How Police Internal Affairs Struggles to Address Racism and Bias : On Our Watch A 16-year-old Black kid walks into a gas station in Stockton, Calif. to buy gummy worms for his little sister. When the teen gets in an argument with the clerk over a damaged dollar bill, a white officer in plainclothes decides to intervene — with force. In the fourth episode of On Our Watch, we trace the ripple effects of this incident over the next 10 years in a department trying to address racism and bias. But can the chief's efforts at truth and reconciliation work when the accountability process seems to ignore the truth?
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Perceived Threat

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SUKEY LEWIS, HOST:

Hi. This is Sukey. Before we start the show, we want to know what kinds of stories you'd like to hear more of. Please go to npr.org/podcastsurvey to complete a short survey. That's npr.org/podcastsurvey - all one word. Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1, BYLINE: This podcast deals with policing and people affected by it. It contains explicit content and descriptions of violence.

LEWIS: It was a rainy day in Stockton, Calif., when a woman pulled into a gas station with her two kids.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOSEPH GREEN: Well, I was in the store trying to buy some candy for my little sister.

LEWIS: While mom fills up the tank, her 16-year-old son, Joseph Green, pays at the counter. He's got a dollar bill left over, so he tries to buy his little sister some gummy worms.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREEN: And my dollar was partially ripped, right?

LEWIS: Also making a pit stop at the gas station that day was a Stockton police officer, Robert Johnson III.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Do you remember this incident?

ROBERT JOHNSON III: I do.

LEWIS: It was February 17, 2011. And officer Johnson and his partner were just finishing their shift on the gang suppression unit. They stopped to get something to drink at the same store, The California Stop.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON: Detective Wong and I were there. We went to get a bottle of water. We'd been out working out south that day.

LEWIS: It was a stressful time for the teenager, Joe Green, and his family. There had been a fire the day before that destroyed their house, and now they're trying to figure out where to stay. And he was trying to get this gas station clerk to take his damaged bill.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREEN: I was just trying to get him to take the dollar, and then he was saying no, and I was like, come on, man; the bank gonna take it.

LEWIS: He knew the clerk. This was the neighborhood where Joseph Green lived and grew up. For Johnson, it was the neighborhood where he worked. Both Johnson and his partner were dressed in plainclothes, so not recognizable as cops.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON: As I'm walking back up to the register, I'm standing there waiting to pay, and I can see the suspect standing at the counter arguing with the clerk over a dollar bill that was torn up.

LEWIS: While they're arguing, behind Joe Green officer Johnson is waiting in line.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: What'd the person look like that was talking to the...

JOHNSON: Black male, tall, thin, twisted hair. Due to his height, the puffy sweatshirt, the long hair, you know, I didn't even realize he was a juvenile.

LEWIS: And the officer makes a decision to get involved in this argument between the clerk and the teenager.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

JOHNSON: Initially, when I - before I identified myself and I told - I said, hey, just leave the store; they don't want any trouble.

GREEN: And that's when officer Johnson just hopped in the conversation - like, just get the hell out the store; he don't want your money.

JOHNSON: He got angry, belligerent, started cussing - said, I don't have to go anywhere; I don't know who you think you are, something like that.

GREEN: So I say - like, asking who was he talking to. Like, I don't even know you, so why you talking to me? And then he said, oh, I'm a cop.

LEWIS: Remember; Johnson isn't in uniform.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREEN: And I tell him, well, I'm not doing anything, so what's the problem? And then I turned around, and I grabbed my money, and I started to proceed out the store.

LEWIS: And that's when the whole incident could have been over. But it's not.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

GREEN: Officer Johnson ran up behind me...

JOHNSON: So I grab him by his sweatshirt...

GREEN: ...Grabbed me by my hair...

JOHNSON: ...Pull him back through the door.

GREEN: ...And swung me around and slammed me on the ground. And that's attempted murder. He could have killed me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LEWIS: I'm Sukey Lewis, and this is ON OUR WATCH, an investigative podcast from NPR and KQED.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LEWIS: One of our big questions looking into the records that were unsealed by the Right to Know Act, or Senate Bill 1421, was what the internal affairs process could tell us about policing and race. Departments rarely find officers acted with racism or bias, according to general statistics collected by the state, and investigations dealing solely with racial bias are still exempt from disclosure, even with SB 1421. But serious use-of-force cases were unsealed, so how were questions of race addressed in those cases? In California, Black people are more likely to be killed or seriously injured by the police, according to data collected by the state. How do departments address these disparate outcomes? How do they investigate something that's often invisible or ignored?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LEWIS: My colleague Sandhya Dirks covers race and equity for KQED, and she helped make this show. In today's episode, she's going to take us to Stockton, Calif., one of the most diverse cities in America and a place where police have killed Black people at a rate five times higher than white people.

SANDHYA DIRKS, BYLINE: It's also a place where the chief of police says, really explicitly, that he's trying to undo the racist legacy of policing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIC JONES: Thank you, Pastor Shields. Thank you so much.

