Citizens demand answers after mistrial
Nearly a month after a hung jury in the shots fired case against Placer County Sheriff Lt. John Savage and intense interest by readers, authorities are now answering questions about the investigation.
Concerned Auburn resident Jim McKesson wants answers.
“Somebody with some sort of authority should take a look at this situation before it’s swept under the carpet,” McKesson said.
Feb. 1, Placer County Superior Court Judge Colleen Nichols dismissed the case without a possibility of re-trial. Savage, a watch commander for the Auburn office of the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, is now on administratively modified duty pending an internal affairs investigation, according to Dena Erwin, spokeswoman for the Placer County Sheriff’s Office.
Questions remain about law enforcement conduct on both sides of the investigation. According to court testimony, after Rocklin investigators could not find the weapon used to fire the alleged five to seven shots in the Lakebreeze Drive neighborhood, Savage refused to allow them to search his patrol car even though an eyewitness said she saw him pull an object from it when the shots were fired. Savage also refused to submit to a gun residue test on his hands because he said the test is inaccurate and creates too many false positives, according to his testimony.
Concerned citizen Jack Buckman wants to know why Savage is allowed to keep his leadership position with the Sheriff’s Office after refusing to cooperate with investigating officers.
“In general, he didn’t cooperate with the Rocklin Police Department,” Buckman said in a letter to Gold Country Media. “Examining the facts that have been made available to the public, we know that he didn’t allow residue tests and didn’t allow a search of his car.”
On the stand, Savage told jurors he refused to allow Rocklin investigators to search his unmarked Placer County Sheriff patrol car because he said it was unnecessary.
“Why didn’t they say let’s wait right here for the search warrant?” McKesson said. “How is it up to the accused to define what he will or will not allow the investigating officers to do?”
Responding to a request for answers in the case, Rocklin Police Chief Mark Siemens said the Rocklin Police Department doesn’t have a specific policy for searching a patrol car belonging to an outside law enforcement agency.
“Searches are based on the Constitution, law and recent court decisions,” Siemens said. “Regarding search warrants, they are limited to felony cases.”
Savage was being investigated for a misdemeanor gross negligence in the discharge of a firearm Oct. 8, 2009.
McKesson doesn’t buy the argument.
“It is selective application of the law,” McKesson said. “You and I would not be exempt from it. I think they would detain you and get a search warrant for the car and give you a gun residue test.”
Rocklin investigators closed the case without an arrest. It was not until the District Attorney filed the charge that Savage was brought to trial.
According to court testimony and Erwin, Rocklin Police never asked to search Savage’s patrol car.
“Administratively, the Sheriff’s Office could have searched the car, but we were unaware that the car needed to be searched until long after the incident,” Erwin said. “Even if we had, the findings from that search would not have been admissible in court. As a U.S. citizen, Lt. Savage has the same Constitutional rights that you and I have and did not have to submit to a search of his car.”
The prosecutor in the case, Matt Block, accused Savage of not investigating the shots fired incident even though he was the only law enforcement officer on the scene when it happened. Block said that behavior was suspect. Erwin defends Savage with department policy.
“Lt. Savage was not obligated to investigate — this occurred in Rocklin, so it’s Rocklin PD’s jurisdiction and it’s Rocklin’s investigation,” Erwin said.
On the stand, Savage told jurors he was a witness and it was not proper for him to investigate it. Erwin said that’s policy.
“Our general orders regarding off-duty involvement state that deputies are not required to get involved,” Erwin said. “It is up to the individual whether or not they choose to get involved. They are, however, asked to use discretion and are asked to be good witnesses.”
McKesson said even though the case was dismissed, Savage should be fired for his behavior.
“If he can’t comply with the law, how can you expect him to enforce the law? He should have been fired,” McKesson said. “Sheriff Ed Bonner should have at least had some sort of public discourse on this. (Public employees) are so arrogant about their positions they think they don’t have to answer to anybody. It’s just wrong. Where is the integrity?”
Siemens said his investigators did everything they could that night.
“The officers who responded to the scene the night of the event investigated the case properly, but were faced with a situation that is rarely encountered,” Siemens said. “As in many misdemeanor cases, officers took statements from all parties and the evidence available. The case was forwarded to the District Attorney, who chose to file charges.”
Savage’s attorney, Tim Balcom, a former deputy district attorney, complained of a conspiracy by investigators to throw the book at Savage. Balcom said Savage went through a nasty divorce from an employee of the Rocklin Police Department and Savage’s neighbor, a witness in the case got him evicted after the incident, and had a brother who was a Rocklin detective. After the trial, jury foreman Chris Randolph told Gold Country Media he was unaware of the details of the divorce, but admitted the other Rocklin connections played a role in the deliberations and his vote for not-guilty.
While Siemens is unfamiliar with the eviction, which was revealed in court testimony, he does defend his officers and said there was no conspiracy.
“Defense attorneys are prone to say many things for which they have no evidence to support. Remember that their job is only create doubt in the facts and evidence,” Siemens said. “Savage was not divorcing a Rocklin employee. A previous wife of his worked for Rocklin, briefly, long before I arrived in 2001.The detective related to a party in this case did not take part in the investigation.”
Siemens said the burden of proof rested in the hands of the prosecutor in the case.
“We just gather the facts and evidence to the best of our ability,” Siemens said. “At that point it is out of our hands and the justice system works from there.”
McKesson wants Sheriff Bonner to come forward and address the public concern.
“It would go toward closing the issue,” McKesson said. “It may sponsor more questions, at least we are going in the right direction.”
McKesson suggests more scrutiny for Rocklin
“There should be a grand jury investigation,” McKesson said.
Balcom did not respond to inquiries by press time.
On March 25, Siemens will be addressing the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies at a hearing in Washington, D.C. to get the Rocklin Police Department re-certified. In 2008, CALEA certified Rocklin for deploying international standards for law enforcement.
While CALEA officials would not comment on Rocklin’s specific case before the Commission, they said they take media inquiries and public complaints into consideration when deciding to re-accredit the agency.
The Sheriff’s Office has never participated in CLEA accreditation.
Siemens is expected to retire next month earning an annual pension of $158,101, according to California Pension Reform’s online “CalPERS 100K Club” database. His replacement has not been selected.