Tuesday, July 18, 2006
POLICE KILLING IN NEW MEXICO RECALLS HISTORY OF RACISM
Farmington police officer Shawn Scott shot and killed Clint John, 21, of Kirtland, in a Wal-Mart parking lot in early June. John was hit by the cops bullets numerous times.
Clint John was a Navajo.
Police chief Mike Burridge absolved Scott. “Our agency conducted a professional and thorough internal and administrative investigation, which has found that Officer Scott acted appropriately and within the scope of departmental policy,” he said at a June 22 press conference.
The internal inquiry and an investigation by the San Juan County Sheriff's Office have both concluded that the killing was justified. The district attorney's office also ruled that officer Shawn Scott was justified in shooting John, 21, and will not face criminal charges.
The police claim John somehow got the officers baton and attacked him.
That story is contradicted by a witnesses.
One eyewitness who used the name Rick, because he said he fears police reprisals, gave a different account in the June 22 Navajo Times. The article, “Eyewitness: Man was unarmed when shot,” quotes Rick saying that he “did not see John throw any punches, but instead was trying to protect himself from Scott’s blows.” He said John was hit at least eight times with the baton and then he saw the cop get a gun out of the police car and shoot John four times.
“I saw Clint’s body jerk three times and even though he was shot, he was just standing there,” Rick said. “The officer paused for a second, raised his gun and shot him in the head.” He said Scott was like a “madman, crazy with anger.”
John was still alive as more police arrived and the officers reportedly did nothing to help him. "Rick" said he looked down at John and noticed the police baton on his stomach. “The thing that I stand on is, Clint didn’t have a weapon on him when he was shot and it looked like the baton was placed on his stomach by the officer.”
Another whitness said he saw the whole thing happen and he also said that despite earlier reports, John did not have the officer's baton in his hand.
Former Navajo Nation Council delegate Johnny Descheny said he had just parked in the Wal-Mart lot when he saw Scott and John fighting and that the officer was hitting John with his baton, KOAT-TV reported.
Descheny told KOAT he saw Scott draw his gun when John was about 10 feet away and start shooting.
"Every time the guy got shot, his body just jerked -- just jerked three times. And he just stood there," Descheny said. "That's when the officer went up, aimed at the guy's head and shot him in the head."
Descheny said he earlier tried to go public after seeing news accounts that didn't jibe with what he claims he saw first-hand.
Farmington, New Mexico is no stranger to charges of racism.
Ever since the mutilation murders of three Navajo men by white teens near Farmington in 1974 brought the U.S. Civil Rights Commission to town, along with scores of American Indian protesters, Farmington has struggled with its image.
It will continue to do so if recent events are any indication of where things are at.
When rumors circulated that Indians planned a protest march on July 4 (something city leaders were assured was NOT in fact planned), the police responded with police helicopters and SWAT teams at the parade.
''We were disappointed to see police helicopters and SWAT teams after Navajo leaders told the city there would be no march,'' said Shiprock Chapter President Duane ''Chili'' Yazzie according to the Salt Lake City Tribune. ''It didn't exactly increase our trust or positive feelings.''
The mayor, police chief and other leaders here in the Four Corners' largest commercial hub say they will do everything they can to reassure American Indian neighbors that this is a place that won't tolerate racism and violence.
''We're burdened with a past,'' Farmington Mayor Bill Standley said. ''They have the right to ask if these are isolated incidents or a trend.''
The first article below is from the Santa Fe New Mexican. What follows is a letter that appeared in the Navajo Times.
Navajo council addresses racial tensions
By FELICIA FONSECA
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - Navajo Nation council delegates steered away from talk of boycotting towns surrounding the sprawling reservation because of racial tensions and instead decided to plan memorial marches.
"It's time to remind the people in these border towns that we are human," Delegate Ervin Keeswood Sr. said Monday after the council recessed from its first day of the summer session. "Human rights exist for all races, and especially in this case, for our people _ the Dine."
