Black and Blue
By Tommy A. Purvis
Penny Trent’s desperate call for help as a long suffering victim of domestic violence was allegedly answered with police misconduct run rampant.
The innocent and unarmed 52-year-old battered woman—who was the subject of a “welfare check” by the San Bernardino County Sheriff Department (SBCSD) in Apple Valley on June 3 of last year—was shot, unlawfully arrested and exposed to mild forms of torture during a cruel interrogation. A civil complaint filed on behalf of Trent in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California further alleges the agency illegally secured a search warrant for a civil liabilities investigation of her residence during an unlawful nine hour detention.
Her nightmare came to an end being put back in the same dangerous household with an increasingly volatile man. Her husband Wayne Trent, Sr.—who had already been placed under arrest and secured in the back of a squad car before Penny was shot—was later released from SBCSD custody at Victor Valley Community Hospital. The San Bernardino County District Attorney (DA) did not charge him for bruises found on his wife.
Protect and Serve?
“The Penny Trent case is the culmination of everything law enforcement does wrong wrapped up in one package,” Jerry Steering, the Newport beach based counsel for Trent who specializes in police misconduct, told the Weekly. “This case is the textbook example of the tug-of-war taking place between victims of police misconduct that have legal rights under the Constitution, and the organized effort of police agencies to shield themselves from criminal and civil liability, as well public ridicule.”
On three separate occasions—from late in the Sunday afternoon of June 3 last year into the early hours of the next morning—the SBCSD violated Trent’s Fourth Amendment rights, Steering told the Weekly. Deputy Carolyn Chadwell fired her 9mm service revolver at the domestic violence victim twice for no sound reason, at close range. Then the department illegally arrested her for being in the line of unjustified fire. The final violation came through the illegal search of her residence to defend the deputy and agency from future criminal or civil liability.
The civil complaint further seeks two more federal claims; one for the failure of the SBCSD to properly “hire,” “fire” and “discipline” deputies, and another claim for not training them “to handle the usual and recurring situations which with they must deal with as sworn peace officers.” Additional California state law violations include the “intentional infliction of emotional distress” and “abuse of process.”
Steering is seeking $15 million from San Bernardino County for the far reaching unconstitutional treatment of Trent. A request made to the San Bernardino County Department of Risk Management found that civil litigation settlements from the SBCSD misconduct has resulted in nearly $10 million being paid out to 169 victims since ‘10.
The officer involved shooting (OIS) investigation of the Penny Trent shooting was the subject of an interoffice memorandum to San Bernardino County Assistant DA Gary Roth from Chief Deputy DA Mary Ashley on February 13. The analysis and conclusion of the “non-lethal officer-involved shooting” found in the last paragraph of the eight page document that was not made available to the Weekly until mid-July reports that Chadwell “fired shots to protect herself from what she perceived to be an immediate danger.”
Based on the “totality of the circumstances” the DA was left to conclude “there is insufficient evidence to prove her actions were an unreasonable use of force in self-defense.”
An examination of DA press releases by the Weekly found that there have been at least 28 OIS investigations for 15 fatal and 13 non-fatal since June of ‘11. In each conclusion it was found the law enforcement officer was acting in self defense.
The Statement of Facts in the Penny Trent OIS investigation is based solely on the SBCSD’s Homicide Unit probe of the shooting. The unit—which is staffed entirely of detectives—is bound to investigate all deputy involved shootings countywide. Homicide Detective William Doemner arrived on scene at 14286 Kiowa Road 8:05 PM.
SBCSD Detective Robert Thacker made the request for a search warrant of the tan duplex with brown trim just inside of three hours of the welfare check being answered by Chadwell. Three more Homicide Unit detectives—Angelo Gibilterra, Mauricio Hurtado, and Randy German—are named in the civil complaint for their roles in the OIS investigation.
The warrant—signed by San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Stanford Reichert at 8:27PM—is based on Thacker’s claim that Penny Trent was under investigation for the commission of a felony, and that evidence to prove the crime might be compromised. Crime Scene Specialist Kim Shapiro even conducted a gun powder residue test on Trent’s hands and arms at the Apple Valley substation. There was never even suspicion of her firing a gun.
Detectives confiscate her jeans with a bullet hole in the left ankle.
