey, Shirlee Zane, David Rabbitt and countless others in our community for speaking up, and who would like to help healing, understanding and learning.

    Apparently the SR City Attorney seems to be making more of a p.r. scene than anyone else. Is she taking political shots at Julie and Gary after she wrongly told them last week not to speak about financial dealings behind closed doors and then got slapped back by the PD and others? Is she trying to tell County Counsel that Supervisors are threatening an investigation and should shut up?

    The City Attorney is the employee of, and is hired by, the City Council, not the other way around. As a professional lawyer, her job is to advise her clients about legal matters in private, not plaster it across the papers herself. What Council members do with her advice is up to them.

    I would welcome Julie Combs and Gary Wysocky’s and other council members’ thoughts and perspectives, voices and insights as we collectively try to make our way through this multi-layered tragedy with heart, intelligence and compassion for all involved.

    Thumb up 20 Thumb down 3

  13. Irene Tavenner says:

    Political correctness. Again we are witness to the Santa Rosa City Manager and City Attorney dictating to the elected council on an issue of freedom of speech.

    Progressive liberals cannot stand to have points of view they disagree with presented in public. No one knows what the council might say in public but the progressive bureaucrats that run the city have no right to tell them to shut up.

    It is a tragedy that a youth was shoot by a deputy but he was carrying what appeared to be a real automatic weapon and did not comply with the deputy’s repeated order to drop the weapon.

    The issue here is the right of the council to speak out concerning the incident. They may put their foot in it or they express their sympathy to the family and the community. That is how a democratic system is suppose to work.

    Anything else is dictatorship from the left.

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 15

  14. Papa E says:

    “The time will come for a Public dialogue…”. There are many of us who think the time for a “Public Dialogue” is NOW. But, the Pols would rather wait and sweep the whole thing under a rug. 13 year old children should not be shot down in the street. One has to wonder if Andy Lopez were in another part of the City/County (say Rincon Valley, or Sebastopol)would he still be alive today? Just wonderin!

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 15

  15. Katie says:

    It appears that the mother is at the protest rally! If it were my child, I’d be so grief stricken and deep in funeral plans that I would have no energy to walk in a protest march. It appears she was busy making a sign to hold. Could this be another case of “let’s protest and sue” in the making? Shame on her for attending a political rally rather than attending to the grief she and friends are feeling.

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 23

  16. James Bennett says:

    Yeah, this is a hot potatoe…as it should be.
    Now, I’m not a gun guy (but the sheriff was), those ‘Air-Soft’ guns from what I understand have a bright orange tip.
    The purpose of which obviously to prevent situations like this.
    Gun people (like the sheriff) know the gun won’t fire with the tip off.

    Although meant to resemble an AK-47, they’re like 70% the scale.

    Furthermore, with two officers aimed at the young man, he would never have time to turn toward them and shoot before he was dropped.
    Get behind the car for protection, walk up to the kid with your partner covering you…there are ways to handle the situation.

    I know it’s easy to quarterback from here, but use common sense.

    Many have, that’s why there’s a problem.

    In the meantime, the PD is suddenly a friend of the people, inciting racial tension. Socioeconomic divide.

    See. that’s what the powers that be want.
    To reduce our cities to a civil unrest dynamic.
    Then, they can show it on the news and the inference will be’ ‘look, folks are barbarians, we need martial law’.

    Then your playing music that oppressors prefer.

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 5

  17. Sonoma Gone Crazy says:

    Silence is how our Government deals with issues in Sonoma County. If the County/Government Entities stay silent, the issues go away. Look at the Supervisor Pervert Carrillo for an example. This criminal is going to get away with what he did too. Next month, you will be hearing no charges will be brought against this sexual predator in his underwear breaking into a woman’s home. Sonoma County is predictable. The Sheriff will be found justified in his actions, in a few months. The County just needs to drag out the investigation long enough to make the “little people” forget.

    This is how Sonoma County does business, shut down, stay silent and the unruly masses eventually go away. The rulers can go back to their thrones and continue to rule the kingdom and the “little people” can go back to their hovels and shut up.

    Thumb up 20 Thumb down 3

  18. brown act jack says:

    Yes, indeed, that is the way to keep the public informed, keep your mouth shut, and that way you can never be considered to have said something wrong.

    Nothing like censorship of political views, is there?

    Ah, but if you say something you might get someone mad and you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, do you?

    Especially if you are a politician.

    Closing the government down is surrender to mobs, just the new progressive way to run the government, in the opinions of others.

    But, you would not want to hear the voices that say something you disagree with.

    Protect us from this timidity of the local government, lest something worse come along and result in the surrender of more liberty to mob decisions.

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 8

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