(APPLAUSE)

DIRKS: In 2016, Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones went to a Black church.

JONES: I knew I needed to begin to make these acknowledgements.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JONES: Wasn't expecting all that welcome, so appreciate it.

(LAUGHTER)

DIRKS: And he stood in front of the crowd in his police uniform.

Were you nervous?

JONES: Oh, yes (laughter). I was very nervous.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JONES: Tensions are high everywhere, and we can't deny that.

I didn't know how the congregation were going to take it. I also had several police officers that were there, too, and I didn't know how they were going to take it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JONES: And I want you to know I will be relentless on both building community trust and also ensuring that our police officers are safe in their work and free from ambush and attack.

(APPLAUSE)

DIRKS: Then Chief Jones admitted something that shocked a lot of people.

JONES: The badge I wear, that all of my officers wear, carries a burden with it. And it does go back to slave patrols.

DIRKS: Policing in America began with making being Black and free illegal.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DIRKS: There are two stories of what happened back on that rainy day at The California Stop gas station as 16-year-old Joseph Green is walking out of the store.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON: Once I pull him in the store, he turns and faces me and grabs me up - you know, up on my shirt, up by my shoulders. And when he grabbed me, I reached up and grabbed him.

DIRKS: In the story that officer Johnson tells internal affairs, Joe Green is a violent adult who fights back as they scuffle.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON: So we kind of are holding each other's shirts, struggling, pulling back and forth, pushing, pulling. And I'm trying to get him away from the front door.

DIRKS: And then there's the story that Joe Green tells, where he's surprised by this man standing in line behind him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREEN: I never even touched officer Johnson, not once.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: So you never pushed him?

GREEN: Never pushed him. I couldn't push him 'cause I'm walking out the door like this, and he comes up and grabs me by my hair.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON: He pushed me backwards into a shelf. We both go down face first into the linoleum or tile or whatever kind of floor it is. But he goes face down. I trip and fall. We both go to the ground.

DIRKS: Johnson pins Green face down with his knee

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREEN: His knee is in my - like, damn near my neck, back like right here.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: OK.

GREEN: So he's on top of me.

DIRKS: Police reports show officer Johnson weighed about 215 pounds; Joe Green about 150. Green says Johnson started punching him in the face.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREEN: And I'm telling you, this man was punching me like he was angry about something - like, I'm telling you, like, really, like, he was angry.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Where'd he punch you at?

GREEN: In my fucking face. All right here - in my nose, in my mouth, in my mouth. And he just kept punching me all right here until my teeth came out my mouth.

DIRKS: Johnson does say he punched Green twice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: OK. And was he saying anything at this time?

JOHNSON: Yeah. At one point, I don't remember if he was yelling, go get my mama, prior to me telling my partner to go get handcuffs. But at some point in there, he's yelling, somebody get my mama, get my mama - which I kind of thought, well, that's a little bit odd, but - because I thought he was an adult

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREEN: And then I'm like, can you go get my mama? She right outside. I'm only 16. And he's like, I'm taking your ass down to the station.

DIRKS: By the time officer Johnson pulls Joe Green up and takes him out of the store, cuffed and under arrest, Green's mouth is bloodied, his face bruised. The charges against him - trespassing and resisting arrest. We contacted officer Robert Johnson and his lawyer multiple times to ask for an interview. They did not respond.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DIRKS: A month after Joe Green is arrested, his mother, Sheronica Champion, goes into the Stockton Police Department to give a statement about the complaint she filed against officer Johnson and his partner the day of the incident.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: So can you tell me what your allegations of misconduct are on the officers?

SHERONICA CHAMPION: You want to know...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Why are you complaining about...

CHAMPION: I am complaining because someone came out to my car and said, the police are beating up your son. I went into the store; the officer was on top of my son.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: But you filled out the citizen complaint form and sent it to us, and we're following up on that.

DIRKS: And he says internal affairs is going to look into it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHAMPION: So how long would it take before internal affairs contact me?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I don't know. It could be anywhere from two weeks to a month because we do a very thorough investigation

DIRKS: And then Champion asks, what about officer Johnson?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHAMPION: Is the officer still working on the street? Do I have to...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Yes.

CHAMPION: Are you serious? Wow. OK. That's not good.

DIRKS: She tries to ask more questions, but the police lieutenant taking her statement says he can't talk about the incident.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I wasn't there.

CHAMPION: I know you wasn't there.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I cannot answer any...

CHAMPION: Are you a sergeant or a lieutenant?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Lieutenant.

CHAMPION: Lieutenant, I know that you guys seen that video.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I have not seen the video. I was not there.

CHAMPION: OK, well, I know that somebody in here's seen that video because the store owner told me he gave it to you guys.

DIRKS: Video. At the time of this incident, back in 2011, Stockton police didn't have body cameras. But The California Stop did have a surveillance camera, which means there's a recording of what really happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHAMPION: I just feel like - you saying all this investigation, but it's all on tape. So I'll leave it at that. It's all on the tape. So I guess once IA or your commanders and everybody look at it, they won't even have to - all this other stuff that's going on? 'Cause it's all on the tape.

