Body Cam Footage Shows SDPD Officer Gave False Testimony in Homeless Case


As he was testifying in court about a citation he had issued a homeless man, San Diego Police Officer Colin Governski set the scene: When he approached Tony Diaz, Diaz was sleeping in the back of his truck in a public parking lot on Mission Bay.

Diaz was challenging a citation he’d received for vehicle habitation. So the officer’s testimony that he was observed sleeping in the truck was crucial.

The problem: It wasn’t true.

The judge found Diaz guilty of the infraction. But Diaz’s lawyer appealed the case, and then the city attorney’s office found body camera footage of the incident.

It revealed Governski had given false testimony under oath multiple times about the encounter. The footage directly contradicted his description of what happened and backed up Diaz’s account that Governski approached him as he was leaving a public restroom.

The deputy city attorney on the case, Steven Hansen, notified Diaz’s lawyer and filed a motion to throw out the conviction. Hansen did not, however, alert the San Diego Police Department that Governski had given false testimony in court.

A spokesman for the city attorney’s office said he notified SDPD last week – after I contacted him for this story, and several weeks after the discovery of the footage.

The same officer has been in trouble before for his conduct toward homeless San Diegans.

On Aug. 15, 2015, Governski and another officer, both members of SDPD’s quality of life team, arrived at a public park on Mission Bay near the Bahia Hotel, and began rousing people who were sleeping in a tent and in a camper, body camera footage shows. Eventually, Goversnki splits away and walks over to a public bathroom, and comes upon Diaz as he’s exiting.

From the outset, Governski insists that Diaz has been living out of his vehicle illegally, and that he’s been generating complaints from residents and Bahia guests. Diaz replies that he couldn’t be the source of complaints, because he had only just arrived at the park to use the restroom. Governski initially tells Diaz to consider their interaction a warning, but immediately changes his mind and issues him a citation for vehicle habitation. Throughout the encounter, the footage shows, Diaz repeats that he only just arrived at the park to use the restroom.

The same disagreement played out in Superior Court on June 3, 2016.

But Governski, on the witness stand, changed a key fact about the interaction.

While under oath, Governski said, “I contacted Tony in the back of his camper,” and “On the date of the violation on the ticket, Aug. 25, 2015, he was sleeping in the back,” according to transcripts of the testimony.

Superior Court Commissioner John Blair asked Governski directly: “When you first made contact with Mr. Diaz, he was sleeping in the back of the vehicle on the date of the violation. Is that correct?” Governski answered: “Yes.”

Diaz told the court that when Governski approached him, he’d just pulled up at the public bathroom. Governski contacted him as he exited the restroom, Diaz testified.

Diaz testimony:

The body camera footage was not introduced during the trial. SDPD policy says that officers should include a note on citations indicating the violation in question was captured on camera. Diaz’s citation did not include such a note.

“I know the guy’s lying. And truly, my situation is, ‘What am I going to do?’” Diaz recalled of hearing Governski’s testimony. “I do my best to stay out of the way, stay out of trouble. I’ve had drug problems. I’ve had problems in the past. But right now, I’m making due the best I can. And for him to lie over an infraction like this, it’s like, what if it was actually something serious? How can you trust an officer like that? You can’t.”

Diaz told me he does sleep in his vehicle at night but has the permission of a local business to park in its lot, off city streets. That puts Diaz in an impossible situation, his attorney said: Because there’s evidence he lives in his vehicle, he can potentially cited any time he ventures onto a public street, even if he doesn’t actually sleep in his car in public.

Blair, the court commissioner, found Diaz guilty. He agreed to suspend $100 of the $280 fine, and to allow Diaz to work off the remaining $180 through volunteer work.

But Coleen Cusack, Diaz’s attorney, was eager to challenge the underlying law for which Diaz had been cited, the city code that says it’s illegal to live or sleep overnight in one’s vehicle. A similar law in Los Angeles was struck down by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2014. Cusack filed an appeal, arguing the law is unconstitutional.

That triggered a review by the San Diego city attorney’s office. When Hansen, the deputy city attorney, reviewed the case, he discovered body camera footage that backed up Diaz’s version of events. He filed a motion to vacate Diaz’s conviction earlier this month.

“The video is exculpatory evidence because it contradicts the officer’s testimony and corroborates Appellant’s testimony. The video undermines the officer’s credibility and removes a major pillar of the case against Appellant, an allegation that he was found sleeping in the back of his truck,” Hansen wrote in the motion.

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5618 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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