Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Family of Sean Smith-Arlt Interrogated for Hours after his Death, According to Family Friend

The family of Sean Smith-Arlt was interrogated in the District Attorney's office for 5 1/2 hours on the morning of Sean's killing by Santa Cruz police. The interrogation took place only two hours after they were first informed of Sean's death on October 16, according to family friend Don Payne. Payne spoke at a community forum organized by the Social Justice Alliance of Santa Cruz (SJA) at Peace United Church on November 1 to address Sean's killing. Payne said he was speaking in the "spirit of transparency" and that he meant no disrespect with his statements. He said that the sharing of information in the case was, "an opportunity to come together in the spirit of finding a solution." Sean was suffering from mental health issues at the time he was shot and killed by Santa Cruz police, who say they deemed him a threat when he advanced towards four officers with a garden rake in his hands outside of a home on the west side.

Outside of the SJA forum, community members hold protest signs behind Police Chief Kevin Vogel as he is interviewed by KION. 

About 75 to 100 people attended the Social Justice Alliance event, which was essentially organized as an open mic for community members to express their views. Santa Cruz Chief of Police Kevin Vogel was in attendance, as was Deputy Chief Rick Martinez. Both spoke briefly at the end of the forum.

Smith-Arlt family friend Don Payne spoke shortly before the police chiefs did.

Payne said he had known Sean since he was 2 years old.

He said that for many years Sean had no mental illness, but that, "somewhere along the line, something happened."

"I don't know what," he said.

"I saw Sean through college," Payne said, speaking about Sean's degree in Psychology. "He was a very bright young man."

Like many others in the community, Payne discussed how he hasn't been able to understand why the four officers involved in Sean's killing couldn't handle a situation with a person carrying a garden rake differently.

"What occurred on October 16, from my perspective, is very very hard to understand," Payne said.

"I was called to the Arlt's house at 6:30 in the morning," he continued.

"I say all of this in the spirit of transparency," Payne said, "because the chief has indicated that's his will as well."

"The community has expressed a desire for that," he added.

"I spent five and a half hours or more in the DA's office on the morning of October 16th while Sean's parents were both interrogated, essentially," he said, "two hours after they were told that Sean had died."

Payne said an officer of "substantial background in the police department" explained to him why Sean's parents were being questioned.

"I was told in no uncertain terms the truth had to be obtained in this case, and that's why they were being questioned right then, two hours after they were informed of his death."

Without speaking for Sean's parents, Payne attempted to describe how difficult the situation was for them.

Since his killing, Sean's family has not communicated to the media, except to release a written statement on October 18.

"The information that has been released so far is not telling the whole story. We are hopeful that with a more independent investigation, the entire truth will come out and justice will be done," the Smith-Arlt family stated.

"We understand there are many challenges for law enforcement officers who respond to 911 calls. It is clear more training and resources are needed for responding to a mental health crisis situation," the statement read. "On October 16th the police were well aware that Sean was struggling with mental health issues."

At the SJA forum, Payne expressed concerns about the police department's hiring practices, and the issue of hiring police officers who have previously served in the military.

He said he was told by police that the officer who shot and killed Sean had a military background.

"She told me point blank that the person who shot Sean was one of our best new recruits, well trained in the military," Payne said.

"I'm not a military person. My father died in World War II and I was exempt from the military, and I do not know what military training is, but I have to assume that it is training to kill the aggressor and not to keep the peace," he said.

"I would suggest that the police department carefully look at its hiring practices because it is very difficult from my perspective to overcome the initial training that is 'shoot first' rather than keep the peace," he added.

"I hope I have not offended," Payne said. "I am hopeful that transparency in all matters in this particular case will evolve, I think it will help the community."

A wide range of community members spoke at the forum, including political activists, and several public official were present. Sheriff Jim Hart and Chief Deputy Craig Wilson of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office sat in on the event to listen. Santa Cruz City Council Member Micah Posner spoke, as did two candidates for council seats in this year's election, Sandy Brown and Steve Schnaar. Candidate Chris Krohn was also present.

Activist Abbi Samuels spoke, after earlier handing out protest signs with pre-printed messages such as "Release the Names Now" and "Release the Videotape Now." Despite pleas from the public, police have refused to release the video and audio evidence they say they have of Sean's killing, and they have also refused to release the names of the four officers involved.

Reverend Dave Grishaw-Jones of Peace United Church, Brenda Griffin, Vice-Chair of the Santa Cruz Chapter of the NAACP, and Darrell Darling all helped host and facilitate the event.

The Social Justice Alliance is a recently formed coalition of organizations that includes the NAACP of Santa Cruz County, ACLU Santa Cruz County, Barrios Unidos, Resource Center for Nonviolence, the Santa Cruz County Community Coalition to Overcome Racism (SCCCCOR) and SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), including representatives from the Santa Cruz County Youth Violence Prevention Task Force.

Reverend Dave Grishaw-Jones and Brenda Griffin during a moment of silence for Sean

Brenda Griffin of the NAACP speaks

Darrell Darling encouraged peopleat the forum to hold hands for a short period

One speaker brought their child on stage. Darrell Darling is pictured on the left.

Abbi Samuels speaks

Sarah Leonard of MHCAN speaks

Simba Kenyatta of the NAACP and SCCCCOR speaks

Ernestina Saldana speaks

Carol Williamson of NAMI speaks

SCPD's Rick Martinez and Kevin Vogel listening to speakers

Don Payne, friend of Sean Smith-Arlt and his family

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