DIRKS: It's grainy footage. The camera angle is wide. Occasionally, some things are hard to see. And there's no sound. But it covers pretty much the whole encounter.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHAMPION: Once they see the tape, somebody can be responsible for this bill 'cause it shouldn't be me. I don't have $5,000 to get to the dentist to replace his teeth. You know what I mean? You were that upset that you punched him over and over until his teeth fell out, and he's still working on the street? That's, like, psycho to me. What's the next step of him pulling out his gun and shooting my son? He could be dead.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Can't answer that one.

CHAMPION: Wow. But thank you so much for seeing me and taking my interview. And I hope to hear from IA real soon.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JONES: You know, a stereotype is a thought.

DIRKS: Chief Eric Jones looks the part of police chief...

JONES: But then that can turn into a prejudice, which is actually a feeling you have. You take that stereotype, and now that's actually on your heart, in your heart. And then discrimination would be acting upon that.

DIRKS: ...White guy, salt and pepper hair, square jaw.

JONES: I grew up in, you know, small town U.S.A., a very white town.

DIRKS: He says they didn't talk much about race.

JONES: We just didn't have those discussions. For me, they don't come natural.

DIRKS: Like a lot of police chiefs, Jones has kind of a dual role - part politician, part cop. And he uses the jargon of the job.

JONES: We had this thing called the courageous conversations...

...Doing ceasefire work.

Procedural justice.

Police legitimacy training.

DIRKS: That is another word that I think I know, but I don't know that I know.

JONES: I explain it a certain way to...

DIRKS: He goes to conferences to learn best practices.

JONES: We brought a gun violence intervention strategy...

DIRKS: He implements new initiatives.

JONES: I think de-escalation training is important. And our officers...

DIRKS: Things like trauma-informed policing.

JONES: And so I think it comes down to training, training, training. What is our culture of our department? What are our policies?

DIRKS: And he's trying to train racism out of his officers.

JONES: Implicit bias training is the specific name of it. But it's - all of our officers go through it. I went through it. I expect everybody from me all the way down to the officers going out in the field go through this training. So it's three eight-hour days. But, you know, as the phrase goes, culture does eat policy for lunch every time.

DIRKS: Jones says, yeah, a three-day anti-bias training has its limits.

JONES: The fact is, right when they walk out of the training, then they're going right back to the streets, right? And so there can be a reverting back to - right? - all these things that we're trying to teach them to be aware of.

DIRKS: A lot of teaching happens not in the classroom, but in the field - lessons passed on by veteran officers.

FREDRICK KOTTO: When you're training young officers, you take them to areas where you know there's high crime, oftentimes areas of color.

DIRKS: This is retired police officer Fredrick Kotto. He was a sergeant in the San Jose Police Department, and he also worked in Internal Affairs.

KOTTO: I'm going to say, OK. I'm going to teach you about someone being under the influence of drugs, OK? And we're going to stop that guy over there, and I'm going to show you everything about it. So they stop a person, let's say, of color. And they say, this is what a crack addict looks like. Look at his pupils. Look how dry his lips are. Look how he's itching and scratching his skin. Look how his eyelids flutter when they close. These are all objective symptoms of stimulant influence. Now, when you make three or four of those stops, and they're all Black, and they're all crack addicts, in that officer's mind going forward for much of his career, he sees crack addicts as this.

DIRKS: Does that also happen with sort of, this is what a bad guy looks like?

KOTTO: A hundred percent. A hundred percent.

DIRKS: Kotto says this not just as a police officer. He also says this as a Black man - a Black man who became a police officer, in part, after a couple of traffic stops where he says he felt profiled. A lot of departments do anti-bias training similar to what Jones is doing in Stockton. They're kind of like the diversity workshops that more and more companies are adopting. And Kotto says it's a nice idea, in theory.

KOTTO: Officers, in my experience, will probably resent it. They'll probably make fun of it. And five seconds after the class, the sensitivity training or cultural bias training is done, they're back off doing their own thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOSHUA DOBERNECK: Today's date is May 10, 2011. It is approximately 1409 hours.

DIRKS: A few months after Joe Green's mom filed her complaint, internal affairs brings in officer Robert Johnson III for questioning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DOBERNECK: I'm Sergeant Joshua Doberneck, assigned to the internal affairs section.

DIRKS: The IA sergeant is trying to determine if Johnson had legal grounds to use force against Green and to arrest him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DOBERNECK: OK. And you had shown your badge identified yourself...

JOHNSON: Correct.

DOBERNECK: ...As a police officer...

JOHNSON: Right.

DOBERNECK: ...And said you're now under arrest. Do you think there's any doubt in Mr. Green's mind that your intention was to arrest him?

JOHNSON: Oh, no. There was no doubt.

DIRKS: Green says he didn't see Johnson's badge. He did hear Johnson say he was a cop. But Green says he didn't believe him because Johnson wasn't wearing a uniform. He was just in regular clothes. For Green to have actually resisted arrest, he had to know that Johnson was a cop. It's not enough for an officer to just say, I'm police. They have to show ID. And witnesses tell the investigator they didn't realize Johnson was a cop either.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: He looked like a casual guy, to be honest with you. I thought he was, like, a mechanic or something.

