THE ATHWAL BROTHERS: FROM AN AMERICAN DREAM TO A CONTINUING NIGHTMARE PART II

brigit-fladager-da-stanislaus-county
Stanislaus DA Birgit Fladager is responsible for the raids described in this story

(Original article from www.policeabuse.com)

(Continued from Part I)

Kamau’s credentials as a nationally respected authority in policing were first established when he earned a position on the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office’s Red Team, an elite undercover detective arm that targeted career felons. Kamau was cited for his extraordinary service, in which he had a direct hand in the arrest and conviction of nearly 300 suspects and recovered more than $500,000 in stolen property as part of the multi-jurisdictional unit.

As such, his opinions about the treatment of the Athwal brothers runs contrary to what he learned while serving as a highly decorated member of one of the nation’s most prestigious undercover units.

Before that chilly March morning, two years had passed since Kauffman disappeared in 2012. According to statements police issued to news media, a hunter discovered Kauffman’s body last October, in nearby Stanislaus National Forest.

Soon afterward, Woody, 38, was charged with Kauffman’s murder. In his April 10, Pre-Trial Hearing, in Stanislaus County Superior Court, prosecutors received a continuance until later this month. No date was set for the next Hearing.

Woody’s attorney is Modesto-based Bruce R. Perry. Before the April 10 Hearing, Perry, through his secretary, declined to speak with Policeabuse.com writeruntil learning, “whether (he) will be able to keep the (Woody’s) case.”

Policeabuse.com has placed repeated calls for comment to Fladager, Carol Shipley, the Assistant District Attorney for Media Relations and Teresa Clayton, her aide. None of them have responded. Policeabuse.com attempted to schedule in-person interviews in Modesto with all of them, but without success.

Less than two weeks after the March, 2014, raids, an assistant to the Turlock Police Chief, Robert Jackson, said, “this is an open case, so the chief will have to pass this on (the request for an interview), to the District Attorney’s office.”

Several days later, Chief Jackson responded to Policeabuse.com‘s second interview request. “I don’t want to be misleading, I just want to get you (as a journalist), to the right people,” he said.

The chief went on: “This is kind of tricky, its a unique case; it really isn’t our case

to investigate. We had only two officers who helped with the investigation and were engaged in it, but this is the case of the Stanislaus County Sheriffs Department.” With emphasis, he said, “we’re not the ones who served the warrants.”

Attempting to explain his officers’ involvement, he said, “I can understand the Athwal’s feelings.” Then he asked, “did they call you (Policeabuse.com) on this?”

Receiving an affirmative response, he said, “I don’t know the details (of the (‘investigation’); the District Attorney and the Sheriff’s Department are the primary investigative agencies.”

Seeming to distance himself from the controversy roiled up by the rampage, wanton destruction of merchandise and valuable items taken by officers, he said, “I hope the Athwals get some clarity. We’re the good guys here. If our men did anything wrong, I’ll be happy to investigate (them).”

Yet officers under his command rebuffed the family’s repeated efforts to file charges alleging his officers misconduct, the Athwal’s said. On March 7, according to the Athwals, one officer told them to file charges at the department’s headquarters. But afterward, in a telephone message, a sergeant claimed he “cannot write a report,” the Athwals said.

Three days later, on March 10, Lieutenant Miguel Pacheco told the Athwals he couldn’t file a report, which was also the claim received by the family that day from an officer at the Sheriffs headquarters.

Undaunted, the Athwals contacted the District Attorney’s office. “The District Attorney’s office does not take reports,” the Athwals were told.

The Athwals again attempted to file a report with the Turlock Police Department–on March 11, 13 and 14–but to no avail. One officer, who identified himself only as Joseph, said, “Turlock police had nothing to do with this.” He then referred them to Fladager’s Chief Investigator, Daniel Inderbitzen and Adam Christenson.

Kamau, commenting on the “police attack,” said, “irrespective of the motives of District Attorney’s, whether political or linked to unknown reasons, these tactics run counter to the standards and guidelines for suspect interviews and investigative purposes as defined by the International Association of Police Chiefs and other oversight bodies.”

Continuing to explain, Kamau added, “no matter the reason, none of these police behaviors were supported by law or policy. The deliberate refusal to properly receive complaints undermines the credibility of the prosecutor’s claims against the Athwal brothers.”

A properly managed investigation, Kamau said, “would not have included deliberately damaging property, highly inappropriate and abusive language and deliberate attempts to undermine a family’s ability to support itself through its business operation.”

Through spokesmen, Kamau noted, “police investigators claim that none of this happened.” Policeabuse.com, however, “has taken witness statements supported by affidavits saying that they most certainly did.”

As a result, Kamau continued, “nothing said by prosecutor’s can be trusted because they haven’t properly investigated the complaints against the prosecutor’s investigators. Rather, they simply proclaimed themselves innocent and accused the Athwals of complaining, as a strategy to derail the prosecution without supplying a single shred of evidence to support this baseless claim.”

This argument, Kamau said, ” is circular and leaves the Athwal brothers with no where to go. If they don’t complain, the abuse will continue. But if they do complain, prosecutors will accuse them of leveraging the complaints as a strategy to thwart a proper and legitimate prosecution.” This line of argument is preposterous and fair-minded people easily see through it, Kamau said.

The District Attorney and the Sheriffs Department, Kamau charged, “want to destroy a successful minority-owned business. As such he said, “there is a race and class component to this prosecution. Low-income whites, African Americans and people of color like the Athwals are neon targets for these kinds of prosecutions which zero in on one’s ability to earn a living as part of the case he pointed out.

