Beneath the city manager heading on the city of Fresno website, there’s a page devoted to the Office of Independent Review.
Which begs the question: Independent from what, exactly? Certainly not the police department it is charged with auditing.
All the proof anyone needs was provided by “Independent” Police Reviewer John Gliatta. He admitted, during a recent Fresno Commission for Police Reform subcommittee meeting, that he buried his findings concerning a Fresno cop that beat the daylights out of a teenager because he feared they could cause community unrest.
Even worse: Gliatta’s statement didn’t come across as much of an admission. Gliatta practically boasted about his actions and having the authority to act as he pleases.
This is what being manipulated feels like, Fresno. To think Gliatta pledged to increase public trust in law enforcement when Mayor Lee Brand hired him in 2017.
Let’s review the timeline: The incident involving Fresno Police Department Officer Christopher Martinez and 17-year-old London Wallace occurred Jan. 23, 2019, on the second floor of the Fenix Apartments near downtown Fresno.
It took eight months for the altercation to come to light. Wallace’s family filed a lawsuit and his attorneys gave local media outlets police body-cam footage showing Martinez repeatedly pummeling Wallace in the face while the teenager posed no apparent threat.
During the public outcry that followed, then-Police Chief Jerry Dyer gave assurances that everyone’s questions and concerns would be answered.
More than a year later, we’re still waiting.
Which protest, Black or Blue?
According to Gliatta’s records, his office was assigned to review the Wallace case on July 22, 2019. (Interestingly, that’s a month before the public saw the video.) He completed the report May 20, 2020 — again, according to his own records — which would’ve allowed ample time to publish the findings in the 2020 second-quarter report that he submitted July 20 to the city manager.
Except Gliatta sat on them. Why? Because, as he told subcommittee members in the Sept. 16 video call, “I thought it would cause some issues within the community. So I waited.”
I offered Gliatta a chance to further explain his rationale. He did not return my email, leaving us to interpret as we please.
First of all the timeline doesn’t make sense. Fresno’s largest Black Lives Matter protest, when more than 3,000 peacefully marched through downtown, took place May 31. Gliatta’s second-quarter report came out nearly two months later. Plenty of time for tensions to ease.
Or perhaps the protest that concerned Gliatta was the Blue Lives Matter event on July 23 at City Hall — three days after his report’s release.
Any unpleasant details and recommendations from Gliatta’s findings surely would’ve spoiled the mood.
Chummy relationship with Fresno PD
In case you’re wondering, my suggestion that Fresno’s police auditor and its police department have a chummy relationship is intentional. Because they do.
Three months ago, I wrote about how substantive police reform is a tough ask in Fresno due to the pervasive influence of the Fresno Police Officers Association.
It included my usual critique of the Office of Independent Review: that Fresno’s police auditor lacked subpoena power and the ability to initiate investigations.
The following day, Gliatta responded with an email stating he had full authority to serve subpoenas during his 27 years with the FBI but has never needed them in his current role.
Why? Because his “working relationship” with the FPD gives him “the level of access” he requires.
Isn’t that nice?
Even so, I won’t join the chorus of activists calling for Gliatta’s head. His reports are thorough, and some of his recommendations have become department policy. He didn’t craft the duties and responsibilities of his office; our politicians did.
If Fresno citizens want actual independent oversight over police misconduct, the onus falls on them to demand it.