DOBERNECK: OK, so no badge.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: No badge, sir.

DOBERNECK: No uniform, nothing like that.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: No, sir.

DIRKS: On the surveillance footage, you can see Johnson pull out his badge from under his shirt. But it's not until Green has already turned to walk away. And then there's the issue of pushing - who pushed who, and how the two ended up on the ground.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON: I pulled him by the shirt. He immediately turned to me, grabbed me and pushed me into a shelf. And that's when the pushing match went back-and-forth.

DIRKS: But on the video, it doesn't look like a pushing match. Green doesn't grab officer Johnson. He's still gripping that damaged dollar bill in his hand. Then, Johnson says, he and Green trip over a stack of shopping baskets.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DOBERNECK: Was he intentionally pushed by yourself over the baskets, or was it unintentional?

JOHNSON: I was trying to pull him away from the front door.

DOBERNECK: OK.

JOHNSON: The fall was unintentional. I didn't realize the baskets were there.

DIRKS: Johnson says it's this accidental fall that knocked Green's teeth out. It's harder to tell on the video, but Green says it wasn't a fall. Johnson slammed him to the ground. A witness that the IA investigator spoke to backed up Green. As they go to the floor, Johnson says something catches his eye.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON: I saw a digital - a little black digital scale fell out from either somewhere on his left side, his hand, his pocket or something.

DIRKS: Johnson says this suggests Green is dealing drugs and that he's a threat.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON: Generally with narcotics arrests there's weapons, whether it be a knife, a gun, some type of a weapon. In my experience, people engaged in narcotic sales tend to be a little bit more violent.

DIRKS: But no digital scale can be seen on the video, and no digital scale is ever collected or booked into evidence. The internal affairs investigator doesn't even bring the scale up with any of the other witnesses, not even with Johnson's partner, who was there that day. The only evidence we have for the digital scale is Johnson's word.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DIRKS: And then there's how he justifies using force...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON: I put my left knee right around the small of his back, and I'm trying to hold him down.

DIRKS: ...On someone he's already got pinned to the ground.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON: I had no handcuffs with me. I had no duty belt, no baton, no pepper spray. I had nothing but a gun in my hands. Based off of the scale and with how violent he was...

DIRKS: Johnson says he started punching Joe Green to protect himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON: And he starts spitting blood. So as he turns and he's splitting blood - I don't know this guy. I don't know if he's got, you know, any bloodborne diseases. I don't know anything about this guy's medical history.

DIRKS: He claims he was afraid Green could turn his head to the side and spit back over his shoulder into Johnson's face.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON: My concern is that I'm going to get blood in my mouth, in my eyes, contract something, get something on my clothes, take it back home.

DIRKS: But in the video, you can see Joe Green on his stomach on the floor, his face down. And one of the witnesses the IA interviews says Green only made spitting noises after Johnson hit him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DOBERNECK: Did you hear any - that sound or see any spitting before he got hit?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: No, I didn't see nothing...

DOBERNECK: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: ...Like that. He just spit, and I just seen, like, a pile of blood there.

DIRKS: There's one more thing that Johnson does to Joe Green - one more use of force that happens on the video.

CHARLES PICUTTA: When Joe Green's been searched, he's handcuffed with his hands behind his back. He's posing no threat at all at this point, to the extent you could even argue he was - you know, there was some kind of threat there. And then officer Johnson takes the back of his head, picks it up and slams it into the floor and his feet fly up.

DIRKS: This is Charles "Tony" Picutta, the lawyer who would come to represent Joe Green. He's describing this graphic moment. In the video, it seems to happen for no reason.

PICUTTA: To smash someone's face into the ground who's handcuffed and no threat at all - it doesn't make any sense. It's indefensible, really.

DIRKS: But Johnson doesn't really need to defend himself to the internal affairs investigator because when he asks about this moment, he doesn't bring up what the video shows. He just references Green's statement that Johnson banged his head on the ground and told him to shut up or he would hit him again.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DOBERNECK: Did you bang [expletive] head on the ground?

JOHNSON: No.

DOBERNECK: OK.

JOHNSON: The only time his head went down toward the ground is the two times that I punched him.

DOBERNECK: OK.

DIRKS: IA investigator Doberneck - he's supposed to be figuring out what really happened. But he just lets this go. In his interrogation of officer Johnson, the gaps between Johnson's story and what the video shows are never asked about. Doberneck did not respond to requests for comment.

After Joe Green is arrested, after he's taken out of the California stop in handcuffs, Johnson comes back to the aisle where he held Green down. He's once again captured on the store's surveillance video. You can see him move a stack of shopping baskets - the ones he says they tripped over - and he puts them near the middle of the aisle. Then he photographs them. But the problem is, you can see in the video that's not where the baskets were. Still, Johnson submits this photo of the baskets into evidence with his police report.