“Starving a business of sorely needed revenue can force targets to accept a plea or offer evidence,” he noted. “Extorting a plea like this would not be tolerated in a high income business community. If the Athwal’s liquor stores were owned by affluent, well connected Modesto citizens, these behaviors would not be brushed off by Stanislaus County’s political, social and economic elites–there would be outrage.”

In contrast, Kamau said, “it is abundantly clear that they are trying to drive Baljit out of business, in part because he is considered insignificant. He is a dark man, from India, who is not connected to political power sufficient to stop this wholly unjustified assault on his family.”

Moreover, Kamau said, “the District Attorneys abusive and unprofessional treatment of the Athwals strongly suggests a racial component to the repeated actions of the police assigned to her office. Telling Baljit’s wife that he is an adulterer sleeping with prostitutes appears designed to humiliate and ridicule the family in a manner recognized in minority communities. The affront to the dignity of the father of the household is deliberate and intended to cause a special type of pain and embarrassment.”

Policeabuse.com, Kamau said, “is also appalled that Fladager and her police unit have harassed attorney Frank Carson. However, the key distinction, he said, is “the enormous financial, physical, psychological and emotional damage inflicted on the Athwals. Given a choice between targeting the Athwals or Carson, Fladager obviously believes they are the easier and most vulnerable of the two targets.”

Fladager and her men, Kamau said, “hope to beat something, anything at all, out of Baljit; they know they can’t go toe to toe with an attorney, especially one of Frank Carson’s stature.”

Police broke down a door at one of Carson’s properties and seized his daughter’s computer, but have since returned it. Although Carson, his family and friends weren’t subjected to comparable abuse, intimidation and harassment, Kamau said “police and the prosecutor are inflicting as much damage on him, but in a different form: Among voters, in the political arena, where Fladager can smear him and sully his reputation.”

“The District attorney and her police unit,” Kamau added, “have attacked the Pop N Cork stores to exhaust the Athwal’s resources, and because they can. They think if they squeeze hard enough, they’ll get something.”

If these officers, Kamau said, “begin going door to door in Frank Carson’s neighborhood to harass his family, friends and clients, then, and only then, will I believe that the suspects are being treated equally regardless of race. But this inconsistent, hostile, investigation is tailored to hurt the targets where they are most vulnerable. For Carson it is political for the Athwals it is financial.”

Carson said he intends to respond to the District Attorney’s allegations, but not immediately. For the moment, he said, “the Athwals are honest men, of the highest integrity and in every sense of the word.”

Some 24 days after the raids, Kamau left a message for Bunch, “warning him against further harassment. Policeabuse.com intends to file a bar complaint against the District Attorney and a personnel complaint against you. If you walk into either of Mr. Athwal’s stores, everything you say will be recorded; you are not to ask him any questions,” Kamau said.

The Athwals, Kamau told Bunch, “do not want to speak to you, if you must speak to anyone (regarding this matter), speak to me, they are my clients.”

The officers who seized the brothers cellphones and culled more than 100 names and telephone numbers, from them, according to Baljit Athwal, “continue to call our friends and business associates and threaten and harass them.”

In the weeks following the raids, the Athwals and as many as 40 relatives and friends held four protests to dramatize the police conduct coordinated by the District Attorney. Their first was on March 8, at the Turlock Police Department’s headquarters. The second was convened four days later, in front of Fladager’s office in Modesto, on March 12; the third followed in Sacramento, the state capital, on March 21. The fourth was organized on April 10, once more on the sidewalk in front Fladager’s Modesto office.

Two days before the fourth protest, Bunch, in a statement presumably prepared by Fladager’s media relations assistant, accused the “suspects” (it apparently referred to the Athwals) of “vigorously obstructing justice and misdirecting the investigation since 2012.” On that day, Modesto’s American Legion Post 74 honored Bunch with its Public Safety, “Criminal Investigator of the Year” award.

Since 2010, however, some 40 citizen complaints alleging abuse have been filed against Bunch. In an April 11 comment for the Modesto Bee, Inderbitzen implied that the Athwals are waging a campaign, through Kamau’s efforts, to conceal alleged guilt.

“A lot of people will try to take the offensive and think that will have some kind of bearing on the criminal investigation, but a police administrative investigation would take a different track than a criminal investigation. There is no way we would dispense of any part of a criminal investigation because of a complaint.”

Curiously, Inderbitzen charged, “it is not uncommon for subjects of criminal investigations to file complaints against officers with the belief that it will slow or stop” (them).

Kamau retorted, “why didn’t Inderbitzen cite a single example to support this patently false claim? Hardly any prosecution targets force police to provide evidence, instead, they do the exact opposite: If resources permit, they rely on lawyers to dis-entangle them from false charges brought by overzealous prosecutors.”

Most investigators connected to prosecutor’s offices, Kamau explained, “wouldn’t dare go this far in taking these kinds of liberties to investigate an alleged crime.”

Fladager, Kamau noted, “has only one source for their so-called “information” –the current suspect, which conveniently dove-tails with her political agenda, which is re-election.”

Through this “investigation,” Kamau said, “she can tie her most formidable political opponent to a murder rap, even though jail house snitches are notoriously unreliable in providing honest and accurate statements.

Such “witnesses,” Kamau added, “will implicate anyone, at anytime to barter good or better deals in negotiating with desperate prosecutors seeking to win high visibility convictions.”

If Fladager had a “thick” case, Kamau said, “she would have brought it long ago.” This case, he said, “isn’t even a thin one.”

Bunch, in an earlier Modesto Bee article, told Erin Tracey, the writer, that anyone with information about Kaufman’s death can call him anonymously to report it and may be eligible for a “cash award.”

1 Comment

  1. It will be a great day when the day comes for the DA to have to arrest their star witnesses for the murder of Corey Kauffman. As for “Special” agent Bunch, well you can keep up with him from his own prison cell as he writes his series of fictional drama.

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