The Lonesome Death of Ron Settles
Every once in a while you rediscover a story that's pointed and relevant, and it is one that you happened to be connected to in a tangential way. The memory was triggered by a question about the so-called "code of silence" in my criminal justice ethics class I'm teaching.
It's been thirty years more or less since Ron Settles was killed in the Signal Hill jail.
This is one of those stories that deserves to be remembered everywhere law enforcement gathers.
Ron Settles was a pretty good running back with good prospects at what ended up becoming my alma mater, California State University-Long Beach back in 1981.
Settles was stopped for speeding in Signal Hill and arrested by police officer Jerry Brown.
Something happened that day-few people know what it was, and those who do aren't saying.
Settles, being uncooperative, was transported to the Signal Hill jail, where he was booked on a litany of makeweight charges. Two hours later he was found dead, allegedly having hung himself.
A coroner's jury found that he had died at the hands of another, and a subsequent second autopsy by the Suffolk County New York medical examiner's office concluded that he'd probably been killed by a chokehold.
Although there was a financial settlement in the case, nobody was ever prosecuted for the death of Ron Settles and the case remains unsolved. The officers involved, like the Mafia dons of an earlier era, all availed themselves of the 5th amendment's protections against self incrimination.
Not that long after Ron died, another black man I only knew as Bobby, a Viet Nam veteran and friend of Flemmer Clark, was arrested in Signal Hill at the Oil Patch where he'd gone to get some lunch, on an outstanding warrant of a minor nature and lodged in the same jail where he died of a heart attack. He'd had an appointment to see a VA cardiologist that he never made.
An unlucky coincidence? Perhaps. But as Tony Hillerman's fictional detective Joe Leaphorn always said. "If you believe in coincidence you're not looking close enough."