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San Jose police officers union says auditor attended ‘anti-police rally,’ calls for his removal

SAN JOSE — The San Jose police officers union doubled down Friday on a campaign against Independent Police Auditor Aaron Zisser, saying that he should step down immediately because he attended an “anti-police rally” earlier this month where officers were “threatened.”
But Aaron Zisser, the independent police auditor, said the police union’s depiction of his brief attendance at a rally seeking justice for an 18-year-old San Jose man killed outside his home by police in 2016 is unfair and inaccurate. Zisser said he briefly met with the group before they started their march and rally in an effort to “let them know I’m hearing their message.”
Aaron Zisser, the new Independent Police Auditor for San Jose, is photographed during his first his public meeting at a PACT event held at Bible Way Christian Center San Jose in San Jose, Calif., on Monday, September 25, 2017. (Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group) 
On July 7, relatives and other community members gathered to protest the fatal police shooting in 2016 of Anthony Nunez, an 18-year-old man who prosecutors determined was suicidal and had pointed a gun at officers before being shot. The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office determined the officers were justified in using lethal force.
The group marched to the San Jose Police Department, where they gathered outside the building and called for justice. At one point, Nunez’s mother singled out the two officers involved in the shooting and said “we’re coming for you. You murdered Anthony Nunez in front of his home.”
At a press conference Friday, the union provided media a photograph showing Zisser with a handful of people standing behind a banner which read “Justice for Anthony Nunez.”  Earlier this month, the civil-rights group Silicon Valley De-Bug posted video of the rally outside the police department on its Twitter page.

Anthony Nuñez's mom leading a rally outside #SJPD on the 2nd anniversary of his death at the hands of police outside his home, he was 18, he was unarmed #protectyourpeople #justiceforanthonynunez
— SV De-Bug (@svdebug) July 7, 2018

“We are here today to condemn an individual, not the office,” said Paul Kelly, president of the union. “Aaron Zisser is soiling the reputation of a city institution time and time again by exhibiting poor judgement, misleading the public and city officials with bogus statistics and participation in a protest rally against the police department that culminated in a threat to police officers caught on video.
Kelly also stated that Zisser should resign and “become a criminal defense attorney or an advocate for those convicted of crimes that are in jail. He has no business continuing the charade of being a neutral third part overseeing this police department.”
Zisser said he made a “quick stop” as the group was gathering blocks away from the police department to “hear their message” and let them know someone in city government is listening. Zisser said he did not make any remarks to the group, and he did not participate in the march to the police department.
“I think it’s important, as often as possible, to go where the community is leading the conversations in more organized ways, rather than convening in my office,” Zisser said. “That’s not always where people feel comfortable sharing what’s on their minds.
“Going into their space, meeting them where they are, that goes a long way to building trust in the community,” Zisser said. “It’s very important my office be trusted in the community.”
Zisser said just because he listens to a community group doesn’t mean he adopts their message.
“I go to SPJD events, a lot of them,” Zisser said. “That doesn’t mean I adopt their message. I hear their message, and hear their challenges.
“I have to hear all views, all sides,” Zisser said. “That is the nature of this job.”
Over the past several weeks the San Jose Police Officers’ Association has launched a campaign to remove Zisser from the job. The union’s calls were first sparked by a controversy that marred the annual police audit report spearheaded by Zisser, which the union, Police Chief Eddie Garcia and several city council members including Mayor Sam Liccardo criticized as distorting certain use-of-force cases. The report did not initially disclose that what appeared to be startling percentages of racial disparities were based on just three arrests.
On July 13, the union again called for Zisser’s termination when his office failed to warn the department about a jailed suspect’s threats to shoot the next officers he encountered on the street.
“I’ve taken my licks and I don’t begrudge the POA for legitimate criticism of me,” Zisser said. “But this is really demonizing families who are most acutely affected by policing. People who most deserve to have their voices heard.”
Raj Jayadev, director of the civil-rights group Silicon Valley De-Bug, said the police union’s most recent claims against Zisser, and the group who gathered to protest the shooting, are “disturbing and insulting.”
“He goes to police events, academy graduations,” Jayadev said of Zisser. “No one is saying that somehow discredits him as being objective.”
Jayadev did not mince works when asked about the possibility of the City Council removing Zisser following the very public campaign by the police officer’s association.
“That essentially ends the notion there could be something as independent civilian police oversight in San Jose, hands down,” Jayadev said. “No candidate would ever consider coming here. They know it would be a total lie, a false position.”
Kelly, the union president, disagrees with that sentiment.
“We don’t want that to happen,” Kelly said. “I want as many people to apply to this position when he’s gone as humanly possible.
“We need someone that has the integrity to be independent in that position,” Kelly said. “That’s all we’re asking. They need to work with our community, and our community needs it. But he’s crossed that line.”

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