Truckee police chief expresses regret for wording of statement in email on death of George Floyd
WHAT: Public forum on systemic racism, police brutality
WHO: Truckee Mayor David Polivy, Vice-Mayor Anna Klovstad and Police Chief Rob Leftwich
WHEN: 5 p.m. Monday, June 8
Excerpt of internal email from Truckee chief of police to town staff:
“Lastly and without trying to be defensive in the least, I will share a little about what my perspective is. George Floyd did not deserve what happened to him. Mr. Floyd was not innocent and he didn’t die because of a knee on his neck but it did contribute to his death. The police tactics that were used, by at least one officer, appear to be professionally negligent and unnecessary. None of that justifies the actions of those that are rioting. None! To prove my point, if you don’t know who Patrick Underwood of Pinole, CA is, you should Google him. Patrick was a different African American man who was murdered in cold blood on Friday and he was completely innocent. There is no one demonstrating for him or rioting because of his death. In fact, the news has barely covered who he is. There is not one article from Antifa or Black Lives Matter that discusses his life mattering. I highly encourage all of you to form your own perceptions and opinions and I will help support those to the end of time. Just try to make sure they are void of the political noise that seems to be trying to influence our perception of what all this is really about.”
Erupting riots across the nation incited fear in the hearts of town of Truckee employees, who work in the same building as the police department, Police Chief Robert Leftwich said earlier this week.
That is what inspired an email he addressed to 100 public employees, intended to ease fraught minds concerned for their personal safety, Leftwich said. The bulk of the message identified the importance of public demonstrations and condemned violence — originating from police and protester.
But, the police chief stated George Floyd was “not innocent” in the closing paragraph of the email and contrasted reaction to his death to that of Patrick Underwood, a security officer who was fatally shot May 29 a few blocks from protests in Oakland, and whom Leftwich stated was “completely innocent.”
The internal email evoked a response from community members after it was distributed to the public.
“I have not been directly contacted by any staff of the town, but I have been contacted by members of the public who had raised some questions on the content of that email,” said Truckee Mayor David Polivy.
CHIEF: ‘HORRIBLE MISTAKES’
The concluding paragraph of the email reads “George Floyd did not deserve what happened to him. Mr. Floyd was not innocent and he didn’t die because of a knee on his neck but it did contribute to his death.”
According to the U.S. Constitution, citizens accused of a crime are entitled to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury.
Leftwich expressed regret to the Sierra Sun for the email’s phrasing.
“There were some absolutely horrible mistakes I made in the closing paragraph,” Leftwich said.
Leftwich said he takes responsibility for the fallout of an email, but laments that the missing word “so” changed the tenor of his statement.
“George Floyd did not deserve what happened to him. So, Mr. Floyd was not innocent, and he didn’t die because of a knee of his neck, but it did contribute to his death,” Leftwich said, amending his original statement.
The email was sent Monday morning, after a government-conducted autopsy determined that Floyd died of heart failure, Leftwich said.
“The intent was to say ‘So what if George Floyd was innocent or not innocent,’ ‘So what if the knee of the neck killed him or didn’t,’” Leftwich explained. “That’s irrelevant, because the important part of that statement was that he did not deserve what happened to him.”
In the internal email, Leftwich said “None of that justifies the actions of those that are rioting. None!”
“To prove my point,” he continued, “if you don’t know who Patrick Underwood of Pinole, CA is, you should Google him. Patrick was a different African American man who was murdered in cold blood on Friday and he was completely innocent. There is no one demonstrating for him or rioting because of his death. In fact, the news has barely covered who he is.”
Leftwich told the Sierra Sun he does not buy into the “alt-right narrative” which suggests victims of police brutality resulting in death are responsible for it due to alleged criminal involvement.
MONDAY PUBLIC FORUM
Polivy said Leftwich is doing his best to navigate charged waters and protect his community.
“The Chief of Police has been an absolute rock throughout his tenure as chief in Truckee and taken to community policing in a way that should make any Truckeean proud,” Polivy said. “The police department that strives for perfection, including due process and community outreach. I think we’ve been doing that and we’re going to continue doing that.”
The chief said he cannot defend the actions of the police in urban municipalities, but holds the coworkers he has worked with throughout his career in high regard.
“They’re some of the best people I know,” Leftwich told the Sierra Sun. “This is not meant to come off defensive, but if you got to understand how amazing some of these people are, if you knew all of them, you would have confidence in them.”
That’s why community connection is the basis for quality policing, Leftwich said.
Leftwich said addressing systemic racism is not about wiping the slate clean, it’s about “finding connections between concerned community members.” He said his priority is to address the idiosyncrasies of police dynamics unique to Truckee, a town with few black residents.
“It’s not a black issue, but it might be a Latino issue,” Leftwich said.
Leftwich said police from larger cities could take cues from departments like his own, that lay the foundation for community connection, and therein understanding, in times of crisis. Leftwich said violence is an obstacle to public progress.
“Violence snowballs; it’s cyclical,” Leftwich said. “We have to get to a place of not arguing over how widespread the main issue is. We’re beyond the point of who threw the tear gas and brick first. I see both sides. It’s too late, both were thrown and now we need to say, ‘Stop throwing.’”
The mayor, vice-mayor and police chief will participate in a virtual public forum at 5 p.m. Monday at http://www.TownOfTruckee.com to discuss systemic racism and police brutality.
“Everyone can support this effort, and we hope that individuals within our community will take part in the discussion to start taking the steps forward for change,” Polivy said. “We want this to not just be one discussion, but a first step to opening honest, respectful dialogue and ongoing learning.”
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer for the Sierra Sun. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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