Wednesday, March 23, 2011

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."


At 1:52 PM, Blogger EP said...

Thanks for posting this. Hard to believe its 30 years, but I have never been able to get this one out of my mind either. I grew up in Long Beach and had to drive through Signal Hill to get back home from school at Poly. I remember being pulled over numerous times by Signal Hill PD with no tickets, but now realize it was a DWB(I'm brown though, not black) due to the questions..."car matches one called in stolen", taillight out (wasn't), etc. I have friends who are police, but I believe there is a code of silence which exists today that allows rogue cops like Jerry Brown to literally get away with murder. I hope you continue to remember this in teaching your class.

Thanks Again,


At 11:12 AM, Blogger JamieB said...

I am from Signal Hill the city within the city (born at St Mary's Long Beach) and grew up and high school in Long Beach. I was young, but I remember this case. I became a paramedic with ego's of our own, but I knowing cops I wonder what happened to Brown and the other "brothers in blue" who covered for him. Makes me wonder if ANY guilt EVER got to him or do they go through life feeling "justified". I wonder if KARMA found them. Did THEY lose children?
I'd like to know their history - divorced? How many times? Abusive to wives and kids? How many others have stories like this?

At 11:15 AM, Blogger JamieB said...

And I have been hasseled by signal hill PD back in the '80's. Just for parking with 2 friends - and doing NOTHING at the lookout. Just for being there - and we were 18 years old and it was only 7pmish. They got us out, searched us, everything. Heck I've never even TOUCHED a cigarette in my life....oh yeah, one was Japanese American but me and my buddy were white males. They harass anyone they don't like, not just minorities

At 1:28 PM, Blogger MeaniJeani Beani said...

Sandra Bland....this is still happening and will continue to. .
We, the people, must stop this insanity

At 12:58 PM, Blogger C. Gray said...

Now we are taking a knee to protest these injustices, but when I realize just how long this madness has prevailed, just taking a knee may not be enough. The Settles case stays with me, as I was a young Black woman living in Long Beach at the time. As a young woman, I was never bothered, or harassed by cops, but had many boyfriends who were. Thankfully, they were not killed, but the humiliation, and disrespect lasts a lifetime.


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