PICUTTA: The coverup was insane. I mean, when I say, like, staging of evidence on camera and being caught doing it and then just lying about everything, lie after lie after lie...

DIRKS: From the badge to the scale to the bloodborne diseases to the baskets, Picutta says these aren't just discrepancies.

PICUTTA: ...It's a fabricated narrative that's completely contradicted by the video evidence.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DIRKS: There's this phrase in law enforcement circles - contempt of cop. It's shorthand for when cops go after someone, arrest them or even attack them, not for breaking the law, but for making them mad or for not complying.

PICUTTA: What was happening was he was basically assaulting Joseph Green for popping off to him, in his view, right?

DIRKS: In the internal affairs investigation, there's a moment when the IA investigator asks officer Johnson why he didn't just let Green go.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DOBERNECK: I'm not saying you should have done this. Don't misinterpret what I'm saying. Is there a reason why you didn't allow him just to leave out of the store instead of stopping him and effecting the arrest?

DIRKS: This is a key question and one that could get at whether this arrest was necessary or legal and what Johnson's motivations really were. Johnson's answer for why he didn't just let Green go was that he was afraid.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON: Well, yeah. There was all these other people outside. I didn't know what might take place if he gets out there, if he tells these people. Who knows what could happen? I mean, any number of scenarios could have happened if he got out there to that crowd.

DIRKS: His fear was of the people outside.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON: Well, I know that the neighborhood around that market is not very pro-police. I've worked that neighborhood a lot, a lot of years. We've had incidents with arresting people and having to deal with crowds coming and get involved. And instead of arresting one person, you end up arresting them and, you know, trying to deal with this hostile crowd, you know? You don't know if they're going to attack you, if - what they're going to do.

DIRKS: But on the video, it's raining outside. There were no crowds, just people filling up their tanks with gas. Johnson brings up hostile crowds again, this time inside the store after he's got Green on the ground, and he focuses in on one woman in particular.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHNSON: Several people come in the store. They're screaming. They're yelling. I mean, she is the loudest of everybody. She was just screaming and yelling, you know, what the fuck's going on and this and that, just getting loud. And I didn't realize who she was.

DOBERNECK: And did you find out...

JOHNSON: Later, I found out it was his mom.

DIRKS: One of the witnesses IA talked to says there were only five people in the store, and it was clear that the woman was Green's mom.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: How would you describe the mom, her demeanor? Was she angry, sad?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: She was a little bit of both, angry and upset, like sad-wise (ph). She was saying, what are you doing to my son? You know, she was yelling at the officer, and the other officer - he said, ma'am, please stay back. And she was like, no, I'm not going to leave; this is my son. The other officer that had the boy on the ground had told her, ma'am, if you don't leave, you're going to jail as well. And she said, I'm not leaving; that is my son you have there. And that's when the boy said, mama, my teeth are on the ground; mama, my teeth - he said it two or three times as well.

DIRKS: The witness says it was hard to watch, and he didn't know what to do.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: I've seen other people - I've seen another lady that was in line and had left. She left crying. And when I stepped out, I cried. I got home, and I told my parents about it, and they cried.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KOTTO: And what I saw on the video was the complete opposite of the fear and the concern for his safety that he expresses in his statement to internal affairs and on that police report that justified all this force that he used.

DIRKS: This is Fredrick Kotto again. As a retired internal affairs sergeant, I asked him to help me unpack what happened in this IA.

KOTTO: This appeared to me to be very much an attitude arrest. The officer didn't like the way he was being spoken to.

DIRKS: Kotto says the whole arrest was tainted from the beginning.

KOTTO: He's an innocent person trying to leave. Any amount of force, however slight, is excessive 'cause there's nothing. He doesn't have anything.

DIRKS: And he and I talked about all the things the investigator failed to ask Johnson. He didn't ask about how the video doesn't match Johnson's story. He didn't ask about why Johnson moved the baskets. He didn't push him on what happened to the alleged digital scale. But there is something else that never gets mentioned in this investigation.

KOTTO: I highly doubt if that was a 16-year-old white person trying to pass a $1 bill that had a tear in it, that this would have created any fuss for the officer. I think he would have just let it go.

DIRKS: Do you think the internal affairs process is set up to investigate or interrogate racial bias or racism?

KOTTO: I think for most agencies, it probably is not. In my experience, if there's not a specific mechanism set up to identify it or pursue it and, you know, thwart it or curtail it - without a mechanism, it can fly under the radar.

DIRKS: He says racist attitudes by police can be considered the normal cost of doing business. And that's a pretty high cost.

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JONES: Now, if I have a racist officer, and I find out, I'm going to fire the officer.

DIRKS: Chief Eric Jones says racist officers are not welcome in his police department. But what does it take to know an officer is racist? Social media posts? White supremacist tattoos? Racist text messages?

JONES: You know, what we're usually talking about are these biases that are harder to put your finger on.

