Novato Officer Cleared…Twice

Posted on Wednesday, October 01, 1997 at 12:00PM

When allegations of discriminatory treatment were found to be not sustained, Officer Earl Titman, an eight-year veteran of the Novato Police Department, thought that the Internal Affairs investigation into the incident was behind him. “Not so” said the City of Novato Police Advisory and Review Board. Dissatisfied with the results of the Internal Affairs investigation the complainant had filed a complaint with the board, which decided to conduct its own interview of Titman.

The incident in question began on the morning of October 4,1996 when Titman, who is the school resource officer, received a call from a woman saying that her son had been attacked at school the previous day. Shortly after receiving the call Titman received a second call, this one from the assistant principal of the school, who stated that there had been a fight at school on the previous day and that a knife had been taken away from one of the participants.

Titman responded to the school and after investigating, learned that the two involved juveniles had been engaged in an ongoing dispute and that both participants claimed local gang affiliation. On October 3, the verbal dispute finally evolved into a physical confrontation.

One of the youths, with several friends watching, grabbed the other and began battering him, whereupon the other displayed a knife of approximately 8-to-10 inches. He threatened everyone present with it and left the scene.

Investigation revealed that before the fight this juvenile had been heard to say, to one of the first juvenile’s friends, “Watch out you f– slobs, cuz I’m gonna shank you.”

The next day, October 4, the aggressor from the previous day was found in possession of a knife on school grounds. He said that he had heard rumors that the 18th Street gang was going to retaliate and was “going to get him,” therefore he had armed himself.

After conducting a thorough investigation, Titman arrested one juvenile and charged him with possession of a knife while on campus, and brandishing a weapon. He was then transported to juvenile hall and booked on those charges.

The other juvenile was charged with battery; and possession of a knife while on campus. He was cited and released to his guardian.

The parents of the juvenile who was booked filed a complaint with the police department, alleging racial discrimination (he is Hispanic and the juvenile cited and released is Caucasian). The department, after conducting a complete investigation, cleared Titman of any wrongdoing.

The parents then filed a complaint with the board, which convened to investigate the allegations. At Police Chief Brian Brady’s suggestion, the city provided the board with an attorney who was familiar with this type of matter and the Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights.

While the board had conducted investigations before it had never interviewed an officer. There were many concerns about the process, what with this being the first interview the board had conducted and no one knew exactly what to expect. Some of those concerns were found to be legitimate.

The board initially did not see much difference between the actions of the two juveniles. Not being familiar with the law regarding deadly weapons, the board had a hard time following the logic of citing one of the parties and booking the other.

Titman and his representative were able to show the board the difference between the juvenile who had possessed but not brandished a knife and who had made no threats to use the knife, and the juvenile who had not only possessed a knife, but also brandished that knife and threatened to “shank” someone.

The board, after hearing all of the facts, unanimously voted to clear Titman of any charges of wrongdoing.

Officer Titman was represented in these proceedings by Mark Wiesler, of Employee Representation Services, Inc.

There is an ongoing lesson here. All officers should be aware of the possibility that their actions, no matter how righteous, are subject to vigorous review and that there is a need for proper representation at all levels of the investigation.

PORAC Legal Defense Administrator Ed Fishman Testimony: Law Enforcement Use of Body Cameras.