Assault victim’s lawyer fights for 911 tape
June 19, 2010
The lawyer for a developmentally disabled Atascadero man, who was physically assaulted in March by an off-duty San Luis Obispo police officer, is planning on suing Atascadero police to make the 911 call of the incident public.
The victim of the assault, Scott Summers, 50, who is seeking compensation from San Luis Obispo police officer Scott Cramer, claims he can be heard in the background of the tape screaming for help while his stepmother frantically asks police for assistance.
Terry Francke, an attorney with CalAware and a leading advocate on First Amendment issues that support keeping government open and transparent, said that tapes of 911 calls for assistance should be released under normal circumstances and that San Luis Obispo attorney James McKiernan, who is representing Summers, has a fair chance of winning a suit against the Atascadero Police Department.
Both CalCoastNews and McKiernan have filed Freedom of Information Act requests for the tape. McKiernan also is representing CalCoastNews to get the 911 tape released.
“This is a story with keen interest to journalists throughout the state,” Francke said. “McKiernan will have a lot of support if he has to go to the court of appeal.
“This has never been litigated before and it is about time. I can’t think of a better case to show why access to 911 tapes serves the cause of justice.”
In the Atascadero Police Department’s response, which refused to release the tape to CalCoastNews, Ann Jutras, the department’s support services supervisor, contends that it does not have to release the tape because there was an investigation into the incident and that it is protecting the privacy rights of the victims.
McKiernan, the attorney, disagreed, noting that Summers and the 911 caller have both provided signed releases.
In addition, according to the incident report, the case is closed, Atascadero police noted in its report on the incident.
In a subsequent phone interview in which CalCoastNews asked how the department, which has released 911 tapes to the media in the past, determined which tapes to release, Jutras said it was up to Police Chief James Mulhall’s discretion which tapes the public can have access to.
The incident report said that a physical altercation occurred as the result of a traffic incident and that neither party requested prosecution of the other.
On March 18, Summers, who lives in a disabled housing facility, was pleased when a local auto repair shop loaned him a BMW to temporarily replace his old truck, which was being repaired.
Summers said he was surprised when the owner of a red truck he passed on Old Morro Road East began racing up to his bumper. But he wasn’t worried, because he was only a few blocks from his parents’ home.
In an interview with CalCoastNews, he readily admitted that he whipped around the slow moving truck on a blind corner in the rural neighborhood.
Once at his father’s home, Summers said he had just sat down on the couch when a man started walking down the long steep driveway. His father then asked his son to find out what the man wanted.
Cramer, the off-duty San Luis Obispo police officer, began yelling at Summers, saying, “You think you are someone special because you drive a BMW?”
Before he could answer, Summers said Cramer punched him three times in the Adam’s apple, once in the side, and than threw him through a closed storm door breaking out the glass and tearing the door from its hinges.
Inside the house, his panicked stepmother called 911.
Summers claimed he was screaming for help and for someone to call 911. Cramer, Summers said, was hanging onto his foot as he laid across the doorway when he announced he was a police officer.
Cramer subsequently apologized for his actions, saying that he just found out that a relative had cancer and that he had his 8-year-old son in the car, witnesses said.
He then left before Atascadero police arrived after providing his address.
Summers told Atascadero police officer Aaron Brown he did not want to press charges as long as Cramer paid for the damages. At present, Cramer, also an Atascadero resident, has not paid for the damages.
The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office declined prosecution after reviewing the four-sentence police report, which failed to provide Cramer’s name or occupation.
Atascadero police Sgt. Jeff Wilshusen said that a supplemental report provided to the District Attorneys office said Cramer claimed the physical altercation was “mutual.”
McKiernan asserts that releasing the 911 tape will help confirm Summers’ version of events that day.