DIRKS: Johnson makes all these familiar assumptions in his IA interview. Joe Green looks like an adult, is a dangerous drug dealer in an anti-police neighborhood. His mother is angry and threatening. Eric Jones was deputy chief at the time. In an email, we asked him to explain why these assumptions weren't questioned. He didn't respond to those questions.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DIRKS: The IA investigation into officer Robert Johnson III does find that he used excessive force, specifically the two punches to the face. They were unnecessary because the investigation found it wasn't possible for Green to spit blood back at the officer. But that's it. The investigation doesn't find Johnson was dishonest, and from the records we got, it doesn't appear that they even looked into this. Johnson is given a five-day unpaid suspension. As for Joseph Green, the district attorney did not pursue those charges of trespassing and resisting arrest, but there were other things - Green's front teeth had been knocked out. He needed dental work.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREEN: Like, what was I doing to make him do this to me? Like, he knocked my teeth out, man. I'm only 17, bro, 16 - I was 16 when this happened. I got to go through my life without no teeth in my mouth.

DIRKS: The nightmares came almost every night, and Green would later tell a jury he started wetting his bed.

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GREEN: He could have killed me in the store. Like, the way this man was hitting me, man, like, he was mad about something - like, for real, for real. Like, something before that happened to him, and he was mad, the way he was hitting me. And he had also banged my head on the ground, telling me to shut up or he'd hit me again. And this - the way this man was hitting me, man, like - and, like, I been having headaches ever since this day, and it's - what? - a month already since this happened, yesterday a month. And I've been having headaches. I've been having dreams about it. Like, I can't sleep at night. Every time I see a police in the street, like, I just get scared. Like - just, like, I just start shaking. Like, I just got to get away because this incident just, like, terrified me for now. Like, I don't know.

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DIRKS: Green and his mom file a lawsuit against the city. Officer Johnson appeals his five-day suspension. And Eric Jones becomes Stockton's police chief.

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DIRKS: The California Stop, the gas station where this all happened, it's right off the interstate across from an abandoned lot in south Stockton. It's the part of town where the population is largely Black and brown. This is also the neighborhood where Chief Eric Jones was taught to police.

JONES: I started with the Stockton Police Department almost 30 years ago. So this was in the early '90s. And I did numerous years as a patrol officer - so as we would call, pushing a black-and-white patrol car.

DIRKS: He says it was classic war-on-drugs-era policing. It was all about quantity - lots of stops, lots of arrests.

JONES: And my commanders were saying, you know, go to the high-crime areas and make as many arrests as possible. And this was common for police departments everywhere at the time - more of a zero-tolerance blanket enforcement in these high-crime areas, which are also - in Stockton, are communities of color.

DIRKS: Do you think that that was racist policing?

JONES: I think it definitely led to the higher racial disparities that we have.

DIRKS: And it also wasn't reducing crime. So when Jones becomes police chief in 2012 - he'd been deputy chief when Joe Green was arrested the year before - he takes the helm of a department with few resources in a city with skyrocketing crime rates.

JONES: That's when we had the highest amount of homicides - 71 homicides that year. We had some of the highest levels of mistrust going on. We were going into bankruptcy, and our staffing was low, and morale was low.

DIRKS: Despite all of that, he thinks he can change things. Police chiefs have a lot of power - to set policies, to implement trainings. But when it comes to police discipline, they aren't the final word. That often goes to an arbitrator, who can overrule police chiefs' and cities' disciplinary findings. As you've heard in previous episodes, officers are entitled to an extensive appeals process. If they don't think their discipline is fair, they can appeal, and that's exactly what officer Johnson did. And in 2015, his case went to an arbitrator.

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DIRKS: An arbitrator is supposed to be a neutral third party whose job is to look at the facts and decide if the discipline was fair. In Johnson's case, it was a woman named Elinor Nelson. We called and emailed multiple times. She didn't respond. So to help me understand the arbitrator's report, I called retired Superior Court Judge LaDoris Cordell.

LADORIS CORDELL: I was just stunned with the arbitrator's finding, the arbitrator's rationale.

DIRKS: After serving as a judge, Cordell was the independent police auditor in San Jose, so she understands a lot about police rules around use of force. She says the arbitrator didn't.

CORDELL: She has absolutely no law enforcement experience whatsoever - none, zip, zero, zilch - which is why - one of the reasons why her analysis is so flawed.

DIRKS: In the arbitrator's report, officer Johnson is the grievant, and she takes his characterization of Joe Green and makes it her official finding - from her report, quote, "Green is a liar, a horrible person and not credible," end quote.

CORDELL: She is taking Johnson's words as fact; they're just facts. She just says and assumes everything he says is factual. She starts describing the neighborhood.

DIRKS: Here's what the arbitrator writes, using direct quotes from officer Johnson. (Reading) The neighborhood was a high-drug...

CORDELL: "High-gang neighborhood" - I'm quoting that.

DIRKS: ...That included a crime-ridden...

CORDELL: HUD housing development.

DIRKS: The grievant's - that's officer Johnson - safety concerns were heightened in the rough neighborhood.