No dates have been set for the marches.
Relations have been strained since Farmington Police Officer Shawn Scott shot and killed Clint John, 21, of Kirtland on June 10 at a Wal-Mart parking lot. The officer had responded to a report that John was beating his girlfriend.
An investigation by the San Juan County Sheriff's Office in northwest New Mexico found that the shooting was justified. Investigators said John turned on Scott when the officer tried to intercede, then wrestled Scott's police baton and charged at the officer.
But Navajo Attorney General Louis Denetsosie said his office has reviewed the report and has found inconsistencies in testimony, among other things.
"There are more questions raised by the investigation and lots of answers we don't know," he said.
Navajo Council Speaker Lawrence Morgan said a commission has been formed to review racism in the border towns, and data from the study should be ready for the council's review by the fall session.
The council voted Monday to discuss specifics of racial tensions in executive session. They also voted to set aside 1,000 acres of tribal land for corporations to do business on the Navajo Nation.
"If we're not going to be respected in the many ways we've talked about, then we have to create a situation for our people to have this opportunity available to them on our homeland," Keeswood said.
A directive by Delegate Katherine Benally during a recent special session halts tribal funds going to Farmington, which includes contracts the tribe has with the city.
"The council said no more of that," Keeswood said. "If it's ongoing, it's in the process of being stopped."
Officer shot first, asked questions later
This letter is in reference to the shooting of Clint John by Farmington Police Officer Shawn Scott (“Police officer cleared in fatal shooting,” June 29, 2006).
Clint John is not with his family no more but Shawn Scott is considered a local hero by Farmington city officials and the local police departments.
Every day you hear on the news where a police officer had to use his weapon to protect himself from a criminal. The case is usually a minority with a rap sheet, which automatically makes him eligible for execution.
The police officer gets off with a slap on the hand and he’s out on the streets to kill again.
In Mr. Clint John’s case the cover-up stinks to the high heavens. I’m just wondering if the people who had a hand in acquitting Shawn Scott will sleep at night after the real truth starts coming out. No one is above the law no matter who you are.
I’ve read in the local media where Shawn Scott is taking it real hard after taking an innocent life. How about the four-year-old girl who saw her daddy gunned down in cold blood? How is she going to cope with life without a father and who is going to be there for her when she needs fatherly advice?
What will become of her and her mother with their foundation blasted out from under them? Who’s going to correct the wrong that was bestowed upon them?
Shawn Scott is sticking by his story where Clint John relieved him of his baton and attacked him. The media made out Mr. John to be 6’4” inches tall and weighed about 250 lbs. They made out Officer Shawn Scott as a little man who couldn’t handle Mr. John one on one.
The truth is Clint John was 5’9” inches tall to Officer Scott’s 6’1” and he was 190 lbs. to Officer Scott’s 190 lbs.
Officer Scott attacked Mr. John with his baton without waiting for backup. He didn’t encounter no life threatening situation when he first drove up. He had other means to subdue Mr. John but he chose to shoot first and ask questions later.
My question is, why does an officer with 13 years experience not carry a Taser gun and why didn’t he use his pepper spray?
Why didn’t Officer Scott shoot Mr. John in the leg to stop him? Or was his mind on his ex-wife getting married that day, he didn’t care who he shot?
Officer Scott worked with the San Juan County Sheriff’s DEA Department before and why was the sheriff’s department used for the investigation? What part of “conflict of interest” doesn’t the district attorney’s office not understand?
Mr. Clint John’s life wasn’t expendable nor will he be just another notch in Officer Shawn Scott’s gun handle.
I wouldn’t be surprised if my vehicle gets pulled over or I get arrested. But the truth is, as Native Americans we can’t just sit back and let our children be killed by “good ol’ boys.”
We gave up this vast land we call the United States of America and we’re still treated like ducks in a shooting gallery. We all need to reclaim our dignity and protect our young.
Don’t be afraid to speak up because they can’t kill all 4.5 million of us.
Chester C. Clah