☛ TS Judge tosses Douglas, Zanotti manslaughter charges
Legal and police experts have called the indictments unprecedented, as they targeted the incident's commanders and none of the officers who fired the fatal shots.
The case has captured the attention of law enforcement agencies across the nation, many of which worried a conviction of Douglas and Zanotti could set a precedent that would send shock waves throughout the law enforcement community.
Feeney began Tuesday's hearing by saying he believed the grand jury indicted without sufficient probable cause to establish that the defendants had committed an illegal act or a lawful act in a criminally negligent manner.
Feeney said he found Gallegos' jury instructions on exigent circumstances -- or the presence of an imminent threat necessitating prompt action -- to be inadequate....
”I do find the indictments were not supported by probable cause,” he said. “The entry into Ms. Moore's apartment, even without a warrant, was lawful given her brandishing a flare gun at officers and her threats to burn down the building.”
Feeney went on to say he felt there was no evidence to show that Douglas or Zanotti acted in an aggravated or reckless manner, that Gallegos presented insufficient evidence to show the defendants failed to adequately supervise the SWAT and negotiations teams, and that he never advised the grand jury that Moore had committed a felony in brandishing the flare gun at officers.
After the hearing, defense attorneys said they were pleased with the ruling.
”I'm satisfied with the result because it's the correct result -- the legally correct result,” said William Rapoport, who was representing Zanotti in the matter. “(This case has) destroyed a huge part of these men's lives for the last nine months, and it's time they got some relief. ... They've had a cloud hanging over their heads for no good reason other than someone's political aspirations.”
Gallegos said he respects the court's ruling in this difficult case but disagrees with it.
While he has the option of re-filing the charges in a criminal complaint and bringing them to a preliminary hearing, Gallegos said he would have to “digest” the court's ruling before determining how to proceed.
If he feels the heart of the court's decision was based on the facts of the case and the law, Gallegos said he would likely let Feeney's decision be the end of it. But, if he feels Feeney's decision had more to do with his errors instructing the grand jury, Gallegos said he would feel obligated to proceed with a criminal complaint.
”I think my position has to be, whether I like it or not, that if the facts are there and the law is there, I have to proceed,” Gallegos said. “I owe it to the family.”
UH, Paul - the Judge just told you. The facts ARE NOT there. The LAW is NOT there.
☛ ER Judge throws out involuntary manslaughter case
Feeney said the indictments the grand jury handed down to Douglas and Zanotti in December 2007 weren’t supported by probable cause. Insufficient evidence regarding the former leaders’ alleged failure to oversee other law enforcement was also presented to the grand jury, Feeney said, and instructions given on “exigent circumstances” were inadequate.
The grand jury should have also been instructed on justifiable homicide by law enforcement officials, Feeney said....
Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos argued that exigent circumstances, which allow law enforcement to legally enter a building or residence without a warrant if people are in imminent danger or threatened, didn’t exist, as the apartment building wasn’t evacuated, law enforcement’s command center was in the same building and the gas to the structure wasn’t shut off.
If the court says, as a matter of law, exigent circumstances were present, that’s different than the officers believing the situation fit the definition, Gallegos said. And, if faulty instructions on exigent circumstances were given to the grand jury, Gallegos said he may file charges against Douglas and Zanotti.
While he respects the court’s decision, Gallegos said he disagreed and pointed to the grand jury transcripts, which included interviews with negotiators, mental health officials, the officers involved in the shooting and others.
Attorney William Bragg, who along with William Rapaport and Greg Rael, represented Douglas and Zanotti, said he expected the dismissal, adding the case shouldn’t have been one in the first place. He cited overwhelming case evidence on the defense’s side and said Feeney made the decision based on the law.
The defense attorneys filed motions starting in June seeking to have the case dismissed. The motions stated Gallegos misrepresented the law to the grand jury and didn’t provide evidence that would have helped justify the men’s decisions in the standoff.
Gallegos said there’s no set timeline on when and if he’ll file charges against Douglas and Zanotti, as he used a group process to make such big decisions and would speak to other district attorneys. “There’s no reason to be hasty,” he said.
One can only imagine the last minute email that went out on this one!