CORDELL: What she's saying is they're going into hostile territory. They have to fear for their lives. Why? Because poor Black people and brown people live in those communities and, by definition, they're suspect, they're violent, and they're coming after police. And there's - that's stereotypes. It's racist. And there's no basis for it.

DIRKS: Cordell says all these things Johnson claimed in the IA, all these reasons for his fear, were based on stereotypes.

CORDELL: Because it's so blatantly biased, so blatantly ignoring what the actual facts were.

DIRKS: And because these biases were never questioned, they became the facts of the case. The arbitrator says she watched the video, and she thinks Green could have spit back up at Johnson, so his choice to punch Green was appropriate. She finds that Johnson did nothing wrong at The California Stop, and she overturns his five-day suspension.

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DIRKS: It doesn't take any special training to be an arbitrator. You have to apply, but there's no requirements you have to meet, except in most cases, arbitrators have to be approved by the police union. The arbitrator's decision is binding and final, which means even if the chief still wanted to discipline Johnson, he can't. This is another layer of protections that police unions have fought for and won in many jurisdictions in California.

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DIRKS: There's another section of the arbitrator's report I want to highlight. It's 2015 when she's writing this report, on the heels of national protests against police violence in Ferguson, New York and Baltimore. She says these, quote, "political pressures" cannot be the reason the city decides to discipline an officer. The arbitrator says Johnson's five-day suspension was simply not fair and appears to be a, quote, "rush to judgment." She says his supervisors didn't take into consideration Johnson's fear for his life.

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DIRKS: After the California stop incident, officer Johnson went on to shoot and kill a Black man in 2014 who was suspected of domestic violence. Three years later, Johnson again shot someone, this time firing into a car at another domestic violence suspect. The suspect's girlfriend was also inside the car. They both survived. Both of Johnson's shootings were found to be legal.

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DIRKS: In 2018, a local club named Robert Johnson III officer of the year in a ceremony attended by Chief Jones.

(APPLAUSE)

DIRKS: In 2016, Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones gets up during Sunday's service in that Black church.

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JONES: Violence is gripping our nation, no doubt.

(CROSSTALK)

DIRKS: He stands at a glass podium, mic in hand, on a carpeted stage.

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JONES: Tragedies in Baton Rouge and Minnesota...

DIRKS: There'd been another round of nationwide protests against police killings of Black men.

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JONES: Tensions are high everywhere. And we can't deny that. And we need to talk about that. And we know that there are tensions within this very community, too.

DIRKS: The way Jones tells this story, it was an almost spontaneous decision to say out loud something he'd been thinking for a while.

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JONES: Law enforcement - we're the enforcement agents of the government, right?

(CROSSTALK)

JONES: Now, did we not have slave laws at one time in this country, racial laws, major disparity then and that continues today? And who was the enforcement arm of that? It was law enforcement.

DIRKS: In 1704, Charleston, S.C., established its first formal slave patrol.

JONES: Some of the first police departments, if you will, were really slave patrols and would catch runaway slaves.

DIRKS: What Jones was doing was rare. Jones knew it was rare.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JONES: ...He said is, there was a time where police were used to be dispatched to keep lynchings simple. It's a fact of our history that we have to...

(CROSSTALK)

JONES: ...At least acknowledge.

It's not that the police necessarily wanted to do those things. They were tasked with it because they were the enforcers of government.

DIRKS: In general, police do not talk about the racist history of their profession.

JONES: And I actually saw the body language of both my staff and the congregation - I could tell just kind of intuitively - I could really tell that it was something that was surprising for them to hear, but made sense to them.

DIRKS: This is the first time Jones publicly talks about how policing in this country started as a way to enforce slavery. But it wouldn't be the last. He implements these community conversations, part of a truth and reconciliation program. At the church, Jones makes a nod to the present.

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JONES: Now, we also have seen injustices by law enforcement in more recent times. And law enforcement needs to acknowledge that as well. And as a law enforcement leader, I want to tell you I won't stand for injustices within my police department, within my city...

DIRKS: But for the most part, it's clear that Jones is talking about something that happened a long time ago.

JONES: It was also important that I framed it in a certain way to where I wasn't calling my officers racist right there in the room.

DIRKS: Truth and reconciliation initiatives are meant to create a space to honestly confront the past so that history isn't written by the oppressors...

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JONES: Now, I didn't do that. These officers did not do that. But the badge we wear still does carry the burden.

DIRKS: ...And so history doesn't repeat itself.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JONES: God bless you all, and thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Tonight, we dive into a story that has Stockton residents and a grieving mother demanding answers from police. We reported this story when Colby Friday was shot by a Stockton police officer...

DIRKS: In August 2016, right in the middle of the truth and reconciliation process, one of Chief Jones' officers shoots and kills a Black man. It's a really controversial police shooting, and witnesses contradict the officer's version of events.

How did that impact the work? Because on one level, you guys are trying to kind of bring the community together to talk honestly. And on the other level, there is something that is ripping the community apart.

