Angry Citizens Seek to Closely Monitor Police

Times Staff Writer

Southeast San Diego residents, angry at what they regard as recent police abuses, urged Thursday night that the city create a citizens’ review board to more closely monitor the Police Department.

That oft-repeated recommendation came during an emotion-filled meeting at Lincoln High School at which residents described many incidents of harassment or physical abuse by street officers.

Ranking members of the Police Department were present and listened intently but did not speak during the gathering, attended by about 400 people, most of them blacks and Latinos.

“This is the only community I know of where you have to call the police to stop the police from beating you,” said one speaker, Roberto Martinez.


Black leaders have said that complaints to the Urban League of police brutality and excessive force have increased tenfold since March 31, when officer Thomas Riggs was shot and killed during an altercation in Southeast San Diego. The suspect arrested in the case, 23-year-old Sagon Penn, is black.

Some in San Diego’s minority communities contend that, since Riggs’ death, many patrol officers have exhibited a “get-tough” policy in which mostly young people, particularly blacks, are harassed and detained by officers, without good cause.

Thursday night’s meeting was held in no small measure because of what some say are eroding relations between the Police Department and minority neighborhoods. The meeting was organized by Southeast San Diego clergymen.

Among the most emotional speakers was Robert Holden, whose son Wayne Douglas Holden was shot to death Tuesday after he wielded a knife and lead police on a wild foot chase through San Carlos.


Holden screamed at police administrators, pointed his finger accusingly at them, and said that his son was “murdered” by police offers. He drew a standing ovation from a majority of the audience after vowing that “the City of San Diego is going to pay dearly for what they did to my son.”

Sagon Penn’s father, Thomas Penn, also spoke and commended those who had organized the meeting and those who attended it.

“I hate that every time there is a resurrection there has to be a crucifixion,” Penn said in obvious reference to his son’s arrest. Sagon Penn is in jail awaiting trial.

“Please come together as a community . . . to stop some of this foolishness,” the elder Penn begged.


Several citizens advocated establishing a citizens’ review board, but they did not specify who should become members.

Among those present were the Police Department’s No. 2 man, Assistant Police Chief Robert Burgreen; Deputy Police Chief Norm Stamper; the Rev. Robert Ard, president of the Black Leadership Council; Kathy Rollins, executive director of the Black Federation; Rudy Johnson, executive director of the San Diego Urban League, and Councilman William Jones.