This is a remarkable story that first began in June of 2005, when Halema Buzayan was a 16 year old high school student. The incident involved a parking lot incident where an SUV pulled into a parking space at a supermarket and witnesses reporting that it moved close to an adjacent vehicle. When they inspected the vehicle, they found damage and reported it to the police.
In what follows is an amazing tale of webs of corruption and duplicity--not by the family--but by the authorities--the police, the police chief, the district attorney, the city manager, the city council.
There is so much to this story, that I will only be able to hit on key points. After reading this, I would direct everyone to watch the attached video and follow the links for even more background and discussion.
A police officer, Officer Pheng Ly, of the Davis, California police department knocks on the door of a Muslim family. The father is a Libyan exilee. The daughter is an American-born Muslim. And these are wealthy people, their daughter is an honors student active in charities and other activities. Never been in trouble.
The Officer explains about the accident, the family does not recall being in an accident. The Officer asks who is driving, and the mother says she was driving. They inspect the car and they find a long and thin scratch on the vehicle.
The Officer then encourages the family to pay for the damage and suggests that this incident would be over. The family paid, and believed it was done.
Six days later at 9:30 PM, the officer comes back, and has determined based on the fact that the daughter does not wear a headscarf, the mother does, and the witnesses never mentioned a headscarf, that therefore the daughter was lying and was the driver. He arrests her.
The officer has no warrant. This is a misdemeanor arrest of a minor. And he takes her into custody 9:30 PM and refuses to allow the father to bring her the next day. She goes out in only her pajamas. Because the officer had no warrant, he was not permitted to make this type of arrest. Moreover, he gained entry into the home on the guise that he wanted to talk, and then proceeded to arrest the daughter. Again unlawful.
During his interrogation, he reads the minor her rights. She makes a request for an attorney but the officer ignores her request. (For a full discussion of this issue and a look at the transcript click here).
The evidence of wrongdoing is shaky at best. A cursory glance at the damage suggests it does not match. The damage is at different heights. Moreover the paint transfer does not match with white paint appearing on the victim's car and the SUV being blue. Finally, the SUV has a long thin scratch on it and victim's car has a rounded dent. An expert would come to the conclusion there was absolutely no match there.
This incident occurs in June, the father goes before City Council, files complaints with the police, the city manager and they deny his complaints. They are found to be without merit. This leads to a long and drawn out political fight in Davis over police oversight, where the council backs the police and goes after everyone who try to question the police. They even shutdown the Human Relations Commission.
The family eventually hires Matt Gonzalez and Whitney Leigh out of San Francisco to represent them.
The judge upon hearing this case asked the Deputy DA to explain why this case was before him. She told him that they were prosecuting this case because the family was intending to the sue the Davis Police Department.
Finally in April, a conservative Deukmejian appointed judge, dismisses the misdemeanor case because of the restitution paid on the damage. This is a judge that does not dismiss cases, so this extraordinary.
The family wins, right? Nope.
The DA's office unhappy at the bad press they and the police are getting over this issue, ask the judge for permission to release tapes and make statements. (Remember this is a juvenile case and juveniles normally are granted complete privacy in such matters). They argued that since the defense has publicized this case and in their view distorted it (the defense and the family have the right to publicize, not the prosecutor), that they should be entitled to respond. THE JUDGE REJECTED THIS REQUEST.
However, in May, the District attorney took it upon himself to release selected tapes to the local newspaper. They then distorted the complaints against the police to the suggestion that the officer was rude and abusive--he wasn't and that wasn't the complaint.
This led to about a month long bashing of the family in the press. The Mayor of Davis at the time apologized on behalf of the city to the police officer. (When asked to do the same for the teen whose charges were dropped, she explained that she thought "Halema had learned her lesson."
The family has now filed suit in the federal court in Sacramento. They have 20 complaints against the District Attorney, the Police, and the local Newspaper. And 19 causes of action.
All of this over a minor bumper bender in a supermarket parking lot.
For more background of this case please go to:
Buzayan Case Background
Here is a video of the newscast from an investigative reporter Dan Noyes of KGO ABC Channel 7 in San Francisco...