JONES: It goes back to the community bank or the - right? You're making deposits to - of community trust because you never know when you or this organization may have to have a withdrawal, a hit, meaning, wow, that was controversial, and we just lost a lot of trust or legitimacy - the way they view the department. It's just constant work.

DIRKS: Jones says he can't really talk openly with the public about incidents like that one. He has to worry about liability and officers' rights. So he couldn't talk to us in detail about Officer Johnson or what happened to Joe Green, either.

JONES: Sometimes I may want to be able to talk to the community or even a family in a way that I'm just not able to. And to navigate that is really, really tough.

DIRKS: And while he points out that in the past few years police shootings and uses of force have been trending down, he acknowledges that there are still major disparities in who gets policed.

JONES: What we're seeing is our Black residents and our Hispanic residents are being traffic-stopped, arrested and used force on more than - right? - more than the other groups. That is the - what the city manager and I talk about. That's the million-dollar question, is why?

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DIRKS: Going through the records, we couldn't help but notice what wasn't there. Officers like Johnson are rarely, if ever, asked about race, rarely asked if their reasons for making arrests and traffic stops and using force were based on stereotypes about a person's criminality, drug use, violence or racist assumptions about certain neighborhoods. We've now read through hundreds of cases unsealed by SB 1421. And this isn't a complete analysis, but so far, we've only found one case that really dug into questions of racial bias. It involved an officer who was disciplined for lying about why she pulled over a Black man. So how can you find what you're not really looking for?

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DIRKS: In Stockton, between 2016 - when the state started collecting complaint data - and 2019, there were 11 official complaints alleging racial profiling or bias by Stockton police officers. But none of these complaints were sustained, which means they weren't backed up by the findings of an internal investigation.

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DIRKS: On a gray day in January 2020, nine years after the incident, Joseph Green and his mother finally get their day in San Joaquin County Superior Court. It took so long to get here because of the city's bankruptcy. The civil trial lasted several days. I couldn't record in the courtroom, but I took a lot of notes.

When officer Johnson took the stand, Joe Green's lawyer played the surveillance video and asked him about that moment where Johnson appears to slam Green's head into the ground. That's me rolling Mr. Green back, Johnson told the jury. I picked him up by his shoulders and rolled him back over to his stomach. We roll people over all the time to pat them down. The jury didn't believe Johnson. They found his arrest of Joe Green wrong and his force excessive. They also found that Johnson acted with malice, oppression or fraud. And they awarded Green $710,000.

Officer Johnson is still working at the Stockton Police Department.

After the trial, Joe Green agreed to talk with me, but those plans always fell through. He texted me late one evening in September 2020 after the intense summer of protests, the renewed chants of Black Lives Matter. All this police brutality is out of control, he wrote; it's every time you look up, somebody else is getting killed. His case didn't go viral. It didn't attract national attention or lead to protests. He didn't die. All these years later, Green still doesn't have an answer to the question he asked at the time.

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GREEN: I picture this man's face in my - like, in my head every day, every day since this happened. And, like, I don't know, man. This man, he was really mad about something, about something. Like, I don't know what it was. For me to even - just, like, you know what I'm saying? I wasn't even saying nothing to the man. You feel me? Even though he a police - OK. What do I do? What did I do to deserve him to keep punching me, man?

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LEWIS: Coming up next time - a police officer in Salinas, Calif., can't seem to file his reports on time.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: So you it never dawned on you that you needed to get it finished?

WILLIAM YETTER: You're like, all right, I can finish it tomorrow. And then before you know it, it's like, crap, I haven't turned it in for a really long time.

LEWIS: But it turns out the department is letting something much more serious slip through the cracks.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: And we expected this woman to do investigation, reporting, decision-making, pushing the system to work. She was made to push a river, and I think that that was just cruel.

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LEWIS: I'm Sukey Lewis, and this is ON OUR WATCH. As we mentioned earlier, we want to know what kinds of stories you'd like to hear more of. Please go to npr.org/podcastsurvey to complete a short survey. That's npr.org/podcastsurvey - all one word. Thanks.

The show is produced by me, Sandhya Dirks, Adelina Lancianese, Cynthia Betubiza and Nina Sparling. Huo Jingnan is our data reporter. Editing by Leila Day and our senior supervising producer Nicole Beemsterboer, with help from Alex Emslie.

The records highlighted in this podcast were obtained as part of the California Reporting Project, a collaborative effort of 40 newsrooms created after the passage of Senate Bill 1421 to investigate police misconduct and serious use of force. Special thanks to Snap Judgment for use of your studio and Dr. Frank Edwards at Rutgers University for your help on data analysis.

Liana Simstrom and Emily Hamilton are our project managers. Josh Newell and Gilly Moon engineered the show. Original music by Ramtin Arablouei, who also composed our theme. Thank you to our legal team, including Micah Ratner and Rebecca Hopkins. And we could not have made the show without buy-in from the top. Thank you to NPR's Nancy Barnes, Neal Carruth, Anya Grundmann, Bob Little and Steve Nelson and KQED's Erika Aguilar, Holly Kernan, Ethan Lindsay and Vinnee Tong. Thank you for listening.

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