By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
As described in police reports and by his companion, Callis spent the evening of January 14, 1997, at an Econo Lodge on Washington Boulevard. He ate dinner, sipped brandy and smoked crack cocaine until around midnight, when the pair packed their bags to leave. Callis was dressed in a two-piece track suit.
Unbeknownst to the two, a Culver City squad car had stopped outside the motel to question a pedestrian. While one officer conducted a brief interview, the other, Officer Jim Raetz, strolled toward the motel and noticed Callis’ door open and then close. Raetz decided to see what was up.
Inside the room, according to Callis‘ friend, Cheryl Jones, Callis spotted the approaching officer. Callis had done time for a drug offense, and Jones had twice been convicted of forgery, so the police could not have been welcome that night.
Officer Raetz said the door opened a second time just as he arrived, and he and Callis were face to face. According to Raetz, he asked Callis if everything was all right, and Callis said, ”Yeah.“ Raetz then looked past Callis and spotted a cocaine rock sitting atop a small refrigerator. The officer said Callis then grabbed him by the arm, pulled him into the room, shouted, ”Not now, motherfucker,“ and ran into the night.
Jones tells a different story. According to Jones, Callis opened the door just as Raetz arrived and simply walked past without saying a word. She testified that the officer turned and followed him, leaving her alone in the room.
At that point, everyone agrees, the chase was on. Callis fled from the Econo Lodge and into the street, then across Washington Boulevard and onto a side street. Raetz followed on foot and was soon joined by Officer Randy Robertson. As both closed in on Callis, each delivered blows with his baton to Callis’ legs, finally dropping him. Callis got back to his feet, and Raetz and Robertson each sprayed him twice with pepper spray until Callis began to retreat.
At this point, three more officers arrived, including Sergeant Harvey Bailey. Callis‘ companion Cheryl Jones, who testified that she watched the altercation from the street, said the officers surrounded him, clubbing him until he went down. ”He was going in circles, just in agony and pain, from being sprayed and hit with batons, and it was several police officers surrounding him.“
The officers testified that Callis was struck only while running. They also said he was striking back at the officers and threatening them, but the only independent witness, a Washington Boulevard resident named Juan Esparza, disputed that. ”He was just defending himself,“ Esparza said in a statement. ”I didn’t see him trying to throw down with the cops.“
The police agreed, however, that one officer got out more pepper spray and sprayed Callis heavily, driving him to his knees. Callis then made a critical mistake, according to Sergeant Bailey. ”Callis went to one knee and began to reach for his waistband.“ (Police later found that Callis was carrying a pager.)
That was enough for Bailey. He ordered another dose of pepper spray and then directed the officers to swarm Callis. After the four officers piled on, Callis was subdued, then cuffed with his wrists behind his back, and then had his ankles bound and strapped to the handcuffs. Culver City officers refer to the device as a ”hobble“; other departments call it a hog-tie.
Thus restrained, Callis was loaded into the back of a squad car and driven to the Culver City police station. Time of death was disputed -- it was either in the car or upon his arrival -- but Callis was already dead by the time paramedics arrived at the station soon after midnight.
Attorneys for Culver City argued that Callis had brought his fate upon himself by smoking cocaine and by running from the police, and the jury agreed in part, decreasing the verdict against the city by 60 percent. But they awarded the full amount in judgment against Sergeant Bailey, holding that there was no need for the final gang tackle of Callis.
”He was surrounded by seven officers; he was on the ground,“ attorney Carol Watson said in an interview. ”They all jumped on. They just simply squeezed the life out of him.“
Culver City decided to indemnify Bailey and is thus liable for the full judgment. The judge said he will issue a ruling as to the exact amount.
Watson‘s co-counsel Steffeny Holtz emphasized in an interview that the officers never intended for Callis to die -- but they didn’t much care if he did, either. ”I don‘t think they murdered him intentionally. I think it’s a case of poor training by the department,“ Holtz said. She noted that middle-class whites rarely face excessive force at the hands of the police, in part because people with means are more likely to sue. ”That‘s why they don’t come into my neighborhood and haul people out of their rooms and beat them. But with Mexicans and poor blacks, they‘re just not worth any money.“