9 arrested after protesting cop's hiring, disrupting city council meeting

City officials said the protesters became so disruptive that the meeting was unable to continue

By Nora Mishanec
San Francisco Chronicle

FAIRFIELD, Calif. — Nine people were arrested Tuesday night after disrupting a Fairfield City Council meeting to protest the appointment of a police officer who was involved in two fatal shootings while working as an officer in Vallejo.

Eight adults were charged with disturbing the peace after an outburst during the meeting, Fairfield police said in a statement. The ninth protester was a 17-year-old minor from Fairfield.

Before they were removed by police, the protesters chanted and voiced their opposition to the 2018 hiring of Fairfield Officer Dustin Joseph, who previously served in the Vallejo Police Department. A video posted to Facebook by a bystander shows police handcuffing and escorting the protesters out of the meeting room.

"Every day Dustin Joseph is on our force is a stain on the essence of our community," one protester is heard saying through a megaphone in the video.

Joseph was involved in two fatal shootings as an officer with the Vallejo Police Department, according to a report by Open Vallejo. The shootings occurred in 2012 and 2013. Vallejo officers have killed 19 people since June 2010 and no officers have been charged in connection to the killings. Vallejo city officials declared a public safety emergency last month intended to speed up reform initiatives for the city's Police Department.

Fairfield Police Chief Deanna Cantrell addressed Joseph's involvement in the 2012 shooting of Mario Romero and allegations that Joseph bent his badge in commemoration of the killing.

The badge bending "was not brought to light prior to Fairfield hiring Officer Joseph in 2018," Cantrell said in a statement. "I understand this is concerning to the community, and I want you to know it is equally concerning to me."

Joseph was removed from active duty on Aug. 14, according to a Police Department spokesman. His removal came two weeks after Vallejo police opened an official inquiry into allegations by a former police captain that some officers bent the tips of their seven-point stars after fatal shootings. Legal experts believe the officers may be exempt from disciplinary action, however, as the state's Peace Officers Bill of Rights sets a one-year deadline on allegations of misconduct.

Addressing Joseph's role in the fatal shooting of Romero, Cantrell said, "Every loss of life is a tragedy," adding that the Solano County district attorney found "no criminal wrongdoing" by officers. Romero, a Black man, died after being struck 30 times by bullets fired by Vallejo officers, who thought his car matched one involved in a shooting a month earlier.

A police dispatcher refused a request to contact Joseph, and the Police Department's spokesperson declined to discuss the matter. The Fairfield Police Officers' Association did not respond to a request for comment.

Jimarielle Bowie, one of the nine people arrested Tuesday, called Joseph's appointment "the tip of the iceberg" and said the protest was about the council's continued failure to address larger issues of police accountability and the homeless crisis.

"The city has refused to be accountable for too long," she said Wednesday.

Bowie and other members of Fairfield Change, the group that organized the protest, have voiced their concerns at City Council meetings since June. The arrests, she said, were disproportionate to the disruption the group caused.

"They could have had us banned or removed, but instead they took us to jail," said Bowie, a law student. "I got a mug shot for going to City Council."

The arrests occurred only after efforts to quiet the protesters failed, said City Attorney Gregory Stepanicich, adding that the council makes an effort to accommodate public comment.

"I have been a city attorney for 40 years, and I have never seen a disruption of this scale where the meeting could not continue," he said.

(c)2020 the San Francisco Chronicle

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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