Steering told the Weekly that Penny was placed into a cold interrogation room that he refers to as “the cooler” during most the search of her residence. SBCSD Homicide Unit Detectives—Randy German and William Doemner—coerced Penny to pose for several photos in nothing but her underwear in the presence of male deputies. Photos of bruises left by her abusive husband were taken. Wayne was put in a holding cell adjacent to her when she was first brought to the station.
A footnote in the DA report claims that Wayne told Penny “to keep her mouth shut” or “mum’s the word okay Penny, mum’s the word.”
A 20-minute audio clip of the Trent welfare check captured on a mini-recorder worn by Chadwell was leaked to the Weekly by Steering. Initially, the run of the mill domestic violence call acts out like much of the drama often observed on late night reruns of the reality television show Cops. Chadwell is first heard informing Deputy Kirsten Mitchell that the neighbor has not heard any noises coming from the other side of the duplex.
Chadwell knocks on the front door of the Trent residence on Kiowa Rd., jiggles a locked door knob, and requests a call history for the address from dispatch. The chorus of the song “Alive” by Pearl Jam is heard playing on a radio in the garage as the deputies make their way to the side of the location to find an unsecured door used to enter the residence. Penny, and her husband Wayne, are quickly found in the bathroom partially clothed with water running for the shower.
Penny had been told to get her hair wet. The couple is separated in an unsuccessful effort to get Penny to admit to abuse from Wayne. A bruise discovered on her right arm is eventually the probable cause used for the arrest.
“Penny . . . where’s your other arm?” Chadwell is heard saying to the domestic violence victim as shots rang out literally within a second of asking the question, the civil complaint alleges, and the audio clip leaked to the Weekly by Steering confirms.
The OIS report found that of the bullets struck the floor in front of the loveseat that Penny was sitting on. The other bullet grazed Trent in the leg and traveled through the loveseat, the living room wall, and the oven before falling on kitchen floor.
“All I was doing was sitting there. I didn’t do anything. I was just sitting there on the couch.” Penny is heard saying to Chadwell is ordered out of her front room at gunpoint, pushed to the ground, cuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car.
Chadwell is heard mumbling the words “f^*king bitch” under her breath.
She points out scissors on the table to justify her actions to Sergeant Jason Cunningham who responds to the scene within minutes of the “shots fired” call that went out over the radio.
“As long as you’re okay, is all that matters,” Cunningham is heard saying to Chadwell, “It is what it is.”
Chadwell later told the Homicide Unit that Trent had the look of “5150 or crazy people” in her eyes before the shooting. Her hand was covered by a bedroom pillow below the wrist. Chadwell told detectives it looked as “if she was gripping a tool or a weapon.”
Steering told the Weekly Trent had a frozen bag of French fries on her wrist to help with pain she was suffering from due to her abusive husband.
Two to Four
The most recent Domestic Violence Update—a training manual for the SBCSD that was released to the Weekly under the California Public Records Act—is a sobering curriculum for those who pay careful attention.
Smiling photos of eight women and children “murdered by cops while the cops were committing acts of domestic violence” is shown as the second slide in the 63-slide PowerPoint presentation. A few slides later with yellow crime scene tape warns that “studies have found that at least 40 percent of police officer families experience domestic violence.” And that “domestic violence is two to four times more common in police families than the general population.”
Another slide titled Office Safety Upon Entry informs deputies to “separate involved parties” and to “prevent eye contact and conversation between suspect and victim” and to “take control of weapons (if any).”
The presentation also reports that the SBCSD received 2,930 calls for domestic violence in 2011 that led to 2,908 reports being taken.
A caller that identified herself as the girlfriend of Trent’s son made the call for Penny at 5:08PM. Penny had called her son in the Northwest earlier in the afternoon as she hid in the bathroom to tell him that dad was beating her again.
The DA OIS report notes the Marsy’s card—a pocket size handout on rights and services for victims of domestic violence required under to be left under California’s Marsy’s Law—was discarded by Chadwell when she drew her service revolver. It was found on the patio near a fired cartridge on top of gravel.
The Marsy’s card for Penny would have came with the warning “Despite official restraint of the person alleged to have committed domestic violence, the restrained person may be released at any time.” And the number for seven shelters for temporary housing that offer 24 hour service. Two of which—A Better Way and High Desert Domestic Violence—were in her immediate area.
Penny is currently living outside of San Bernardino County due to safety concerns.